Connecting eyes and health around the world

Over the past several years, NECO students have partnered with peers from Wenzhou Medical University (WMU) and SUNY Optometry to participate in the Global Health Leadership Development Program.

The program is designed to help students broaden their perspective on global health while providing useful leadership development skills. Students share research posters and presentations with their peers, faculty and a panel of experts. Their research was presented on the occasion of World Sight Day.

This research program was created in part because of NECO’s partnerships with many international schools of optometry, one of our closest partners being WMU, and through the coordination of NECO Assistant Professor of Clinical Optometry and Coordinator for International Programs Dr. Meng Meng Xu.

Our relationship dates back 30 years, when both schools worked together to pioneer optometry education in China. In past years, they have sent ten medical students to NECO to learn more about the US health care system and gain a more global perspective on contemporary public health issues.

Due to the pandemic, students did all their research and discussions virtually. They chose from a range of topics to focus on, including comparing the health journey of a person diagnosed with diabetes in the US versus China, and how technology will shape the future of overall healthcare or eye care delivery in China and the US.

A poster presentation depicting the patient’s journey after being diagnosed with diabetes.

One of the NECO students who participated in this project was Lucy Raptis OD2. She shares her experience and what she learned in the interview below. She focused on how technology will shape eye care in the future with her group partners Jian Zhao, Shiqi Hu, Zelin Wang, Xinyun Li and Yuchen Liu.

WMU’s Yi Ye also shares their experiences and key takeaways from participating in the Global Health Leadership Development Program below.

NECO: What was your experience working with students from another country?

LR: I had a great time working with students from another country! I feel like I made new friends and great writing buddies. We all had so much in common and really enjoyed connecting and working together. We all have very busy student schedules, plus a 12-hour time difference, so we quickly realized that we needed to meet very early in the morning or very late at night to communicate effectively. Once we mapped out the time for these meetings, everything was smooth sailing and a lot of fun.

Lucy at the White Coat Ceremony

NECO: What has this international collaboration taught you?

LR: It taught me that the needs of one country can be very different from the needs of another. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how structurally different medical care can be in other parts of the world. I’ve lived in the US all my life, so hearing my international classmates’ perspective on healthcare in China was really eye-opening. Conversely, I was also reminded of how similar people tend to be. My peers and I have a lot in common, especially as students in a medical program. They were so easy to talk to and I consider them my friends.

NECO: What did you learn after comparing our eye care system with China’s system?

LR: The biggest lesson I learned is that our needs are met differently than theirs. Here in the US, people in rural areas have access to eye care. Whereas in China, people in rural areas do not have the same access. Therefore, there is a strong need for screening tools and the use of telemedicine to connect patients in rural areas with physicians in urban areas.

I also learned that in China, the government subsidizes telehealth programs so that patients in rural areas have better access to eye care. Recently, an eye doctor in Beijing even performed laser eye surgery remotely. These were all interesting things to learn about eye care in China. In the US, we use telemedicine differently, for example it is sometimes used in eye care for follow-up exams.

A poster presentation describing how telemedicine can shape eye care.

NECO: Why did you choose this topic?

LR: I chose the topic of technology because I knew I would learn something interesting. Technologies are constantly evolving. It has had a major impact on eye care, especially in the last few decades. A comparison of how technology is used in eye care in two different countries turned out to be quite surprising.

NECO: Have you seen telehealth impact patients’ lives?

LR: Yes, I have seen telehealth make a positive impact on the lives of many patients. This gives them convenient access to health care as it takes time and money to visit in person. I’ve seen firsthand many patients who were so happy and relieved that they didn’t have to take time off from work, but instead were able to hop on a quick 15-minute telemedicine call to talk to their doctor about their symptoms of dry eye. This is why telemedicine is so good for follow-up care.

NECO: What do you hope to see for optometry in terms of care delivery?

LR: I hope the field of optometry continues to provide fantastic patient care in the most efficient way possible. This means using telemedicine whenever it is a reasonable option for follow-up examinations. In my experience, telemedicine appointments are efficient and convenient for both the doctor and the patient. I hope that telemedicine will continue to be used daily in optometric care.

NECO student Lucy Raptis (above left) meets with WMU students in Zoom.

Yi Ye from WMU also shares her experience working with students from around the world. Time spent researching and collaborating with NECO students also revealed new insights into the healthcare and needs of different countries.

NECO: How was your experience working with NECO students?

YY: It was quite interesting working together across the ocean and time zones. When we had dates, we would usually fall asleep while the other had just woken up, so neither of us were ever 100 percent awake. We left messages for each other to work on at our leisure, just like a relay. But we ended up with a great project and we both learned a lot. Also, learning things about American culture from the perspective of American students really broadened my horizons.

NECO: What did you learn about the American health care system?

YY: I learned so much through this cross-cultural communication. For example, I learned that the prevention and control of myopia is not emphasized in the US, it is a very important initiative here in China, I thought it would be the same abroad.

Moreover, we shared and learned from each other work habits and study habits. The friendships we have made are even more valuable and impressive. Overall it was a fun experience and we hope one day we can work together offline!

NECO: What did you learn about eye care?

YY: I was stunned and moved by Professor Blair Wong’s story and his presentation and it made me interested in low vision care. The variety of care technologies for the visually impaired is impressive, and the American social support system for the visually impaired is more comprehensive than China’s.

I was also impressed by the related research that focuses on the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases by eye examination alone. This means that eye examinations are important not only for eye services, but for all health services. As a clinical student, these two weeks of classes expanded my knowledge of optometry and even made me consider choosing it as a field of study in my master’s degree.

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