Volunteers With Vision
Having an eye condition as a child motivated UCLA student Clarissa Chen to pursue a career in medicine. She was diagnosed with strabismus, a problem that prevents the eyes from working as a team, and had surgery to correct the problem.
“My ophthalmologist lives in the bay area and works with an optometrist. I saw both as a patient, so it’s come full circle,” Clarissa explains. “I have good things to say about both professions, but I’m finding myself drawn to Ophthalmology. I love the interesting cases they get,” she adds. By working as a volunteer at Jules Stein Eye Institute, Clarissa is able to explore the fields of Optometry and Ophthalmology while still working on her bachelor’s degree.
“As a volunteer now, I get a lot of clinical experience – that’s the most important thing,” Clarissa says. “I’m getting the hang of how to act around people when they are in the exam room, how to talk to them – that’s the biggest thing I’m getting out of volunteering.”
Her experience as a child with vision problems helps her when she interacts with the children that are benefiting from screenings offered by Jules Stein.
“There are times, where you have to remember to be patient. There is frustration involved like every other occupation, but taking their photo, doing the scan on the machine, making them hold still for a long time, giving them a reward, makes it worth it for me,” she says. “Seeing them happy and knowing that you did something that will help them in the future, that’s why I want to be in medicine and that’s why I volunteer.”
Clarissa enjoys a variety of learning opportunities as a volunteer, including participation in a study on Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, which is providing her with some useful new skills.
“All the struggle I’ve gone through to recruit patients, making sure their parents are comfortable with the study, making sure they have time for the study, coordinating with people who actually take the pictures, I feel it’s worth it at the end, especially if it produces some good results,” Clarissa explains. “Just the idea that you are helping, trying to make a change, trying to find out something new is important. Finding out something new is my favorite part of volunteering,” she says.
By Deborah Goodwin, JSEI Affiliates Volunteer
UCLA student Jason Naderi is a very curious young man, and he’s been feeding that curiosity for the last four years as a volunteer at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.
“When I came to UCLA I still had no idea what kind of doctor I wanted to be. I started volunteering through the Jules Stein Eye Institute, and realized there are so many volunteer opportunities here, it’s hard to choose,” Jason explained.
So, he just jumped in. He has assisted with vision screening in preschools, worked with technicians in the mobile eye clinic, and helped with research in the lab of Dr. Sophie Deng, cornea specialist at JSEI.
His journey as a volunteer has even taken him back to his former elementary school. “We give a Vision In-School presentation to the students in the class, mostly 5th graders, about the eye, the importance of the eye, the anatomy of the eye and how to keep your eyes healthy,” he said. “It was my teacher’s classroom I had in fifth grade, same exact teacher, she said ‘Wow, back in fifth grade you weren’t even doing your homework, now look at you.’”
The presentation includes dissecting a cow’s eye, which gets the students’ attention and sparks curiosity. It gave Jason some new insight as well. “Through that I realized the eye is such a beautiful organ, there are so many components to it, so much can be done with it, research, procedures, teaching people about it. That drew my interest to ophthalmology.”
His attraction to ophthalmology deepened when Dr. Daniel Rootman, an orbit and ophthalmic plastic surgery specialist at UCLA, allowed Jason to shadow him while seeing patients in clinic. “I see what he does on a daily basis and it really interests me. There’s so much you can do with ophthalmology,” Jason explains. “I see how he deals with his patients and I think, wow, I want to be like him one day.”
As Jason heads to medical school, he is still fine-tuning his career path, but knows that his experience as a JSEI volunteer has been invaluable in helping him refine his options, focus his desires and find more meaning to his life as a student. “It’s programs like these that taught me the importance of giving back,” he said. “Part of our duty being here, being on this planet, we need to give back. It’s the least I can do for all the teachers who have taught me throughout the year how to excel.”
By Deborah Goodwin, JSEI Affiliates Volunteer