by Jessie Fawer, UABSO Class of 2016
While optometry students across the nation are given opportunities to provide vision screenings to the underserved in their communities, UABSO students are experiencing a unique partnership with students at UAB School of Medicine. Equal Access Birmingham (EAB) is an entirely student run-initiative founded by UAB medical students. The organization provides an interdisciplinary clinic open every Sunday, as well as monthly screenings that are orchestrated, managed, and staffed by medical students under the guidance of UAB physicians. Multiple health professional schools collaborate with EAB; the medical, optometry and dental schools provide screenings, while other health professional schools and departments such as pharmacy, social work, physical therapy, and public health address additional patient needs. The goals of these dedicated young professionals are to reinforce clinical skills at an early stage in their education and to connect medical students with community service, exposing them to the disparities that exist in healthcare throughout the United States.
The relationship that UABSO has developed with the UAB medical school is one that fosters a working partnership between optometry and ophthalmology. Most of the medical students working at the EAB screenings are unsure of the path they may take regarding specialty branches in medicine, and admittedly have somewhat limited knowledge of the eye from their didactic courses. EAB screenings offer them a unique glimpse into the world of optometry. Yes, the medical students will rotate through ophthalmology at some point and some may even see an optometrist regularly as a patient, but it isn’t often that a medical student is exposed to optometry in this capacity. In my experience, the medical students have been impressed by our thorough vision screenings and some have even asked us for help with skills we both must acquire in our fields, such as direct ophthalmoscopy. At EAB screenings, students from each health professional school are seen as the experts in their respective fields.
Optometry is a continually expanding field, and its future is in the hands of students like us preparing to enter the profession as practicing clinicians. Even though we are sometimes at odds with ophthalmologists over issues such as expansion of the scope of optometry, creating working relationships while exposing ourselves to the experience of medical students, and medical students to the knowledge of optometrists (prior to their acceptance of a residency in ophthalmology), will help create a better professional understanding between the two fields.