Optometrist Kerryn Hart with patient Reanna Bathern, who needed updated glasses, and works at the public health section of the Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation.
By Helen Carter
Today on National Close the Gap Day, Melbourne optometrists Kerryn Hart and John De Francesco reflect on the rewarding outreach optometry trips they have done to the Northern Territory.
Kerryn, who is Optometry Australia’s Policy and Standards Advisor, said: ‘I’ve lost count of how many trips I’ve been on over the years – at least ten or more since 2008.
‘I find these trips very rewarding as many patients benefit from optometric review. Some may need a pair of glasses and an eye health examination, whereas others need urgent referral to an ophthalmologist for treatment of macular oedema or diabetic retinopathy.’
Kerryn’s latest visit to Tennant Creek was in March and she was accompanied by John from Oscar Wylee, Werribee, on his first outreach optometry trip.
The pair was based at Anyinginyi Allied Health Clinic, Tennant Creek as part of a Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation program funded by the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS.) Many of the patients they saw were Indigenous.
Optometry Australia’s Federal Budget Submission has called on the Australian Government to expand the VOS to ensure access to timely outreach eyecare by granting an additional $1.06 million in 2019-2020.
John De Francesco in the Eye Health 4WD
John, who travelled to remote clinics in the ‘eye health 4WD,’ said he wanted to gain experience in rural and remote medicine and improve his optometric skills and knowledge.
‘Clinical exposure in communities with different eye needs and issues is a great way to learn. Certain aspects of practice in these areas may also often be neglected or taken for granted in city practice,’ he said.
‘I have a keen interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and health issues and by working, living and interacting in the community, am much better placed to understand the barriers facing Indigenous Australians.
‘I also love to hike and the Australian outback has some of the most beautiful locations in the world. ‘
John found the trip ‘extremely enriching’ and achieved his goal of enhancing many of his optometric skills while learning much about the medical and other needs of Indigenous Australians.
Sense of purpose
‘There is also a very raw sense of purpose that one can receive from using one’s abilities to help those in a less fortunate position,’ he said. ‘Having even a small part in the development and thriving of the community was a fulfilling experience.’
Eye health assistant Amanda Short with optometrist John De Francesco
Kerryn worked with Acting Regional Eye Health Co-oordinator Wilma Smit from the Anyinginyi clinic, and John worked with eye health assistant Amanda Short who were invaluable support and helped with paperwork for Medicare, glasses orders, referrals and other logistics.
Optometrist Anna Morse, Programs Manager, Australia, Brien Holden Vision Institute Foundation, said the NT Outreach Optometry Program they worked under provided comprehensive optometry examinations for people living in remote and very remote NT. It is delivered by the institute in partnership with Aboriginal Health Services and their eye coordinators.
‘When possible, we aim for consistency and continuity of optometrists returning to the same region or even the same community,’ Anna said. ‘Also, the other key way consistency is assured is by delivering the services in a team, with the same eye coordinator or eye assistant coordinating the clinics as that person is the local expert in the regional eye care system and the optometrist works with them, hence a consistent approach.’
Optometrists undertake cultural awareness training with the institute before the trips.
‘We are always happy to receive expressions of interest from optometrists keen to work in the program,’ Anna said.
Interested optometrists can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Patient Andrew Toby, who needed glasses, is a driver for the Anyinginyi clinic and collected patients for Kerryn to see throughout the week.