Imogen Builder Photo: Brien Holden Vision Institute
By Ashleigh McMillan
For Imogen Builder, one of the best parts of a clinical placement in the Katherine region last month was the variety of working environments, clinical cases and available equipment she encountered.
She examined Indigenous patients during a two-week placement in May as part of the Brien Holden Vision Institute Northern Territory Aboriginal Vision Program.
Imogen and fellow Flinders University optometry student Emma Nutt travelled more than 600 kilometres in four-wheel drives. Laundries and kindergartens doubled as clinics during the outreach visit.
‘The most beneficial part of the trip was not having access to all the equipment and tests you would want, especially in the remote communities, so we had to learn to improvise and use other tests to get the necessary answers,’ Imogen said.
‘In the 10 days of clinics we saw over 50 patients each, which provided us with an invaluable learning experience, expanding our knowledge and clinical skills.’
Imogen and Emma were accompanied by three optometrists who supervised as the students conducted full examinations, prescribed lenses to correct refractive error and determined management of ocular disease.
Emma says the biggest learning curve was in overcoming the language and culture barriers between her and her patients.
‘I met a young girl from Urapunga who was only six years old and had sadly acquired a traumatic cataract from a penetrating injury six months prior. Despite her injury, she was so happy and full of life,’ Emma said. ‘She was so intrigued about my life and culture, just as I was about hers. I was fortunate to see her twice on my trip and she made a lasting impression on me.
‘I have strong aspirations to deliver eye-care services in remote settings throughout Australia, and the program with the Brien Holden Vision Institute has really cemented this for me,’ Emma said.
Imogen says her country upbringing had given her an appreciation of the shortcomings of services in remote areas and she recommends rural placements to students looking for clinical experience.
‘You are exposed to a variety of different ocular conditions and although it’s a steep learning curve, it’s going to shape you to become a better clinician.
‘The moment of biggest impact for me wasn’t a particular clinical case, it was when we were driving into Urapunga, a remote community: the welcome we got from the local residents. They all waved to us and smiled, thankful for us being there. It made you realise you really were appreciated and what you were doing was a wonderful thing,’ Imogen said.
Two more Flinders University students will be heading out on another of the institute’s placements in July.