While many optometrists go for a walk or read a book in their lunch break, Specsavers Leichhardt optometrist Nikki Pham wanted to make more of an impact, so applied to host a live lunchtime webinar for The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ.

The outreach series, which is organised by Specsavers and The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, is seeing Specsavers optometrists Zooming in every Friday to Divine Word University in Papua New Guinea, where nurses and health extension officers are studying a one-year Postgraduate Diploma in Eye Care.

Previously optometrists have visited Foundation programs in-person to assist in the training and clinical supervision of students. However, due to the travel restrictions of COVID-19 these visits have moved online, with optometrists presenting a series of interesting cases with the students.

Nikki says she was aware of the shortage of eye health professionals in Papua New Guinea before applying and that she wanted to share the learnings she has gained so far in her career to help the students expand their knowledge.

“I found participating in the outreach to be very enjoyable and rewarding. We are lucky here in Australia to have access to eyecare that many take for granted. Despite the restrictions of COVID-19, we are still able to improve the sight of our patients and manage or triage visually threatening conditions.

“Many cases of diabetes go undetected in Papua New Guinea, therefore students are taught to perform a diabetic screening on all patients aged 40 and above. In my first case, I focused on diabetic retinopathy and outlined risk factors that would influence its development and the visual complications associated with it,” she says.

“I elected to focus on refraction in my second case, by detailing the management of anisometropic amblyopia. The students are taught how to refract, however, due to COVID-19, there is unfortunately very little opportunity for students to apply their learnings in a clinical setting. I thought it would be helpful to walk through what prescriptions to give patients depending on their conditions.

“The students were initially quite shy in asking or answering questions, but as we went through the cases they started opening up and asked a lot of really good questions! Exchanging insights and participating in discussions with the students was something that I really enjoyed,” she says.

Dr Bismark Owisi-Afriyie, Teaching Optometrist at The Fred Hollows Foundation in Papua New Guinea says the initiative made history and that for some students, the webinar with Nikki was the first webinar they had ever attended.

“There is indeed an opportunity in every crisis and we did not waste any opportunities in COVID-19; instead we made history by being innovative and adapted new strategies for delivering training to our students.

“The Zoom meetings with Specsavers have been excellent. Nikki was knowledgeable and her case presentations were well organised. Explanations were kept simple and cases were carefully selected to be relevant to the level of the PGDEC training. It was encouraging and at the same time exciting to witness the exchange of questions and answers between the speakers and the students. Nothing inspires more than knowing that your students are capable and contribute meaningfully during clinical discussions with other experienced professionals in the field. The webinars offered us opportunities to share knowledge and experience from different environments and these help in ensuring a balanced training and service delivery. We are grateful to Nikki for donating her precious time and experience.”

Student Colleen William Olpitarea says, “It was such a privilege to be able to discover what good this modern technology can offer by connecting us from all around the world at one time. I want to say thank you to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ and the Specsavers Australia for hosting the first webinar. The cases were well presented and presentations were easy to understand. I personally enjoyed it because we were able to interact with each other by asking and answering questions from both ends. I look forward to more webinars as I want to learn more and be kept updated about eye care practice and service. It is good to be kept in the eye care loop; in that case, I know that I will not be practicing in isolation.”

The outreach series will take place over six weeks with The Fred Hollows Foundation students in both Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Applications are still open for the Fijian webinars which run from 2-16 October. To apply, click here.