When Jessica Bodamer, now a fourth-year student at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, heard through the school’s American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) trustees that Luxottica and OneSight, its global nonprofit with a mission to eradicate the global vision crisis, were inviting students to go along its May 2017 trip to Tanzania, “I knew right away I wanted to go.” The one-week clinic represented a new partnership between Luxottica Retail, the AOSA and OneSight. It was much the same for Brittni Rodriguez, a member of the class of 2018 at the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry. She heard about the opportunity from one of her school’s AOSA trustees and realized that she really wanted to go.
Bodamer, vice president of her class of 2018, was selected and began asking others who had been on mission trips through SVOSH or other organizations what to expect. Even so, she couldn’t believe the sight of scores of Tanzanians, lining up in the dark of night to get an eye exam. “OneSight is set up really well. The program is organized so that the volume of people we see is maximized.” The group of 13 Luxottica Retail-affiliated ODs and 25 optometry school students examined more than 3,500 people, and more than 1,000 pairs of eyewear were manufactured on site.
The alliance between Luxottica, OneSight and the AOSA allowed the students to conduct exams under the supervision of a volunteer optometrist. There were also MDs on site who could be called on for a consult or further treatment. Students from the medical school in Dar Es Salaam served as translators, and the U.S. students on the trip really enjoyed getting to know this group.
Bodamer had three semesters of clinical experience, which had prepared her well, she says. “I wanted to work at every station and get a little taste of every part of the clinic,” she says. She enjoyed it all, but the day she spent dispensing and adjusting eyewear stands out especially because she could witness the patients’ reactions as they put on eyewear for their first time ever. “That was my favorite day. An important part of the dispensary was the reading glasses station. I remember one woman who started giggling because she could read again.”
Rodriguez recalls that days at the dispensing station as her favorite, too. “When you see their reactions to putting on eyeglasses, it’s priceless. There are no words that can describe that interaction. They have vision now; they have life. They can work and do their daily tasks,” Rodriguez says. She recalls an experience that brought her to tears—in part because she just wasn’t expecting to see gratitude on display the way it was. “I was helping a woman pick out her eyeglasses, and I told her, ‘These are your glasses. They look fabulous, and they’ll be ready in an hour.’ She began hugging and kissing me because she was so thankful. It showed me that what we consider this very simple thing is literally everything to some people. I thought, ‘This is worth it. This is everything that I wanted from this trip.”
The volunteers typically worked 12 hours a day, and the students were able to participate in the entire process. OneSight paired students with mentors, Luxottica Retail-affiliated ODs. Bodamer’s mentor was Britney Caruso, OD, a leaseholder with Target Optical in Lake Worth, Florida. “Onesight organizers impressed on us that we could ask the mentors anything,” she recalls, ranging from clinical questions in the field to asking about their career options. “That experience changed my perception. It showed me that there are multiple career options within the company and that these ODs strive to be the best clinicians, practicing much the same way that private practice ODs do. Plus, it’s cool to see another side of a company with Luxottica’s dedication to sustainable clinics and giving back.”
Rodriguez was paired with Sarah Krietlow, OD, a Pearle Vision Licensed Owner from Chaska, Minnesota. “She was phenomenal, willing to answer any questions we had. She was honest with us about her experience with corporate optometry and how she’s doing in the office,” she says. In fact, those conversations and the whole experience made Rodriguez begin to consider a Luxottica career much more seriously. “I learned so much about the scope of practice and what the company is about. I definitely want to explore that option, where I hadn’t really thought about it before.”
The experience was so terrific that Bodamer is now scheduled to go on her school’s SVOSH trip to Nicaragua in August.
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