Community Outreach and Education: Easier than you think!

By: Elsa Sheerer; SUNY 2015

We have all given our fair share of presentations throughout our weathered educational trail to get to where we are today. And a few of us will be doing presentations on scholarly research while we are in optometry school.  And obviously, we are so used to doing case presentations that we rattle them off with ease.  But, have you ever considered talking to the public about eye health?  Have you thought about effective ways to explain large jumbled jargon like age-related macular degeneration to your patients? To practice, give a presentation about eye health to a group of lay-persons?  This not only helps yourself become a better communicator with your patients, but also promotes public health and promotes optometry.

In the SUNY APHA student organization, we are getting in touch with Senior Centers in New York City to offer a free eye health presentation.  Our goal is to reach out to promote healthy vision by raising awareness about common conditions and diseases associated with aging.  We hope that more seniors will have a yearly dilated exam to catch treatable conditions early, like glaucoma.  While promoting public health, we also put in a plug for optometry explaining that optometrists are the primary eye care physician fully trained to detect, diagnose, and treat eye conditions associated with aging.  We need to remind the community of our skills and knowledge. One great way to do that is to go to them and spread the word!

I recently presented conditions associated with aging eyes to a local Senior Community Center.  Certainly, being just a first year student, my knowledge and experience with these diseases and conditions is extremely limited.  Many of you may think it would be quite difficult to prepare for an eye health presentation for senior citizens.  Actually, it is quite easy when you take advantage of great, free educational resources. I resorted to the National Eye Institute’s educational materials as my primary source of information.  The NEI’s educational resources highlight the main conditions associated with aging in laymen’s terms, giving important information like who is most at risk, what are the signs and symptoms, and what common treatments are.  The NEI’s pre-made educational materials made it extremely easy for me to confidently present to the senior citizens. I did not put together any fancy powerpoints or visual aids.

I brought in a model eye and was able to explain to them the different parts of the eye and how they changed with age or disease. I was even able to leave the group with a glaucoma awareness pamphlet!   The pamphlets are offered by NEI in their publications catalog.  (You can order up to 50 for free!) You don’t need anything thing fancy to pull off a successful, professional eye health presentation; simply take advantage of the resources available to you.

The presentation was relatively short and only to a small number of people, but it was very well received. The audience members explained that they often felt that doctors did not explain various eye conditions very well because of the lack of chair-time. I answered all of their questions to the best of my ability.  When I didn’t know the answer, I would explain that I am simply a student still in training and that they can ask those more detailed questions to their doctor at their next exam.  It’s okay if you don’t know everything when you do one of these types of presentations.  Your main objective is to get the public thinking about their eye health and the value of regular eye exams.  And, as a bonus to us, we become more confident talking about eye health and promote our profession!

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