Students Experience Hands-On Optometry Labs, Lessons in the Annual SEE Program

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June 21, 2023 | Downers Grove, IL

Parres Wright, O.D., FAAO, Assistant Professor for the Chicago College of Optometry, assisted students with an activity in the low vision session.

Midwestern University held its fifth annual Summer Eye Experience (SEE) program offered by the Chicago College of Optometry (CCO). During the course of the program, students gained exposure to the Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree, learned about an optometry career via workshops, prepared for admission with their application portfolio, experienced laboratories to learn optometric skills, and viewed a day in the life of an optometry student. There were 28 participants in this year’s SEE event from nine states including Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In order to qualify for the SEE program, potential participants must be students pursuing an undergraduate degree or a recent graduate. Students in their junior and senior years are given first consideration to join the program.

John Gialousakis, O.D., Ed.M., FAAO, Director of Curriculum Development, Associate Professor, and Chair of the Admissions Committee for the Chicago College of Optometry said, “The SEE at CCO program was designed for those interested in pursuing a career in optometry, as well as those who are still unsure and would like to see if optometry is for them. Participants gained insight into the optometric profession, including the application process, as well as experience what it would be like to be an optometry student at CCO.”

Participating students shared their experiences. Jessa Anderson, a biology major from the University of North Dakota, said, “I just love getting to see the campus. The technology is impressive. The multidisciplinary clinic is amazing.” She added her favorite aspects of the program were seeing the clinic and the VR (virtual reality) lab.

Lauren Bartholomew, a biology major from Illinois State University, said “The program was very well organized,” adding, “The teachers were very passionate.” This experience “reassured me that optometry is what I want to do.”

Students practiced working with contact lenses under the guidance of Jessica Conroy, O.D., FAAO, Assistant Professor at the Chicago College of Optometry.

During the program, students found out more about the academic and clinical sides of CCO and had a chance to talk to current students. They toured the CCO’s classrooms and labs. They also spent a day in the life of the optometry student and saw and experienced optometric specialties. The schedule involved ocular anatomy, pediatrics and vision therapy, low vision, optics, primary care and ocular disease, and contact lenses.

“Touring the clinic, I felt like I never wanted to leave,” said Rachel Cepolski, a health science major at Benedictine University. It was also encouraging for Rachel to shadow students in their third year in the O.D. program. She is thinking about pursuing the fields of vision therapy or pediatrics in optometry.

Catherine Ndukwe, a biology major from the University of Detroit Mercy added that the sessions to prepare for the OAT (Optometry Admission Test) helped to alleviate some of her anxiety in taking the exam. “The incoming first-year students were talking to us about their study habits, how much time they’re putting into OAT.”

Leticia Flores-Najera graduated from Elmhurst University with a major in biology. Leticia remarked the sessions of Low Vision and Vision Therapy were a “crash course in how optometrists make a person feel more confident and comfortable in their everyday life.” She also encourages other students interested in the optometry field to participate in future SEE events. “It helps people who don’t have those connections and opportunities to shadow an optometrist and know their options.”

Students learned the number of patients experiencing low vision is projected to nearly triple by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. More people experience low vision in increasing numbers due to several factors including a longer lifespan, macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetes, higher cholesterol, and obesity. They also gained information about eye exams specific to low vision patients, and different methods and devices to assist patients with low vision.

The group also learned the appropriate age for the first eye exam of a patient is six to 12 months. In this eye exam, as the child cannot read, lights and reflexes with lights are used to test the patient’s vision. Students did a lab to determine their ocular dominancy, in addition to obtaining visual acuities. As a part of their experience with the VR direct ophthalmoscopy simulator, utilizing Haag-Streit Simulators for VR care, students explored how to assist a patient with ocular issues, and they learned the benefits of identifying the issue in the VR lab and earlier on in their academic career (i.e. before entering the clinic).

The SEE program in Downers Grove is held every June. Midwestern University offers the O.D. program on the Downers Grove and Glendale campuses to provide students with the skills and experiences they need to be successful, patient-centered optometrists.

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