Long-term Vision: Optometry students Alice Kim and Lydia Smith stay focused on the lasting impact of their ASF project

Long-term Vision: Optometry students Alice Kim and Lydia Smith stay focused on the lasting impact of their ASF project

By: Javacia Harris Bowser

For their Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project, Alice Kim and Lydia Smith, students in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Optometry, are working to provide vision care to populations served by the Foundry Farm and Changed Lives Christian Center.

“Even though UAB and our School of Optometry have a really strong community eye care program, there are always individuals that are missed or who have never really thought to put vision care at the forefront of their priority list,” says Alice, a native of Huntsville, Alabama. This especially can be true of individuals in addiction recovery who are marginally housed.

Through relationships already established by the UAB School of Nursing, Alice and Lydia were able to easily connect with the mentors and community partners they needed to bring their vision to life. But that doesn’t mean the project has been easy. Coordinating schedules has been one of the biggest challenges.

“But this project definitely has enhanced my ability to embrace challenges as opportunities to grow and to be more adaptable when plans have to change,” Lydia says.

Alice and Lydia, both in their third year of optometry school, have remained focused. Through their project, they’ve been able to provide comprehensive eye exams to patients in need, including individuals grappling with systemic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, that can have dangerous effects on the eye. They’ve been able to refer patients to retina specialists if needed. And thanks to established patient assistance programs, they’ve also been able to provide free or discounted glasses to patients who need them.

“I’ve loved interacting with the site directors and the participants and the gratification of restoring vision via corrective eyewear,” Lydia says.

But Alice and Lydia don’t want their impact to end once their project does.

“Maintaining the longevity of this project was one of our main priorities,”  Alice says.

They’ve already enlisted another optometry student who’s going to take over the project. They also hope to train nursing students who work with Foundry Farm and Changed Lives Christian Center how to use a device that can take a photo of the back part of the inside of the eye (or the fundus). Once this training is complete, if the nurses encounter a patient with a vision-threatening condition, they can do a fundus exam and pass on the information to an expert provider, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Alice and Lydia also hope to have a lasting impact by educating their patients.

“In addition to the comprehensive eye exam and the free glasses, Alice and I decided to also have a patient education component where we issue a brochure, which talks about diabetes, hypertension, and glaucoma,” Lydia says. “And in addition to that, we also provide a pamphlet on how patients can properly care for the eyeglasses that they receive from us.”

This project has been a learning experience for Alice and Lydia too. They both feel the project is helping to prepare them for what they might do after finishing optometry school.

“I have an interest in mission trips to underserved Caribbean countries, ” says Lydia. “I’m from Jamaica, so I know the dire need to serve these countries.”

She’s also interested in a residency focused on ocular disease.

Alice wants to complete a residency and then go into private practice in a suburban area. For her, this project has highlighted the importance of relationships.

“I want to be somewhere where I can provide continual care and establish a permanent relationship with my patients and their families,” she says.

Most of all, Alice says the project has shown her what it takes to make a difference.

“I think probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is when it comes to community care,” she says, “effecting change is a marathon.”