Monday, April 25, 2016

Ophthalmic Students in Guatemala

Student, Celestin Collins, works to determine a young boy’s prescription.
Every year for the last 9 years, Ophthalmic Program students have traveled to Guatemala on a faculty-led international service learning trip, in conjunction with the Hendersonville Rotary Club.  The most recent trip took place February 28-March 6th.  The VSCC delegation consisted of 4 ophthalmic students and 2 faculty members.  Members included Celestin Collins, Abigail Flora, Christine Hyde, and Liana Brisbon, as well as Alisha Cornish, Ophthalmic Program Director, and Jana Allen, Associate Professor of Health Sciences.

The trip to Guatemala is unique in that it combines service learning with true travel abroad experiences.  Preparation for this trip starts months in advance with collection and organization of hundreds of donated prescription glasses.   Students participate in monthly planning and preparation meetings with the mission team from the Hendersonville Rotary Club.   During the 9-day trip, 2 days are spent traveling, 4 days are spent in clinic, and 3 days are spent sightseeing and experiencing the culture.  Clinic days are long but rewarding.  Students are able to use the knowledge and skills they learned in class and observe conditions not commonly seen in the United States.  Students spend their time in clinic determining patients’ prescriptions for glasses and examining a range of patients from babies to the elderly. 

The lack of equipment is one of the biggest challenges encountered while working in clinic.  Tests performed on expensive pieces of equipment in the U.S. are performed by hand using very basic equipment in Guatemala.  Students come back from Guatemala as better clinicians with a different perspective of what constitutes a difficult clinical case.  Patients that one might have thought were difficult before Guatemala, are much easier upon your return, knowing you have all of the state-of-the-art equipment at your disposal.  Four hundred and ninety-seven people were helped in the vision clinic this year. In addition to the Ophthalmic Program’s vision clinic, the Hendersonville Rotary Club provides a dental, medical, and psychological clinic.  Ophthalmic students are able to witness the services provided in these clinics as well.

A unique part of this trip is the ability to spend a great deal of time with Guatemalan Rotary members and translators.  Many of our translators are high school students taking English classes or working on community service hours.  The Guatemala students are able to practice their English and obtain the community service hours required by their schools, while the VSCC ophthalmic students are able to learn some Spanish and a great deal about the culture from the translators.  A couple of our translators have helped with our vision clinic every year for the last 7 years. Many long-term friendships are made by students and faculty as a result of the time spent working together.

This year on the days not spent in clinic, students hiked Volcano Pacaya and roasted marshmallows in the cooling lava. In addition, student had an opportunity to tour several churches, as well as the ruins of churches built in the 1600 and 1700s that were destroyed by earthquakes.   We were also fortunate enough to be in Guatemala during the time leading up to Easter.  Because of the timing of our trip, we were able to witness one of the world famous Catholic processions in Antigua, Guatemala.  People from all over the world travel to Antigua just to witness these processions.  Lastly, we were able to see the eruption of the Fuego Volcano.  A truly amazing experience.

Ophthalmic student Celestin Collins said it best, “I always knew that helping people was something I loved doing, but I never realized that it would bring an opportunity that would change my life forever.  Guatemala will forever hold a piece of my heart.”

-Ophthalmic Technician Program Director, Alisha Cornish

For more information on the Ophthalmic Technician Program at Vol State visit

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