Outreach from the good-wifi spot

6 October 2020

Emma Ingram began her career with Specsavers in 2014 as an optical assistant in Bendigo and later Waurn Ponds while completing her optometry degree. She graduated from Deakin University in 2019 and has returned back to Bendigo to enjoy regional practice at Specsavers Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat. In this blog, she shares her outreach experiences with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

This year has thrown some curveballs. International travel has ground to a halt but the world keeps spinning. People are still developing cataracts, diabetic eye disease hasn’t taken a break and refractive error isn’t correcting itself. We’ve all had to be inventive in adapting to changes and overcoming unique challenges.

At work, we’ve experienced the awkward balance between checkups being due and overdue while we want our patients to stay safe. The Specsavers outreach partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has been no exception to this year’s unexpected difficulties.

Every year a handful of Specsavers optometrists partner with The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ to provide optometric care for communities and help train postgraduate students to provide ongoing eye care in these communities. This year I’ve been involved in an outreach project with the postgraduate eye care students at Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea. Instead of packing my suitcase, stamping my passport, and jet-setting to a faraway place, my outreach experience has been a little bit different. I read through my notes, powered up Zoom, and settled down to participate in a teleconference in the corner of the house with the best wifi connection.

Just because this whole experience has happened from my kitchen table and I haven’t left the house it doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned something. At work we often find ourselves talking through cases with each other, sharing stories of interesting presentations and unique symptoms. It was so enjoyable to go through my notes and find two of these interesting cases to present and hear how the students might have treated and managed them when they return to their home towns and islands. Occasionally someone’s wifi would drop out and of course, I would’ve loved to spend far more time with the students in their own country where I’m sure we all would have learned so much more from each other, but it was great to get to share a couple of clinical pearls while learning about eye care in the Pacific.

If you’re thinking that outreach from your kitchen table is unexciting and boring, it’s not. It is undeniably different from what you might imagine a “normal” outreach program to be. There aren’t any patients or palm trees, but empowering future eyecare professionals to save the sight of those within their communities is priceless. Of course, we all hope that we can resume “normal” as soon as we can but for now, let’s be creative in how we can make a difference!

More in the Specsavers Graduate Program Blog series
Why I went regional – a graduate perspective
Imposter syndrome as a graduate
Time management in a clinical environment
Experiencing regional life during placement
Never a dull moment in regional practice
What I’ve learned in my first year as a grad
Supported on a new journey
Moving forward with mentorship
Side by side in the second year
Through the eyes of a graduate optometrist
Three days of professional development
Practising rural optometry with a friend
Venturing into leadership with the Year Two Project