Orthoptic volunteering opens eyes
Orthoptists and students volunteering as patient educators with Glaucoma Australia say that it’s making a personal and professional difference.
Human connection, a deeper understanding of glaucoma and greater confidence in patient interactions are just some of the benefits of the program according to orthoptists Cassandra Tam and Najm-ul Choudhry.
Glaucoma is a common disease with two in every 100 Australians developing it in their lifetime Aged over 80, it becomes one in every 8 persons. So, as an orthoptist, you’re highly likely to work with glaucoma patients during your career.
Glaucoma Australia has approached UTS students and orthoptists to assist in their patient education program where a simple phone call can make all the difference.
Cassandra, who started with the program when she was still a student, says that the experience was excellent preparation for real clinics.
Volunteer educators get a weekly list of patients to call. They may be following up on appointments, checking if patients have been taking their drops, or answering any questions.
“You get a lot of experience talking to patients from many different backgrounds and you have to get your point across in a way that they understand. That’s helped with my work now where there are also people from diverse backgrounds.”
She didn’t realise that it would also help her when she was looking for work.
“The more you talk, the more confident you get talking to other people. I think it helped me with my interview skills and speaking with the interviewers.”
But the personal interaction is why she’s still doing it.
“It’s nice to be able to connect with people.”
“The audience that we speak with are a bit older. Even if it’s just five minutes during your day, it can be a real comfort and help to them.”
Once you get glaucoma, you can slow the progression. Patient education and treatment make the big difference.
Juliet, who got a phone call through this service, agrees.
“I know that GA is Glaucoma Australia but I call them the Guardian Angel orthoptists, full of wisdom and reassurance for my anxious questions.”
Najm, who also works as a research assistant, is passionate about patient education.
“Once you get glaucoma, you can slow the progression. Patient education and treatment make the big difference.”
“The most rewarding thing for me was not seeing people once they come to the clinic but actually playing a role to slow the progression down through patient education. People can have a good quality of life rather than having severe vision loss.”
A phone call is more relaxed than the pace of a clinic.
“This gives a chance for more meaningful patient interaction. They’re in their own home and much more comfortable asking questions.”
Najm also agrees that this knowledge and experience translates well into everyday work.
“Now in the clinic, I instantly know how to relate to these patients. I know the common questions they’ll have and how many times I might need to repeat certain information.”
It’s also provided her with a wider professional network and research opportunities.
“It actually offers more opportunities beyond what you thought you’d be doing. People connected with Glaucoma Australia have approached me regarding clinical research they have coming up or just to keep in touch. So, it just gives you that other edge.”
Even on maternity leave, Najm is still making her weekly calls,
“Ten minutes is nothing to ring up people and make a difference in their life. I learn so much about gratitude and meaning and mental wellbeing.”
That difference was something that glaucoma patient Lesley has felt.
“I’m grateful to my ophthalmologist for her reassurance and skills and to Glaucoma Australia for the information they provide but mostly for the reassuring phone call that I had from a lovely woman just after I joined.”