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  • Global Outreach in Your Own Backyard: University of Utah Moran Eye Center

    Navajo outreach clinic

    If you want to change the world, start in your own backyard. — Unknown

    Everyone can be great, because anyone can serve. — Martin Luther King Jr.

    Global outreach in ophthalmology is often considered synonymous with international outreach.

    But the work isn’t always done outside the United States. In our “Global Outreach in Your Own Backyard” series, the Academy spotlights domestic projects that can inspire any eye care professional looking to provide outreach service in their own locale.

    University of Utah Moran Eye Center 

    Navajo Nation, Four Corners Area (Utah, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico)

    Navajo woman at the outreach clinic in UtahFor the past 10 years, the Moran Center’s global outreach team has made the monthly journey from Salt Lake City to the Four Corners region to help bridge the gap between medical care and surgical eye care. 

    During each visit, the Moran outreach team helps conduct vision screenings and surgeries, collaborating with the Utah Navajo Health Systems to also train local providers in eye disease and perform comprehensive eye examinations. If patients require further testing or subspecialty care, they are referred to the Moran center free of charge. 

    Teamwork plays a vital role in the success of the partnership. Planning and execution of each monthly trip is no small feat, consisting of coordinating 20 to 40 total volunteers from the Navajo Nation and the Moran Eye Center, including registered nurses, technicians, physicians, administrative support staff and medical students. 

    “The outreach trips have shown me that as doctors, we have the privilege to empower others with better health,” said Tony Mai, MD, chief resident at the Moran Eye Center. “Not only was working with the Navajo community a rewarding experience, but also an opportunity to serve those with little access to care.”

    Jordan Desautels, MD, a second-year ophthalmology resident at the Moran Eye Center, has volunteered on several outreach trips with the Navajo Nation.

    “The opportunity to learn from and care for the incredible people of the Navajo Nation has been the most humbling and impactful aspect of my residency training,” he said. 

    Volunteers plan to focus on training local providers to screen and evaluate eye disease, as well as involve them in virtual education between outreach trips, including Moran Eye Center grand rounds. Recruiting full-time eye-care professionals, ideally with roots in the Navajo Nation, is another long-term goal. The ultimate challenge is to create a system that will be more independent and less reliant on the Moran Eye Center outreach trips in the future. 

    Those interested in learning more about or getting involved with the Moran Eye Center can visit Moran’s website to learn more about the program, the Navajo Nation, urban Salt Lake City and other local and global outreach projects. For information, contact:

    Tribal History

    The Navajo Nation, located in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States, is one of the most unique regions in the Americas. With its stunning landscapes and natural rugged terrain, it is home to many of the geological wonders of the world. 

    The Navajo tribe is the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the U.S., with roughly 400,000 individuals and territory spanning more than 27,000 square miles. Generations of resilient families who call this area home are inspirational, for this is a region unfortunately marked by historical marginalization and resulting pervasive poverty. One-third of households lack access to running water, an equal proportion lack electricity, and half the population lives below the poverty threshold. 

    Studies have shown that social determinants, such as income, education, housing, and community resources, significantly impact an individual's overall health and their ability to access necessary medical and eye care services. For disadvantaged communities such as the Navajo nation, the lack of economic resources often results in limited access to many healthcare facilities and specialists. Remarkably, in this region larger than the state of West Virginia, there is not a single full-time ophthalmologist available. The need to provide eye care services to the people of this region was the driving force behind the University of Utah Moran Eye Center’s partnership with the Navajo Nation.

    About the authors:

    Headshot of Mubarik Mohamed, MD Mubarik Mohamed, MD, is a second-year resident at the Moran Eye Center. He completed his undergraduate and medical degrees at Ohio State University.
    Headshot of Jordan Desautels, MD Jordan Desautels, MD, is a second-year resident at the Moran Eye Center. He completed his undergraduate degree at Boston University and medical degree at Brown University.
    Headshot of Anthony Mai, MD Anthony Mai, MD, is chief resident at the Moran Eye Center. He completed his undergraduate degree at UCLA and medical degree at the University of Iowa.
    Headshot of Michael S. Murri, MD Michael S. Murri, MD, graduated from the University of Utah as a global outreach scholar and is a cornea, external disease and refractive surgery fellow at the University of Colorado.