My Volunteer Experience – Thai Nguyen

I would like to introduce the newest team member to!

His name is Thai Nguyen, currently a 2nd year optometry student at Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry (WUHSCO) in Pomona, California. Thai showed interest in several months ago and we chatted through the comments you find at the end of each post. Eventually it became clear that Thai was no ordinary optometry student but one with an extraordinary amount of value to bring to the table. Thai has ambitious plans after graduation to open up a private practice near his spouse’s chiropractic office.

Until then you can find Thai here on writing articles but also helping out behind the scenes to make Optometry a better profession for all the OD’s and their patients.

My Remote Area Medical, Los Angeles Volunteering Experience
By Thai Nguyen

Last year, as a first year Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry (WUHSCO) student, my classmates and I were bombarded with the task of mastering the challenging basic science courses. We were required to take these intensive and time-consuming shared courses (biochemistry, molecular biology, physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, immunology, and histology) with several other professional programs including medical students, dental students, and podiatry students. Like most optometry students throughout the nation, we were busy and exhausted as year one was rapidly approaching its end that most of us lost sight of why we were here in the first place. Since I was one of those students, I decided to participate as one of the volunteers at the Remote Area Medical (RAM)/Los Angeles (LA) event on April 27, 2010. After this wonderful and exciting learning experience, it really reinforced my passion to pursue a career in optometry.

I just wanted to share some of my invigorating experiences from the RAM/LA event. To say that I learned a great deal would be a gross understatement. WOW!!! It was a very controlled chaotic experience from the moment I stepped inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena. There were hundreds of volunteers from different health professions (dental, medicine, acupuncture, optometry, and ophthalmology to name a few) assisting a very needy population of about 1,200.

Just imagine an ER episode…but this time not in a hospital, but instead a HUGE arena.

I was able to utilize the clinical skills that I’ve been taught at WUHSCO to the fullest extent. During the 6 hours that I was there, I was able to work at the visual acuity (VA) station, autorefractor station, the lensometry station, and finally the subjective refraction station. Performing lensometry on a bifocal, I can remember my ophthalmic optics professor’s useful advice on how to determine the add power rapidly and accurately. I actually helped another 3rd year optometry student who did lensometry on a bifocal to obtain the correct Rx. And yes, you heard right…the SUBJECTIVE monocular refraction station!!! I was one of three lucky students to be the ONLY 1st years among the other ODs and 2nd & 3rd year optometry students from another optometry school who were refracting the patients. Believe it or not, but we were able to perform the subjective refraction and then prescribe our findings so that the patients could go to another station to obtain their new free glasses or check their ocular health. We had some terrific competent staff ODs who checked off our findings. We definitely learned how to efficiently perform the many subjective refractions. I was able to examine patients who were high astigmatic hyperopias, possible refractive amblyopes, anisometropes, unsuccessful cataract surgery patients, and patients who suffered from possible eye pathology such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. It seemed to me like every patient had a significant amount of cylinder in their prescription, and desperately needed vision care.

This was the first time that I truly felt like I was thinking like a REAL doctor. For instance, being able to critically think and analyze data is far different from just clicking/dialing in a patient’s autorefractor prescription. As I attempted to select a proper treatment plan for each patient, I recalled and utilized what we’ve learned from our classes, and the great advice and words of wisdom that our faculty members and clerkship preceptors taught us…always listen to your patient, trust your findings, and act confidently.

One case in point was when I was refracting a patient who loved cylinder power, and I was able to quickly recognize that the patient data just did not make sense, so I didn’t give her the cylinder unless her VA’s improved. Most of the cases that I witnessed were NOT your typical textbook cases. It was really a humble learning experience. There were just too many people there who needed our help, and not enough volunteers…so much that they had to close the doors around 6 pm. Although understaffed, all the volunteers worked endlessly to accomplish one goal…to improve the health of each patient.

I wish all optometry students could have had this wonderful experience. I wish you could witness all the hard work that all of the volunteers did yesterday. I wish you could experience the total dedication and compassion demonstrated by our two distinguished faculty members concerning patient care. They worked tirelessly for 14 hours to help provide eye care for a population in desperate need of vision care. I am so happy and proud to be a WUHSCO student…although we are a new optometry program, it is well on its way to becoming one of the best in the nation. It’s like a dream, I still cannot believe that I am here… only a 1st yr student and being able to refract and prescribe next to more experienced future colleagues, and making a difference in people’s lives…it cannot get any better than this. I am now firmly convinced that I made the right career choice. I have a newly found dedication for this profession.

I am truly INSPIRED!!!

Thanks for reading,
Thai Nguyen

Photo credit – ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
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