SCO program aims to increase minority interest in optometry

July 31, 2012

Zakiya Nicks, O.D., an SCO faculty member, instructs students in the “Success for Sight” summer learning program.

Last month, 12 Memphis high school students descended on Southern College of Optometry’s academic and clinical spaces for the first-ever “Success in Sight,” a two-day intensive summer learning opportunity for at-risk minority students.

“The prevailing trend among most of our graduates is to return to their hometowns to practice optometry,” said Janette Dumas, O.D., coordinator for minority student recruitment at SCO. “While our geographically diverse enrollment is beneficial to most areas, the relatively low number of minorities in the field of optometry as a whole leaves many inner cities without necessary eye care professionals.”

Dr. Dumas hopes to change that as an assistant professor and optometrist at SCO.

She sought to combat the trend by reaching out to area high school counselors in Memphis, Tenn., where SCO treats more than 80,000 patients per year through The Eye Center.

SCO student Virgilio Gozum demonstrates procedures to students as part of the program.

The goal was to reach students with an interest in health care and the potential to fulfill a great need in their communities, and the counselors quickly jumped on board.

This year, Dr. Dumas welcomed 12 students to the inaugural program from Central High School, Memphis Health Careers Academy and the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences.

During their two-day visit to the school, the students met with optometrists in both academic and clinical settings and took part in various activities, including dissections and eye exams.

“Our students are interested in health care, but few know what it takes to get there or what the options are,” said Jada Meeks, Ph.D., counselor at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences. “It’s easy to watch television and have an idea of what a surgeon does, but optometry is a viable career path that is not often highlighted in the mainstream media. This program is going to be so beneficial to our students and the underserved communities in which they will eventually practice.”

While 2012 marks the first year of Success in Sight, Dr. Dumas hopes to expand it and eventually create a program that can be replicated at optometry schools and even private clinics across the country.

Coordinator for minority student recruitment at SCO Janette Dumas, O.D., is shown with program participants. Dr. Dumas hopes to expand the program for at-risk students to other schools across the country.

“The patients we serve at The Eye Center at SCO really inspired me to build this program and help minority communities overcome a lack of health care professionals,” Dr. Dumas said. “The participants were wonderful, and I hope to see them as students in my classroom in the next few years.”

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