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Looking Beyond Primary Care: Special Populations Rotation

Contact lens on finger

My third clinical rotation is nearing its end, which means that I am almost 75% done my final year at NECO! Special Populations, my current rotation, was one I had looked forward to ever since selecting my fourth-year externships. Special Populations gives students the opportunity to explore a variety of optometric specialties that they may not have had much exposure to thus far. The specialties I decided to focus on for this rotation were contact lenses, low vision, and individuals with disabilities.

Specialty Contact Lens

Although I entered into this rotation with some experience fitting soft contact lenses, I did not have much exposure to fitting specialty contact lenses in a clinical setting. Lenses such as orthokeratology (ortho-K), scleral lenses and rigid gas permeable lenses had been discussed extensively in my classes and labs. I was excited to get more hands-on experience with these lenses as for many individuals with corneal pathologies, specialty lenses can provide a significant improvement to vision and quality of life. Since starting this rotation, I have been able to select, evaluate the fit, and train patients on insertion and removal for multiple brands and types of specialty lenses. This was a totally new experience for me that I would not have had without the opportunity to intern at a specialty clinic.

Low Vision

Performing a low vision evaluation is very different from the standard comprehensive eye examination I had been practising since beginning clinic as an OD2. The goal of the low vision exam is not to make the patient see “20/20”. Instead, it is to work with the patient to determine what visually assistive devices are most effective in helping a patient meet their visual goals. For example, reading is often a concern of low vision patients, and we work carefully with them to see what low vision device (ex. handheld magnifier, electronic magnifier, stronger reading glasses) best help them continue to read fluently. I have greatly enjoyed working with the low vision population and the patients that I have met are inspiring. Despite their visual impairments, they still pursue the hobbies and activities they love. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with this population again in the future.   

Individuals with Disabilities

Finally, as part of this rotation, I have had the opportunity to work with individuals with disabilities. These eye examinations are also different from the standard comprehensive eye examination and often the tests must be tailored for each individual patient. Sometimes we have to use alternative ways to perform our ocular tests so that we can help each patient reach their full visual potential. The experiences I have had working with these individuals have been some of the most rewarding of my optometric student career.             

When I finally graduate in May, I hope to incorporate the knowledge I have learned in Special Populations into my practice. I am so glad I was able to experience such an inspiring rotation.

Maria is a Canadian student in her final year of the four year OD/MS dual degree program. For her MS project, she is working with Dr. Vera-Diaz and Dr. Panorgias examining color vision and early age-related macular degeneration.