NECO Honors 50 Years of Clinical Training at Community Health Centers during Commencement
The clinical training model that many optometry schools, NECO being the first, have integrated into their curriculum is thanks in large part to Dr. Jack Geiger and Dr. Count Gibson, who established the country’s first community health center.
In 1972, New England College of Optometry (NECO) partnered with the community health center at Columbia Point and provided eye care to communities in the Boston metropolitan area. Fifty years later, the network of community health centers has grown nationally to treat over 30 million patients. There are currently over 250 locations that provide care within Massachusetts.
This relationship launched a new clinical training model that we still implement today, setting the tone for optometry schools around the country. The model moved optometry education beyond refraction and on-campus clinical experiences to the multidisciplinary co-management of patients with other healthcare professionals in a community-based setting.
Dr. Amy Moy, OD ’03, the current Director of NECO’s Health Center Network and Chief Compliance Officer shares, “We have the ideal stage with our health center partnerships to educate NECO students about culturally competent eye care and the social determinants of health, as well as how to advocate for equitable healthcare for all.”
The training model would not exist if it weren’t for Dr. Jack Geiger and Dr. Count Gibson, who established the first community health centers. NECO will award these two visionary physicians with posthumous honorary degrees during the May Commencement ceremonies.
In 1965, Drs. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson founded the first two community health centers in the United States—one at Columbia Point in Boston, and the other at Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Their intention was bold: to deliver accessible health care to diverse and underrepresented groups.
The two secured funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish what is now known as Delta Health Center, Inc. in Mound Bayou to serve multiple counties where poverty was widespread. The original grant also provided for an urban community health center in the Columbia Point housing project in Boston, now known as the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center.
These centers, and the many that followed, had a profound impact on the way legislators and health providers approached public and community health.
“Providing comprehensive eye care to patients in community health centers is not only integral to NECO’s mission, but vital to the patient’s overall health as well. Without the ingenuity of Drs. Geiger and Gibson, our distinctive clinical education model, which is built around partnerships with health centers, would not be what it is today,” NECO President and CEO Dr. Howard Purcell, OD ’84.
Clinics within community health centers enhance access to vital eye care services for thousands of patients every year, at a lower cost and closer to where they live and work. The impact on the health and well-being of neighborhood residents and the student educational experience has been equally profound.
Prior recipients of honorary degrees at the College have included prominent vision scientists as well as a mayor, former governors and attorney generals. Commencement 2022 will be held on Sunday, May 15, 2022 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA.