Article Date: 8/1/2006

reflections - THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
How Lucky We Are!

International experiences showed this practitioner the many advantages to being an O.D. in the United States.

SON NGUYEN, O.D.

I am thankful for the many blessings of my life. One of the greatest of these is having become an American citizen after moving here from Vietnam and working as an American O.D. In my short five-year career, I have worked on Indian reservations, on military bases and ships, in third-world countries, in prison facilities, in private practice and in corporate chains. All this was possible because of the many opportunities this country has to offer.

Been around the world

Several years ago, I provided eye exams to villagers in rural Guatemala as a member of Student Optometric Services to Humanity. It was obvious that they needed much more than an eye exam: They needed shelter, running water, education and a stable government. I remember seeing a group of children running around bare foot in tattered clothes outside the tents they called home. They had been displaced by Guatemala's civil war. Though that ended in the mid 1990s, many were still living in shelters. Even just outside the outdoor market in Antigua, I saw giant mounds of garbage that spilled on to the street. It looked like it was the designated local landfill, but I knew this landfill didn't have government regulations. While I felt good about helping the poor, I felt guilty about returning to my comfortable life in the United States.

On a trip to the Czech Republic, I discovered the differences between optometry in Europe and the United States. I had heard from my international patients that many European countries sold contact lenses over the counter and priced them more cheaply than they do here. I did some investigation and found it was true. It was culture shock, optometry style.

The road not taken

More recently, I embarked on a journey to my native country, Vietnam. There, I took my father to the local optician in Saigon for a new eyeglass prescription. After the optician performed a quick autorefraction and he tried on several frames, he purchased a pair of spectacles. The total cost of the visit: 1,500 Vietnamese dong ($0.10) for the exam and 1.5 million dong ($100) for a designer frame and lenses.

I couldn't believe my refraction services would amount to so little. Obviously, it would not be cost-effective to do refractions here as part of an eyecare mission. I would be better off just giving money to the poor. The cost of the airplane ticket alone ($1,000) could provide 10,000 refractions.

Count your blessings

We are lucky and privileged — not just to be Americans, but American O.D.s. We are fortunate to make a living providing refractions and contact lens fits, and sometimes diagnosing and treating ocular disease. We are lucky that we have control over the dispensing of contacts and spectacles. We are fortunate that we have electricity that feeds our computers, lights and telephones in our office and water that runs in our sinks.

Though $3.00 for a gallon of gas is high, it is not as high as the $6.00 charged in some third-world countries — or worse yet, not having a car to drive at all.

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH RENé LUTHE, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8132 OR LUTHER@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Issue: August 2006