June 27, 2018

Optometry students, faculty celebrate 40th service trip by delivering eye care to 1,400

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Optometric students and faculty visited Central America for their 40th consecutive mission trip this May.

optometry serviceCourtesy of Office of the Mayor of Panamá CityThis May, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry Student Volunteers completed a service trip to Panama, making it the 40th consecutive year students from the Optometric Service to Humanity organization have provided much-needed eye care to underserved areas through a trip abroad.

The UAB SVOSH trip team — including 11 students, three doctors and two School of Optometry clinical staff — provided comprehensive eye exams to 500 Panamanian people in four days. The group also gave out more than 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses and made almost 80 referrals for a variety of ocular disease conditions.

SVOSH’s delegation was supported by the local Canal de Panama Kiwanis chapter and the local Lion’s Club. The three not-for-profit service organizations teamed up to deliver an invaluable service to Panama’s most vulnerable while enabling UAB’s SVOSH chapter to have a global service experience.

“I think the most rewarding part of the experience for me personally is just realizing how much of an impact we are able to make with something as simple as a pair of glasses in places that may not have access to the level of health care we are used to in the United States,” said Paul Brown, president of UAB SVOSH. “Optometry can be a very gratifying profession, but I think there is no better feeling than learning how appreciative the people we see on our international trips are of our services.”

For the past 40 years, UAB SVOSH volunteers made up of students, faculty and staff have provided free, comprehensive eye care and eyeglasses to underserved populations, both domestic and international, enriching the lives of student clinicians and the patients they serve.

For the past 40 years, UAB SVOSH volunteers made up of students, faculty and staff have provided free, comprehensive eye care and eyeglasses to underserved populations, both domestic and international, enriching the lives of student clinicians and the patients they serve. Past service trips have included Belize, Nicaragua, Peru, Colombia, Honduras and Jamaica, among others, and served thousands of men, women and children globally.

The appeal of SVOSH trips ranges from the opportunity to practice on patients who otherwise may never receive adequate eye care, to experiencing travel and immediately experiencing how their clinical skill sets transcend language and culture to impact a person’s life.

“The benefits of these service trips are endless,” said Margaret Bailey, O.D., assistant clinical professor in the School of Optometry and faculty member on the recent Panama trip. “Students get to practice their skills on high volumes of patients, see pathology they might never see again, and experience — perhaps for the first time – providing health care firsthand to those in need, all while staff and faculty are challenged with a novel teaching experience. Everyone involved pays it forward and has the privilege and satisfaction of knowing their ‘service tree’ has sprouted innumerable branches.”

For UAB School of Optometry optician Michele Self, attending 18 SVOSH trips is a testament to the power of these experiences and the passion that those involved have.

“I am inspired by the joy of helping people see and taking eye care to those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to receive it,” Self said. “Most of all, I enjoy seeing our optometry students find their giving heart and the confidence they gain by seeing 500-plus patients in just a few days.”

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