Serving as one of the 3 patient navigators at the Illinois Eye Institute (IEI) Princeton Vision Clinic for the past few months has been an incredible experience in the daily life lessons it has taught me. In my short time at the clinic, I have learned about conducting vision exams and using tools such as OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) and fundus imaging to help diagnose patients. I was also able to witness the reality of inequality of access to health care. Because our clinic’s mission is to provide comprehensive vision care to children in the Chicago Public School (CPS) district regardless of a family’s ability to pay, we see a large volume of patients who have very limited access to health resources. More often than not, our patients’ families are underinsured or not insured, resulting in a majority of patients having received less vision care and/or follow-up prior to coming to the clinic.
As National Health Corps members, we volunteer at our service sites, but also attend NHC trainings and in-service days, where we strive to deepen our understanding of the root causes of health disparities that underserved communities face. Our discussions often revolve around the social determinants of health, which can include the prevalence of poverty and violence in Chicago, especially at Chicago Public schools.
I will never forget the first time I was able to connect what we had learned during our trainings to our patients’ experiences and health needs. I remember speaking to one of our doctors about a young high schooler’s concerning vision exam results and was stunned to hear that one of the reasons she was doing poorly in school might have been due to health-related barriers to learning. That day, she was diagnosed with convergence insufficiency, which is a common binocular vision disorder often associated with symptoms such as double vision, difficulty concentrating, and movement of print while reading. Seeing how excited she was to receive glasses, I felt a great sense of purpose. It is an incredible experience to serve the IEI clinic by providing comprehensive vision exams and being a part of a team that helps underserved patients gain access to necessary care.
These types of experiences serve as constant reminders that the fight for equality in access to care is what I want to tackle for the rest of my life. I am so thankful to be able to serve in National Health Corps Chicago and help fight health disparities in my community. Although our service term has just started, I know I will continue to learn valuable lessons that will help me achieve my dreams of becoming an outstanding community physician.
This blog post was written by 2018-19 NHC Chicago member Katy Pham.
Katy is a Patient Navigator at Illinois Eye Institute--Princeton Vision Clinic.