|In early March, Dr. Mary Anne Murphy, OD, of Front Range Eye Associates, P.C., traveled from her Colorado home base to Tanzania to train and mentor local vision center optometrists in rural communities in the Eastern African nation. The trip was sponsored by Vision Source in conjunction with Optometry Giving Sight (OGS). Among the many positive results, the trip gave Dr. Murphy the opportunity to see just how donations to Optometry Giving Sight are utilized. During her three-week stay, Dr. Murphy participated in the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) program and worked closely with doctors from all over the country—some traveled up to 16 hours to participate. She documented her experience on OGS Facebook and Twitter feeds, effectively raising awareness of the much-needed help she provided in real time. |
|Sponsored by Optometry Giving Sight and Vision Source, Mary Anne Murphy, OD, traveled to Tanzania to train optometrists.
A Program with Legs
Dr. Murphy explained the goal of this effort as being different from other programs in that she did not meet with local patients but rather with doctors so that they may better treat their patients in the long term. She explained the difference: “The doctors [in other programs] come in, and there are kilometers of patients lined up to have services. In a single day, you could easily see 100 patients. After two or three days, and two or three hundred patients, you leave. They are rewarding for the care providers, and there are definitely some benefits to the people of the community, but it’s very finite.”
Instead, she set out—grassroots-style—to take part in a program that will be able live on for years to come, and she documented her process. The trip involved quite a bit of preparatory legwork on Dr. Murphy’s part. She walked through the steps involved. “It was setting up what shots I needed, how far ahead of time did I need to plan for these travels, and what kinds of things did I need to take with me? Doctors have done that before, but my role in this was really documenting that. So next year, if someone wants to go, it’s all laid out for them. Once we got there, my role was not to actually see a single patient but rather to work with the local optometrists to give them some upscale training so they can provide sustainable care in our absence.”
Education and Training
Dr. Murphy pointed out that within Tanzania there’s just one school of optometry, which graduates roughly only 20 people per year. “There’s a real lack of infrastructure with respect to education,” she said. One of her primary goals was to ignite a spark in the doctors she met so they would want to learn more over time. “It was an opportunity to give them exposure to what optometrists in developed countries are doing and to really just fire up their passion to learn more. I thought that was going to be a lot of work, but they are so thirsty for knowledge, it’s unbelievable.”
Dr. Murphy worked with these doctors on a range of topics, from optometry basics to working with how to enhance the level of care they can offer patients. A key example she shared was the introduction of the slit lamp microscope to the doctors she worked with. “We were delivering slit lamps to them for the first time, and [sharing] the ability to look and see—in high magnification—the cornea, iris, and other parts of the eye for the first time with this technology. They were just so amazed by it. It really brought me back to the time when I was in training and the first time I was able to look in that microscope, and I thought, ‘Why would I ever need to see the eye this big?’ and then, ‘It’s so beautiful.’ Introducing the slit lamp to optometrists who have been practicing there for 15 to 20 years was really amazing. I think that simple task alone, being able to work hands-on with them to master the slit lamp, is going to go a long way for them.”
|Dr. Murphy shared her experiences in Tanzania with the world each day via Facebook and Twitter.
Social Media’s Role
From a technical standpoint, the cards were sometimes stacked against Dr. Murphy in her effort to share her experiences in Tanzania with the world each day via Facebook and Twitter. But even with unpredictable electricity flow and a sporadic Internet connection, she got her message out. OGS’s Facebook page was established shortly before Dr. Murphy’s departure, and it already has about 2,500 fans. She attributed the page’s popularity to the benefits of a project of this nature, both internationally and here in the U.S. “The value for optometrists stateside is seeing that their money is actually being used for a very worthy cause,” she said. “That was a sense of responsibility I had, to let them know how far these dollars were going and that the money that we’re giving has such tremendous value in these locations.”
Looking to the Future
According to Dr. Murphy, the future of improved optometry in Tanzania lies in the proper education of new doctors and in keeping up the interest level and enthusiasm of the optometrists with whom she has already worked. She said, “Just like any optometrist here, we go to these conferences, we come back all excited. What we need is accountability. We need someone to encourage us to implement these things. Someone needs to go back in short order and be able to reinforce, after they’ve learned how to use the slit lamp, to go over more complicated techniques. They’re so receptive to having visitors there, that the more someone can be there, the better.”
So what are the next steps? For eyecare professionals who want to lend a hand, there are a number of ways to help. Giving is the first, most obvious way, of course. “Not everyone has the flexibility to give time—simple donations can go so far,” Dr. Murphy said. “A lot of times, people undermine their ability to give, thinking, ‘I can only give $10 a month, and how far can that really go?’ Well, it goes a long way.” Beyond monetary donations, Dr. Murphy, along with OGS and ICEE, hope that her efforts to establish a protocol for trips like this will make it easier for doctors who can spare the time and the airfare. “I think a lot of people have expressed an interest in doing that, but there hasn’t been a framework that’s made it easy. These people that are running businesses and seeing patients—they really just don’t have the time to coordinate it. The goal for moving forward now is creating a very simple format, so if someone says, ‘OK, I’m willing to take two weeks and go. Just tell me where to show up.’ It will be so easy, once they get there, to work with the local doctors in those countries.”
Rachel Bozek is a freelance writer who includes the optical field as one of her areas of expertise. Contact email@example.com with comments and/or suggestions for future topics.