Article Date: 5/1/2011

Becoming the Student
reflections
THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Becoming the Student

A recent trip reinforced the value of optometry's roots.

Mary Anne Murphy, O.D., Broomfield, Colo.

Having traveled abroad many times before, I assumed my trip to Tanzania—my first trip to Africa—would more or less be the same: I'd be experiencing a different culture, language, food, customs and meeting new people. But what I got out of this particular trip was far more than I expected.

Here's my story…

Assuming too much

As a representative for Optometry Giving Sight (www.givingsight.org) and Vision Source (www.visionsource.com), I traveled to the African country to work at a grassroots level with the International Centre for EyeCare Education (ICEE) (www.icee.org). Specifically, I was asked to mentor local optometrists.

Some of these eyecare practitioners had been working in vision centers that opened in Tanzania the previous year. Others would be staffing six new Tanzanian vision centers scheduled to open in the near future.

One of my tasks as a mentor to these fellow eye doctors was to discuss anterior segment imaging. As most of these optometrists had been in practice for several years, I prepared my lecture as I would for any of my stateside colleagues. It would be an overview of normal and abnormal conditions that might typically be viewed during a routine exam.

Upon my arrival, however, I was informed that the O.D.s I'd be mentoring would be given their very first slit lamp, and I would be providing instruction on its use. At this point, I realized a discussion on specular reflection to evaluate endothelial damage due to contact lens wear was a bit overzealous. So, in the wee hours of my first night in Tanzania, I didn't just scrap my prepared lecture but also all my preconceived notions of optometry in Tanzania.

Dr. Murphy explains how to use a slit lamp to a group of optometrists in Tanzania.

A re-discovery

While the Tanzanian optometrists were excited about the prospect of having a slit lamp, they were quick to inform me that as they practiced in an environment of unreliable electricity and voltage surges, the instrument would be an ancillary, not required, tool in their eyecare model.

At first, I felt as if I was in Bedrock and I might actually see my new colleagues moving cars with their feet. Life in Tanzania was pole pole (pronounced poley poley), which is Swahili for slllloooooooww. I am not sure whether it was the 95°+ daily temperature or the 80%+ humidity, but I kept glancing at my watch to check the schedule. I soon realized, however, that I was alone in this accountability. This was the pace here, and I was told that “in the end, the things that needed to be accomplished would be.”

I am grateful for the three weeks I spent working side-by-side with these eye doctors. Those 20 days enabled me to rediscover the importance of taking one's time, a thorough case history and honed retinoscopy skills—all of which are the roots of providing excellent eye care. So while I went to Tanzania to teach and share my Western education, it is I who was actually the student. OM

To learn more about Optometry Giving Sight or to make a donation please visit www.givingsight.org.


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 628-6595, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2011