NECO believes in the early exposure to clinical education. I had heard the school exposed students as early as the first few weeks. When I got my vision screening assignment so early on, I thought to myself, “They were not kidding about EARLY exposure!”
The first experiences we get are vision screenings. As a prospective student, I was unfamiliar with what vision screenings were. To sum it up, vision screenings are short assessments that we conduct at schools and community programs to identify children who are at risk for vision problems or need a comprehensive eye exam. We apply the skills we were learning during class and lab during these screenings, and it really challenges you to put those concepts into practice.
For each vision screening, you work with a small group of your peers, about 3-5, mentored by one preceptor, a licensed optometrist. We all meet at NECO then travel to the designated Boston Public School or other location. The age groups of the patients varies from 3 – 17 years old, so there are different expectations depending on what age group your group gets. Where we perform the screening also varies. I’ve only encountered being in small gymnasiums or classrooms, but it is possible to have them in hallways or a cafeteria, wherever a school has room.
Now let me just say, when we’re in lab practicing for screenings, we are mostly in a controlled environment where it is more ideal for us to be performing the entrance tests required of us. That is definitely not the case when we go to the schools, and we have to adjust and work with what we have. For example, a pre-school isn’t going to have a lot of chairs that fit adults, so most of the time we’ll be sitting on the ground or kneeling to be on the same height as a 3-4 year old.
Working with the different age groups really shows how challenging it can be to keep a child’s attention, and it is all about being creative and keeping them interested. The 3-7 year olds can be very fun but also difficult. It is very easy for them to lose focus, so keeping their attention was most of the battle. On the other end of the spectrum, the middle- school and high school students can be easier to perform the techniques with because they can understand why we have to do these tests, but our success is also dependent on their attitude and how their friends perceive them having glasses.
In my most recent screening, my classmates and I used a collaborative group effort to keep the kids’ attention. We had toys, stuffed animals, and a poster that had so many colors and animals to identify. We constantly were chatting with the students, asking them questions, and doing our best to make them laugh to make this experience fun for them. Some of the students were very shy and nervous, so we had to be very careful not to scare them or overwhelm them with all these big people around. Our preceptor was so helpful and understanding because some of us had not worked with children before. Throughout the screening, he gave us feedback while we performed the technique and gave us pointers on how to be more efficient.
From my first screening to now, my confidence in my skills have completely changed. I remember being so nervous and jittery about performing my techniques during my first screening. But after a few experiences, I understood the flow and I understood the challenges that may come. This has really helped me practice and hone my skills. With every screening comes different challenges, and I always feel like I’m learning something new and I’m getting better with my skills. I think this is a very rewarding experience to be able to work the children of Boston and to get to know this city a bit more through its community.