By Philip Ritchie
The Essilor Vision Foundation is set to conduct free eye screenings next year at six primary schools along a 41-kilometre toll road in the Toowoomba area of Queensland.
In the first semester of 2018, 880 students will receive eyes checks by local volunteer optometrists and Queensland University of Technology students, the CEO of the foundation, Greg Johnson said. Referrals and free spectacles will be given to students found to need them.
‘I've now locked in all six primary schools: Helidon, Withcott, Murphy's Creek, Harlaxton, Highfields and Gowrie, and we'll get cracking first thing, first term,’ he said.
‘We’ll be screening for refraction, colour and stereopsis: they’re the main three. But optometry students and optometrists are looking for other things as well.’
To screen the schools, Essilor received funding from Nexus Infrastructure, a consortium of construction and social infrastructure experts associated with the $1.6 billion Toowoomba Second Range Crossing currently under construction.
The grants program accepted applications from not-for-profit groups operating near the road with community-supporting projects in health, safety, education or the environment.
‘Essilor Vision Foundation is one of six recipients in the second funding round of the Nexus Together community grants program,’ chairman of Nexus Infrastructure John Witheriff said.
‘Nexus is committed to supporting positive community health outcomes, and we’re proud to get behind our first eye health-related project,’ he said.
Essilor has screened more than 80 schools across Australia so far. Mr Johnson said screenings were an important part of optometry education because they were usually the first and most comprehensive connection with a patient.
After a recent screening, Mr Johnson said one of the optometry students embraced him and said: ‘I just love working with these kids. I just loved the screening.’
‘He was able to put into practice all the stuff that he’d learned in four years on campus. Getting your chairside manner in place can determine whether they’re going to be a behavioural optometrist or a general family optometrist.’
Two of the optometrists who have recently screened the Toowoomba region with Essilor and will be involved in next year’s screenings, said the program was a great learning experience.
‘There’s an opportunity there for optometry students to pick up skills and get involved. You’re looking at a truckload of kids. It’d be very hard to replicate that exposure in a student optometry clinic,’ Adam Barron, an optometrist from Heron Eyecare in Toowoomba, said.
Tien Nguyen said: ‘I've gained numerous clinical pearls on school screenings. My confidence in retinoscopy, ophthalmoscopy and binocular vision increased significantly with each visit.’ He completed a master of optometry at Queensland University of Technology this year.
‘It can be exhausting with the quantity of students there are to see, but it felt so rewarding at the end of each day. I definitely think everyone should give it a go, even if it's just once.’
Harlaxton State School principal Maxine Lester said next year’s screening would be the school’s third. Each visit has improved her students’ reading abilities, bumping up the school’s average and drawing in higher enrolment numbers.
‘We hadn’t been screened until Essilor came. Because of our low socio-economic area, we were the first school screened in Australia,’ Ms Lester said.
‘That was empowering for us because about 30 per cent of the students needed further testing, of which about 95 per cent went on to get spectacles. It’s made a huge difference to our school. Next year we’ll do all the preps and any new students.’
(L-R rear) Darrel Choo, Justine Chuang, Marika MacKenzie, (front) Grace Kim, Justine Huang, Greg Johnson and Syafiq Kusni