Four of Specsavers’ graduate optometrists recently travelled to Fiji to assist in an intensive training program for Pacific Island students in their study towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Eye Care.

Two outreach trips to the Pacific Eye Institute (PEI) located in Suva, Fiji were held in conjunction with Specsavers’ charity partner, The Fred Hollows Foundation. Specsavers Success optometrist Nick Cheang and Specsavers Miranda optometrist Ravi Singh attended the first trip from 29 May to 2 June 2017, while Specsavers Cairns optometrist Lai Tran and Specsavers Maddington optometrist Rajneil Prasad attended the second from 12 to 16 June 2017.

The PEI is run by The Fred Hollows Foundation’s New Zealand arm and is the Pacific region’s first and only regional training centre for Pacific eye health workers. Postgraduate students are trained specifically to provide eye care in Fiji and surrounding Pacific Island nations.

Nick Cheang and Ravi Singh

Along with supervising students, the four optometrists worked with eye care nurses to carry out much needed sight tests and distribute glasses to hundreds of locals in need.

“We were delighted to have [Specsavers’ optometrists] join our team and assist with supervising our students,” PEI Director Dr Biu Sikivou said. “It was a great opportunity for [them] to see firsthand what we do here at the clinic – restoring and preserving sight, as well as training the Pacific eye care workforce of the future.”

The participants
Nick’s passion for providing access to eye health care in underdeveloped countries began as an optometry student while travelling on a similar outreach program to Vanuatu.

“In Vanuatu, I saw firsthand the widespread effects of a lack of access to eye care in underdeveloped countries,” he explained. “I’m grateful to have had another opportunity to pass on my learnings and experiences as an optometrist so far.”

Having gained experience working in a regional store in Australia, Lai said she, too, enjoyed being able to apply her knowledge. “It was gratifying to see how my studies could make a difference to these patients [in Fiji],” she commented. “Studying to become an optometrist for me, was not just about preserving and restoring eyesight but also being able to transfer my skills and medical expertise – so it was incredible to be given the opportunity to help train Fiji’s next generation of eye health professionals.”

Lai Tran and Rajneil Prasad

Rajneil, who has a Fijian background, felt it was important to return to his roots and see what members of his family experienced in terms of healthcare while growing up in Fiji. He said he was aware that if his family hadn’t migrated to Australia, he wouldn’t have access to the same healthcare that Australians are privileged with.

“We are often able to diagnose and treat preventable eye diseases but sometimes we forget the psychological effects they have on patients,” Rajneil stated. “As well as helping students develop their clinical skills – identifying eye disorders, differential diagnosing, and the treatment options – I enjoyed teaching the students the importance of empathy so they can understand the long-term impact that eye disease has on sufferers.”

Ravi’s motivations also lay close to home. His uncle, who resided in Fiji, passed away at a young age due to diabetic complications, one of which was losing his vision to diabetic retinopathy.

“This personal experience reinforced to me the need to improve education around eyecare in Fiji and raise awareness of the importance of having regular eye examinations, especially if you have been diagnosed with diabetes,” Ravi said.

All four outreach trip participants are part of the two-year Specsavers Graduate Program, which sees members gain expertise in mentored scenarios to assist them with their early career development.

Specsavers stores across Australia and New Zealand support The Fred Hollows Foundation and a number of local charities through the Specsavers Community Program. The program raises money by giving customers a token that represents a donation when they purchase a pair of glasses. The customer chooses to drop the token into a box for Specsavers national charity of choice, The Fred Hollows Foundation, or a second box that collects for the store’s local charity of choice.