Optometry Student in Focus November 2012: Ji Yun Lee of SUNY Optometry

Foreword by Matthew Geller; Founder of OptometryStudents.com

This month’s winner of “Optometry Student in Focus” is Ji Yun Lee, a fourth-year student at SUNY State College of Optometry. Ji Yun was nominated by her colleagues and friends at SUNY Optometry because she has been committed to providing eye care to underserved communities in impoverished countries all over the world. Ji Yun has been going on mission trips since she was a pre-optometry student and has remained dedicated ever since. In my experience, most students attend one SVOSH trip for the traveling experience, which is great, but Ji Yun really stands out because she really has a glowing passion and dedication for helping those less fortunate.

Additionally, last year , Ji Yun filmed an interview with the legendary Jordan Kassalow, O.D., of Vision Spring, a non-profit company dedicated to providing reading glasses and eye care to impoverished areas of the world. Ji Yun’s dedication to providing eye care to underserved communities and her altruistic actions are truly remarkable and she is the perfect example of a student going above and beyond for this profession. We are honored to have her earn the November 2012 “Optometry Student in Focus” award.


Interview with Ji Yun Lee SUNY 2013
and winner of Optometry Student in Focus November 2012

Tell us about the volunteer work you have been doing and how long have you been doing it.

I volunteer at Bowery Mission Center, which is a rehabilitative/ homeless center.  Once a month, a group of optometry students and optometrists provide full eye exams and appropriate glasses for low income patients. I began volunteering in the middle of first year of optometry school and went strong all the way to fourth year. I also went on optometry mission trips to Mexico and Nicaragua through Fellowship of Christian Optometrists (FCO).


What got you started on doing this and what was your motivation?

My interest in serving the under-served through optometry actually began prior to optometry school. I went on a mission trip through my church to Haiti. I was a part of the medical team that provided eye exams & glasses to the townspeople.  Luckily, months prior to the trip, an awesome optometrist taught our team how to provide basic eye exams and dispense appropriate glasses and sunglasses. During the mission trip, I experienced firsthand the Haitian community’s lack of access to eye health care and necessary treatments. An eye exam would cost many months’ wages for the townspeople. Almost everyone complained of dry, irritated eyes and I frequently observed these white elevated growths on peoples’ eyes, which I later learned were pterygiums.  Initially, I was overwhelmed by the immense need but I was reminded to be faithful and hope that what our team can provide will be able to improve each patient’s quality of life.

I will never forget the smile that spread across this one grandmother’s face when she put on a pair of reading glasses that we prescribed for her. She said she would be able to see her grandchild’s face clearly for the first time. Her smile still resonates with me.

That’s how my interest in optometry began. It’s a privilege to be able to use my optometry skills to improve another person’s life. For example, a simple pair of reading glasses can have a big impact, such as determining whether the patient can continue to work and provide for their family.


What is your experience in Bowery? 

I have a great experience every time I volunteer at the Bowery Center. We provide comprehensive eye exams for each patient. I remember when I was a first year, I saw an optic nerve with a c/d ratio of 0.95. It was something that I only saw in Powerpoint slides previously! We made appropriate referrals for that patient to receive care. The volunteering students learn how to build rapport with patients, apply what they learn in the lecture hall clinically and learn from the supervising doctors. The patients are the most appreciative of the program. It’s a great way to give back to the community.


How can others get involved?

If you are interested in using your skills to help others, look for volunteering activities offered through your school, whether it’s overseas through SVOSH/ FCO or local volunteering events. You can create your own volunteering events by contacting nursing homes or homeless shelters, churches, schools, etc. and asking if they are interested in having optometry students provide vision screening or eye exams.

I highly recommend going on an international optometric mission trip; it’s a wonderful experience being immersed in a different culture and providing services that are needed by the community. You also get to form awesome friendships with other students in the team.


What are your future plans?

I plan on continuing to serve the undeserved population in both my local and global community. For my international neighbors who are lacking in access to eye exams/ glasses and other medically necessary treatments, it’s really important to have sustainable programs. It’s great that short term mission teams can go and provide services, but in order for the people to have continuous access, it’s important to help local community members be trained so that they can continue to provide the services. I would like to be more involved in that aspect in the future.


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