This May, Lenna Walker, Class of 2018, joined a team of 17 optometric students from colleges around the United States to participate on a OneSight clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico. OneSight is a leading organization in providing sustainable vision care solutions to communities around the world. Since 1988, they have helped 9 million people in 46 different countries see more clearly through vision care and glasses. This trip marked the second time optometric students were invited to attend. Below, Lenna describes her experiences.
Almost two months ago I had the privilege of participating in a OneSight clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico as a student doctor. The team consisted of seventeen optometry students in total, working with Luxottica-affiliated optometrists, opticians and volunteers, as well as a large group of local interpreters. Together, over the course of four days, we were able to provide eye exams and glasses for over 3000 patients.
The experience was, in a word, incredible. Incredible for several reasons.
This trip allowed me the opportunity to network and form friendships with a multinational group of students and eye care professionals. I met people from all corners of the United States and from all over the globe that share the interest of bringing eye care to communities that lack access to such care due to cost, travel and/or availability.
This trip also allowed me the opportunity to experience a different culture. I ate more than one chapulin (grasshopper) and a fair dose of worm salt, both on purpose and on accident (funny to find little legs in your bread roll). I shared Mezcal drinks with locals. I visited beautiful churches and bustling squares. I even had the chance to explore old Zapotec ruins (ca. 500 BCE). Our host (a local optical company) treated us to a performance of traditional Oaxacan dance and, perhaps inspired by the performance, I went salsa dancing (much to my partners’ chagrin).
While these opportunities, by themselves, were incredible, my favorite moments on our trip were, of course, in clinic. A service trip like this one offers a multitude of learning opportunities for the optometrist-in-training. Our goal was not only to see approximately 4000 patients in four days, but to provide the highest quality eye care possible to 4000 patients in four days. What’s more, the patients from this population often present with very high prescriptions and ocular disease. As you can imagine, everyone on the team quickly learns how to be efficient, confident in their skills, and adaptable. (When your transilluminator loses battery power, use the flashlight on your iPhone to check pupils! Make it work!)
My most special moments were those I shared with the people of Oaxaca who had travelled from near and far to be seen at our clinic. I cannot clearly express how special it was to witness the change in a person’s face and demeanor when they were able to see clearly through my trial frames. Even through thick language barriers, it was clear through smiles, hugs, and handshakes how genuinely thankful the patients were. I think it is important to remember that there are communities of people in the world that are disinvested, underserved, and living with correctable blurred vision. This blurred vision can truly impede a person’s quality of life and ability to learn and work at their highest potential. As eye care professionals, we can be a part of the solution.
Since returning from this trip, I have graduated from NECO and am officially an optometrist! I feel like my experience in Oaxaca will continue to paint how I practice going forward and my goal in writing this blog post is to encourage current optometry students to embrace as many different experiences as possible while in school. Go to a national conference (maybe even present a poster), take an extra elective (why not, your tuition is covering it), rank fourth year rotations that will provide you a variety of experiences both in clinic modality and patient population. More than anything, please PLEASE consider going on a service trip. Whether the trip is local or international, I guarantee it will be a humbling experience that gives you perspective and, overall, makes you a better doctor.