Many ophthalmology societies include service to the public as a component of the organization’s mission or goals. In support of this, Leadership Development Program participants develop a variety of projects that seek to educate the public on the importance of proper eye care and/or to support the eye health needs of particular populations (e.g., children, underserved populations, etc.). Recent LDP public information/public service projects include the following.
Amblyopia Awareness Month and Vision Screening
Stacey J. Kruger, MD, LDP XIX, Class of 2017 - American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Ophthalmology
Purpose: To create a public and professional awareness campaign regarding the importance of preschool vision screening and its significant role in the early detection of amblyopia. By creating and cataloging materials this program can be recreated by ophthalmologists, pediatricians and other health care providers and/or groups who wish to organize such events.
Methods: As a result of collaboration between a state ophthalmology society and its PR firm, local pediatric groups, local legislators, local University (ies) and existing non-for-profit vision screening groups, a resolution was drafted and presented to the state legislature. Once “Amblyopia Awareness Month” was approved a multi-month project outline was created which culminated in participation by various groups three state-wide vision screening events.
Results: Amblyopia Awareness Month (FL Senate Resolution 844) raised awareness on a state-wide level about the importance of preschool vision screening. Three well publicized, state-wide, vision screening events were held at which over 200 preschool-aged children were screened. Follow up care for patients needing additional evaluation was arranged. Coverage by local media was obtained by holding a press conference with local legislators, developing marketing and other needed materials, as well as from local print and TV journalism coverage at each event.
Conclusions: A resolution declaring a state-wide amblyopia awareness month can be an excellent way to introduce the importance of preschool vision screening to legislators, health care professionals and the public at large. With the proper equipment and coordination amongst state ophthalmology and pediatric societies, as well as non-for-profit groups, existing resources for vision screening can be combined in strategic and cost effective ways to both provide care to needy patients as well as highlight the need for state-mandated preschool vision screening examinations. In addition, these types of proactive vision screening/amblyopia awareness campaigns and corresponding legislative efforts are difficult to oppose from a public relations perspective. In this regard they can help to stall and/or prevent other groups that favor mandated comprehensive eye exams from obtaining a foothold in local communities and amongst politicians who may be uninformed about the differences between vision screenings and comprehensive eye exams.
Work in Ophthalmic/Medical Practices for Visually Impaired (WOMP VI) Project: Empowering Independence in the Visually Impaired
Marie D. Acierno, MD, LDP XVIII, Class of 2016 - North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society (NANOS)
Purpose: To create awareness regarding the importance of vision and to empower independence in visually impaired persons. This project will provide visually impaired persons a presence in the work force and the ability to generate their own income. Their presence in the work force will also serve other poorly sighted patients and their families as society does not have an appreciation for the contributions that visually impaired persons can make.
Methods: I presented a brief introduction to the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society (NANOS) members during the annual meeting. At that time, I introduced myself as their NANOS representative in the Class of 2016 AAO Leadership Development Program (LDP), and how the program will allow me the opportunity to pursue my passion to: (1) create awareness about vision in the community and (2) allow persons with vision impairments to share their own experiences and abilities to dispel myths about their limitations. Immediately following the annual meeting, I sent a Survey Monkey consisting of 7 questions to the 643 members of NANOS to identify physicians who may be willing to participate in the project. Upon completion of the survey, physicians who expressed desire or curiosity about employing a visually impaired person were contacted. The discussions further defined needs in their practice(s) and allowed us to select the best offices for the pilot study. The physicians will receive disability employment consultations to learn about hiring the right candidate for the job, job needs, and tax incentives. A local Lighthouse and/or Vocational Rehabilitation office has been contacted on the physician’s behalf to select possible visually impaired job candidates for a potential hire in their office/hospital facility.
Results: 12 physicians replied to the survey; however, not all participants responded to all survey questions. Eight physicians had practices located within an academic university center, 3 had hospital-based clinic practices, and one had a private office with 4 or less physicians. Nine practices had 20 or more employees and 2 had 5 to 10 employees. Two neuro-ophthalmologists who had clinical practices within an academic university center had in previous years successfully employed a disabled individual. More than 7/12 respondents reported that their staff would be willing to work with persons with visual limitations. Approximately 5/7 of respondents reported that important skills for any new hire was an ability to educate patients on procedures, provide discharge instructions and perform patient follow-up. One physician expressed a definite interest in hiring a visually impaired person. 2 /7 of the respondents reported that they were interested in learning more about the hiring process of a visually impaired person at their facility. 4/7 respondents were uncertain if their office was suitable for a visually impaired employee. Of the 4 who were uncertain, one physician agreed to pursue the hiring process after learning more about the employment process. 2/12 were willing to work with persons with visual limitations and believed that it could positively impact their patients; however, they could not participate due to inability to hire new employees in their practice at the present time.
Conclusions: Visually impaired clients working in an ophthalmologist’s office should have a positive impact on the patients visiting the physician. The patients visiting a neuro-ophthalmologist may receive a first time diagnosis of acute or devastating chronic visual loss. These patients are fearful of how they will cope on a daily basis with a future visual impairment. At least 2 neuro-ophthalmologists from NANOS are defining their office/hospital practices’ needs and exploring the employment process for a visually impaired person. Once this is completed a local Lighthouse and/or Vocational Rehabilitation office will assist in finding the right candidate for the job and coach the visually impaired client at the onset of their employment. If given the opportunity, persons with vision impairments can function independently in the job force as it is important to dispel myths in our society about persons with limitations. As ophthalmologists, we can give visually impaired persons the opportunity to work in our offices and generate an income, as well as, have their work efforts directly serve our poorly sighted patients and their families. I firmly believe that our profession should begin to explore the many benefits both personally, professionally, and financially to hiring a person with a visual disability and determine if such a hire is a good fit for their practice needs. I can only hope that my passion to create awareness about persons with visual impairments in our community becomes contagious.