Today: NECO’s dedication to CHCs continues
NECO celebrates 50 years of affiliation with community health centers (CHCs), yet the focus remains firmly on the future.
Amy Moy, OD ’03, Director of NECO’s Health Center Network, sees optometry expanding its reach into community healthcare settings as optometrists continue to demonstrate their value as members of an integrated healthcare team.
“The direction of healthcare is towards interdisciplinary care, and health centers model this well,” Dr. Moy says. “People want to see caregivers in their community. Community-based eye care offers a personalized eye care experience that works with the interprofessional model.”
NECO was the first optometry school to model community-based training with CHCs, and still has the largest network of CHCs. Experience has made NECO a respected voice as it shares best practices with other schools and lobbies for a greater role for optometrists as primary care partners.
Internships at health centers set NECO apart from other optometry schools, especially as students today desire training that addresses social determinants and inequities in healthcare. As they rotate through the CHCs, as well as through outreach sites like Perkins School for the Blind and the NECO- affiliated VA Medical Centers, students gain proficiency managing patients who have a greater variety of systemic diseases, disabilities, and socio-economic barriers to care than they might be exposed to elsewhere.
“My goal is that each NECO student graduates with the knowledge to address health inequities and advocate for their patients in any part of healthcare,” Dr. Moy says.
“They’ll know the value of coordinating care with other disciplines, advocating for the well-being of the patient, and can represent optometry as a gatekeeper for identifying systemic disease.”
For the patients, NECO’s collaboration with CHCs means having quality, convenient, accessible eye care in their healthcare home. “Our patients don’t have to come to us at our owned clinic. We go to them,” Dr. Moy points out. “We go into their community, in their setting, in their language. We share their life milestones and watch patients grow up. They know we’re a resource that respects and values them.”
Because ultimately, it is about the patients. “I treated a young girl who had just immigrated to Boston and her first exam revealed that she was a high myope,” Dr. Moy relates. “When we got her glasses and she could suddenly see the world, the look on her tiny face…that makes your whole career worth it. Helping people in that way is why we do this.”
- 9 contracted health centers (7 fully staffed and run by NECO)
- 4 additional affiliated clinics
- Every student completes community health center internships
- 24 NECO faculty provide care at community health centers
- 67,500 patients are treated annually across 9 clinics
NECO celebrates 50 years of commitment to community-based training. In 2022, NECO recognizes 50 years of training students and serving patients in community health centers throughout the region. As the first optometry school to conceive and create such a clinical training model, NECO has influenced thousands of optometrists and optometry itself. This is the story of how it all began.
NECO alums inspired by clinical experiences. From changing to an area of expertise to leading an eye clinic at a community health center, NECO alums continue to be inspired by their clinical training experience at NECO. The impact goes well beyond learning clinical skills and is a testament to one reason why NECO continues iwth its commitment to its unique model.
Beyond the eye exam: Cultural competency and compassion at the core of training. Meng Meng Xu, OD, is the Director of Eye Care Services and a preceptor at South Boston Community Health Center, one of the community health centers in NECO’s where student interns learn much more than clinical skills.