By Penry Rouston
There has been a tremendous response from each of the indigenous communities, with the days often fully booked and providing a challenging and exciting experience for myself.
Since commencing the outreach program through RWAV and the VOS in July 2019, I have been able to provide optometry services to the Gunditjmara (Warrnambool), Windamara (Heywood) and Kirrae (Framlingham) indigenous communities. I’ve been made to feel very welcome at each of these locations, and a large number of patients have suggested that being able to see an optometrist both close to home and in an environment in which they feel safe and comfortable made them far more likely to access eye care.
There has been a tremendous response from each of the indigenous communities, with the days often fully booked and providing a challenging and exciting experience for myself. A particular case where a pair of prescription glasses helped an elderly patient to achieve clearer vision than she has ever experienced before was especially rewarding, and showed the importance of the program in providing care to those who may not have been able to access it previously.
As part of the visits to Windamara I’ve been lucky enough to work with the travelling Indigenous Diabetes Eye and Screening Van (IDEAS) van. The outreach visiting days enables patients to have access to both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist within their community, and the technology available on the IDEAS van is first class. It is a rare opportunity that patients are able to attend an optometrist before moving directly on to an ophthalmologist where anti-VEGF injections and YAG laser can be carried out on-site, without the need for referrals or waiting times.
I was also privileged enough to undertake cultural safety training with members of the indigenous community. Being able to travel out on country to important indigenous landmarks and cultural sites was an incredibly moving and humbling experience, and it was fascinating to learn about the traditions and customs of the local people from the traditional owners of the land.
At a local level, I’ve been able to provide visiting optometry services to the Timboon medical clinic and Headspace services at Brophy, along with school screenings for the primary students at Mortlake p-12 College. Each of these visits enabled eye care for those that may not have had access to it otherwise, or would have had to travel large distances for routine check-ups.
While only a few months in to the outreach program, it has already been hugely beneficial in reaching a wide range of patients from various backgrounds, and I am hopeful that it can continue to grow and reach more of the community over time.