For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympics of Connecticut Summer Games. One fantastic service that is offered to the athletes is health screenings through the Healthy Athlete program. The program brings healthcare professionals such as physical therapists, audiologists, dentists, optometrists, and others to give physical exams and promote healthy lifestyles. The eye clinic is run in conjunction with the Lions Club. The volunteers include Lions, optometrists, optometry and pre-optometry students, and opticians. This volunteering opportunity is something every pre-optometry and optometry student should do and here’s why:
1. Its an excellent opportunity to practice and learn clinical skills.
The clinic is set up with different stations including history, visual acuities, tonometry, optical, etc. Volunteers are usually assigned to work one or two stations. In my case I was assigned to work the auto-refractor and later the tonometers. Since I did not have any previous clinical experience, it was invaluable to perform even a tiny portion of an eye exam. I also got to work with an underserved population which presented their own challenges. Some of the challenges included keeping the patients focused and keeping their eyes open enough for the machines to work. Because of the volume of patients, I could use an auto-refractor and take eye pressures like a boss!
2. It’s a great networking opportunity.
Many local and visiting optometrists volunteer their time for the Special Olympics, giving you an excellent opportunity to mingle, talk, and create potential contacts that could prove useful later on. During my first time volunteering, I met a professor from one of the optometry colleges. I was able to get contact information and learn more about the admissions process and learn a few tips for a stronger application.
3. It’s an excellent way to boost your application.
Speaking of stronger applications, this experience will provide a boost to any pre-optometry student’s application. Many schools require or highly recommend that you perform community service, and the Special Olympics fits the bill. It also shows a commitment to the profession and can reaffirm that optometry is the best career for you, both in your mind and the mind of the admissions committees.
4. Its a great way to give back to the community.
Optometrists are health professionals and therefore are responsible for helping out in the community. What better way than to assist in eye exams to those athletes who may otherwise not see an eye doctor. Sometimes medical issues are discovered during these exams and the athletes are referred out for the proper medical attention. The Opening Eyes Clinic and the Healthy Athletes program is an important service to participating athletes with intellectual disabilities, and something that we should be involved in.
This was an incredibly rewarding experience and was a great example of how our profession makes a positive impact on our local and the global communities.