In less than six months, we second-years are going to start clinic rotations in The Eye Center. What? I can’t believe I am almost halfway through this crazy ride of optometry school. In preparation for our time in The Eye Center, we perform school screenings at elementary schools around the city every week.
This experience is rewarding and beneficial in numerous ways. This is the best opportunity to practice our clinic skills and communication techniques from the past year. We have become “experts” working with perfect optometry student patients. We can rattle off that 20/15 line with our eyes closed. We can give halfway instructions to look out at that big “E” during a cover test and our patient would respond perfectly, every single time. However, elementary school children are not perfect patients. They look around, cover the wrong eye, or just start crying. We learned through practice each week how to effectively communicate with each age group. What we say to a first grader might not be necessary for a fifth grader. Since we never know who is going to be sitting in our chair next, the ability to quickly and effectively transition between communication styles will allow us to be excellent doctors.
For example, you could ask a pre-schooler “what is the lowest line you can make out?” all day and never get a response. A naïve optometry student might believe this child can’t see anything, anywhere and mark “F”s across the board. However, that child is probably nervous or intimidated by our white coats and us in general. If the intern got on the same level as the child and asked what shape/letter the child saw one by one, he or she would most likely get a more accurate recording to the visual acuity of the child. Since these experiences in the classroom are only screenings, the success and accuracy of the Modified Clinical Technique we use for school screenings is dependent on proper patient communication and instructions.
Personally, I have learned better communication techniques while working with children. I am an only child and the youngest cousin of my family, so you could say my interaction with children has been limited. However, I have watched my classmates to see what they do in situations, and learned my own technique from there. One trick I learned to get younger children to cooperate on direct is saying, “Okay I’m gonna use this cool light to look in the back of your eye. If you hold really still for me, I’ll let you take the light and look into my eye. How does that sound?” Usually they are so excited to touch the grown-up’s toy that they eagerly follow along. Most of the time the child holds the direct for a second or two, becomes bored, and goes back to their class. Every once in a while, however, a wide-eyed child takes the direct and really tries to look for the back of my eye. Maybe that small interaction opened a kid’s mind to a future in optometry or medicine. You never know what small act of wonder and curiosity will make the world of a difference to anyone, especially a child.