Lauren Hutchinson on her placement at Mater Private Hospital Springfield Image: Institute for Urban Indigenous Health
By Philip Ritchie
Optometry students can fast forward into the profession with a scholarship designed for undergraduates with an interest in Indigenous health.
The successful applicant of the Workforce Initiative scholarship will receive 30 days of paid employment with the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH), across more than a dozen Brisbane-based clinics, thanks to its partnership with the Fred Hollows Foundation.
In addition, the recipient will have the chance to visit rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and receive $5,000 to fund attendance at conferences.
It’s the second year the scholarship has been on offer and students from any Australian university can apply. Initially, the scholarship this year was exclusively for students who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander but there were no applicants.
Lauren Hutchinson, a Wiradjuri woman and optometry student, was the first to receive the scholarship last year. She has a Bachelor of Vision Science and she’s completing her final year studying a Masters of Optometry at Queensland University of Technology.
‘It was such an amazing opportunity to work with communities and experience, first-hand, how optometry works,’ Lauren said.
‘I encourage others to apply. You get the chance to learn from some of the leading people in Indigenous health, not only optometry. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team, as an optometrist, is something that students need to experience.’
Lauren was exposed to various parts of the industry as she worked her way through the Brisbane-based Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) that IUIH works out of, as an optometry assistant.
‘I really enjoyed getting to work exclusively with my community. There are different health needs for our people. Often these patients will have multiple co-morbidities, and working their eye health into their existing plans can be challenging but rewarding in the long run.’
During her scholarship, she gained experience working with optical coherency tomography, visual fields and fundus photography. She organised prescription spectacles and learned from experienced optometrists how to best manage treatments before advising local primary care workers about patient treatment options.
Image: Institute for Urban Indigenous Health
The highlight of her scholarship was her involvement with cataract surgery patients.
‘My stand-out moment was definitely my first cataract surgery day. I had formed a bond with one aunty who had pretty much stopped leaving the house and participating in community activities because her vision was so affected. I stayed with her the whole time leading up to and then right after she came out of the surgery.
‘It really opened my eyes to how health care in Indigenous communities works behind the scenes. Being there for patients through that entire journey is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
‘Straight after surgery she couldn't believe the change in her vision. She was so thankful. I got a lot of cuddles that day.’
University commitments kept Lauren from visiting remote areas with the Fred Hollows Foundation, but she compensated by spending more time at local AMS clinics. ‘I had the chance to work out of almost every one of their clinics across south-east Queensland,’ she said.
Since completing the scholarship, Lauren has a job lined up in New South Wales for next year.
‘After seeing my passion in Indigenous health, my employer has organised for us to start visiting clinics to surrounding communities,’ she said.
To apply for the scholarship, email Lisa Penrose from IUIH at firstname.lastname@example.org.