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Clinical learning during optometry school is critical. Over four years, students spend three years developing clinical skills as part of their curriculum. This year, however, a group of students decided to pursue an additional opportunity and now see patients once per month at Equal Access Birmingham (EAB).

EAB is a student-run free clinic that provides continuity of care to the medically underserved in the greater Birmingham community. The clinic is supported by the Office of Undergraduate Medical Education of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. 

Ginny Morgan, class of 2024, led the charge to get UABSO students involved in this voluntary exercise. The idea piqued her interest when Elizabeth Steele, OD, FAAO, associate dean of clinical affairs, approached student leaders in the third year class about the idea in fall 2022. Optometry students saw their first patients in January 2023, with Andrew Rothstein, OD, assistant professor, as the faculty advisor. 

"The biggest challenge to getting started was wading through the mountain of minutia that comes with starting a new clinic—everything from supplies to charting to scheduling had to be figured out from scratch," he said. "And all of that while going through the rigorous curriculum of second and third year."

Second, third, and fourth year UABSO students are invited to serve patients at the EAB clinic because they have learned patient care skills.  

Participants in the inaugural EAB Optometry board are:

  • Erin Bishop, class of 2024
  • Hailey Dunlow, class of 2024
  • Hannah Morrison, class of 2024
  • Kelly Faulkner, class of 2024
  • Melissa Bogert, class of 2024
  • Minji Jang, class of 2024
  • Olivia Bittner, class of 2024
  • Shelby Baham, class of 2024
  • Parker Quinn, class of 2025

“I’ve always had an interest in using the skills I’ve learned to provide care for those with limited access, and when this opportunity arose, I knew it would be a way for me to do so,” she said. “I was also very excited to establish a collaborative clinic with students of the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, as my goal as an optometrist is to work closely with other members of the healthcare system to provide the best comprehensive care for my patients.”

Optometrists are an important part of the comprehensive healthcare experience. Morgan explained that there are many systemic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, that have ocular manifestations that can cause vision loss.  

“As optometrists, we are the primary care doctors of the eye, and are therefore the best fit to establish and maintain connections with patients who may encounter complications as a result of these systemic diseases,” she said.

One benefit of this opportunity is that by working side-by-side, optometry school and medical school students can better understand each profession’s role in the continuum of care. "I think the biggest benefit the students have gained is learning how optometry fits into an interdisciplinary setting and learning how to work with other health professions," Rothstein added.

Morgan is grateful for the team that made this opportunity a reality. “My biggest takeaway from the experience of starting a new clinic is that you truly can’t take on something like this on your own. I’m so grateful to Dr. Andrew Rothstein, our advisor and lead attending doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Steele, Mintie Keiser, and the members of the EAB Optometry board who have been working with me to ensure the clinic runs smoothly.”