Eyes on the US

Virginia optometrist, Dr Victoria Molnar Weiss, runs giant pop-up clinics offering free optical, medical and dental care to those who cannot afford it

13 Dec 2016 by Olivia Wannan

Dr Victoria Molnar WeissDr Victoria Molnar Weiss’ first patient on a July long weekend enters the barn at 5.30am. Speaking of the early starts, she confesses to OT that: “I am not a morning person.”

But Dr Weiss knows that this patient may have travelled, or even walked, miles to attend the clinic, run by the charity Remote Area Medical (RAM) and offering free optical, medical and dental care in a country where the uninsured and underinsured often cannot afford to maintain their health.

“Sometimes just the most simple and easy fix – new eyeglasses – can mean so much to one person. They can see to interview for a new job, drive to work or to pick up children, see the board to learn in school,” she highlighted.

These patients’ needs have led Dr Weiss to volunteer with the organisation for nearly two decades. She emphasised that: “Once someone volunteers, they will be hooked. You realise that the work you were trained to do can really make a difference. It also teaches you to be grateful.”

The Virginia arm of the international RAM organisation will run nine pop-up clinics over 2017, three more than this year. The largest of these is held at the Wise County Fairgrounds, Virginia every July.

Dr Weiss has been president of the organisation for her state since 2014, and her husband, Doug – also an optometrist – is also on the board of directors.

Dr Weiss noted that this role led her to learn about the wider care being offered across the Virginia RAM clinics, including substance abuse treatment services to the clothing, footwear and book donations.

“I have learned much about medical and dental, whether I liked it or not,” she explained.

The 10 or more volunteer optometrists and dispensing opticians must truck everything from refraction equipment to edgers into the clinic’s temporary location, where they set up vision refracting lanes. Trained Lion’s Club members complete pre-testing for the patients who attend, Dr Weiss explained.

Dr Weiss outlined that as well as providing refractive services: “We also diagnose and treat and find eye disease. For each clinic, I get a local eye doctor to agree to see those needing further care. We have diagnosed brain tumours, diabetes, glaucoma, conjunctivitis.”

Each day, up to 400 pairs of spectacles are produced by the dispensing opticians at the pop-up clinic. Dr Weiss asserted that at the end of every day, she and her volunteers felt exhausted, adding: “But we are always touched and pleased that we were able to help so many patients.”

She explained that: “This year in Lee county, I had a young lady whose glasses were in such bad shape, they were taped with masking tape that occluded one eye. She was slightly amblyopic from that [6/7.5] when I saw her, but she should be fine now with her new eyeglasses and no tape. She was only 18.”

Dr Weiss told OT that: “One of my main reasons for going into healthcare was to try to do something and have a skill that would be able to help others less fortunate than I am. Luckily, I grew up with access to healthcare, education and other opportunities. I feel it is our responsibility if we are able to help those in the world around us who have difficulties.”

She added: “Year after year in Central America [with Volunteer Optometrist Services to Humanity], I saw so many people without the basic need of spectacles and eye drops that they needed, and the eye doctors to help them. Now that I have been mostly working in the US, and Virginia particularly, I have noticed so much need even right in my own backyard.”

To find out more or to donate, visit the RAM website.

Image credit: Victoria Weiss/Remote Area Medical

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