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The TICUA Connection: TICUA Partnership leads to free medical service for many

6/17/2008
By:
TICUA

Southern College of Optometry (SCO) students Gabi Fialka and Mary Quan conduct an eye exam on a patient at Lincoln Memorial Universitys (LMU) Third Annual Remote Area Medical Health Expedition. The SCO students were part of a 31-person delegation that provided eye care at the free clinic.

Harrogate, Tennessee, June 16, 2008—Competition among colleges and universities dominates the landscape of higher education. Schools compete on the athletic fields and in the classroom. They compete for students, coverage in the media and for funding opportunities. Yet through all the competition, a degree of camaraderie still shines through.

The Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA) was established to foster a greater level of collaboration among the Volunteer State’s private institutions of higher education. Private colleges and universities have been serving Tennessee for over 200 years and for many of those years they had to go it alone. That was until 1956, when the precursor to TICUA was established.

Today, TICUA engages Tennessee’s private colleges and universities to work collaboratively in areas of public policy, cost containment and professional development to better serve the state and its citizens. There are 37 member institutions that participate in a number of collaborative projects including peer environmental audits, procurement projects, business continuity planning and others. Each year the presidents from the member institutions come together for an annual meeting.

It was at the annual meeting that Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) President Nancy B. Moody first met Southern College of Optometry (SCO) President Richard Phillips. She greeted him with an old-fashioned handshake. It did not take long for that handshake to turn into a conversation.

Phillips was originally from East Tennessee and was familiar with LMU and its recent growth, including Tennessee’s newest medical school, the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM). As the conversation continued Moody told him about the annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic the University hosts to provide free medical, dental, veterinary and vision care to the underserved, underinsured and unemployed people of rural Appalachia. RAM provides a wide range of free basic health, dental and optical services to the people of Southwest Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Northeast Tennessee. The Knoxville-based organization also provides services outside the United States. On average, the group conducts one exhibition per month in various communities throughout the Southeast, as well as overseas. LMU became the first University to open their doors to the organization in 2006 when it hosted its first expedition.

“I went to that meeting hoping that I would meet Dr. Phillips because I knew we had a dire need for optical volunteers at the upcoming clinic,” Moody said.  “I had high hopes and that hope paid off as Dr. Phillips and I worked collaboratively to demonstrate the mission of our institutions – to give something back to help the people from this region.”

The two areas which draw the most patients are dental and optical. They are also the two areas for which LMU has the hardest time recruiting. The University is home to a world class nursing school as well as LMU-DCOM, so between the faculty and students of each the University has no problem staffing the nursing and medical areas. The collaboration that Moody proposed to Phillips was an invitation for faculty, staff and students from SCO to volunteer at LMU’s Third Annual RAM Health Expedition. Phillips answered the need for vision care by arranging for 25 SCO students and recent graduates along with six faculty members to travel across the state to volunteer.

“We didn’t know a project like this was taking place here. Once we found out about it from our President, it seemed pretty clear that it met our mission to connect the students to service,” said Tazewell, Tenn., native Dr. James Venable, assistant professor and chief of staff at The Eye Center. “We strive very hard in our program to incorporate the importance of service and giving back to the community. We hope that if our students are exposed to these service opportunities while they are students they will be more likely to participate in them when they are in private practice. Caring for everyone regardless of their ability to pay is an important lesson for them.”

The SCO contingent drove over seven hours from their Memphis campus to participate. The group traveled in two 15-passenger vans and four civilian cars. They joined dentists, doctors, optometrists and other volunteers who traveled from all over the country to serve the people of rural Appalachia.

“It is wonderful to think of the lives that may have been changed based on this one single event,” Moody said.  “To think of the expense that many volunteers took upon themselves to get here is encouraging.”

The expedition provided free medical, dental and eye care to almost 700 individuals in just two days. Additionally, 248 animals were spayed and neutered at the veterinary clinic held at the Phillips Veterinary Technology Center on the LMU campus. During the expedition, 678 patients received a range of free medical, dental and optical care. These individuals accounted for a total of 1,060 patient contacts, as patients were able to receive services in all three clinic areas if they so desired.  These 1,060 patient contacts equaled $268,935.00 in free medical services rendered.

The RAM organization was recently featured on the CBS News program 60 Minutes and that exposure has resulted in an increase of professional volunteers. LMU benefited from the phenomenon with a record number of optical and dental volunteers. In all, 306 people volunteered at the LMU event.

In the optical area, the expedition saw 454 patients and provided glasses to 304 individuals, including 13 children. The glasses were made on-site in an optical truck provided by RAM. The value of the optical services rendered is estimated at $49,790.00.

The patients who attended the clinic were not the only ones to benefit from the TICUA-inspired partnership. Students and professors alike gained valuable patient encounters.

“This was a great chance for us to help out, volunteer and help people. Working with the absolute nicest people you could imagine. They were very grateful and positive. You really could get a sense of what the service meant to them,” said SCO student Jonathan Reddell. “At the same time, it was a great chance for us as students to learn. I’ve been working with other students in a lab or classroom environment. Now in two days I have worked with 30 patients.”

Venable agreed that the experience was tremendous for his students. “For our interns, they had an opportunity to perform skills that they may have only performed a dozen times on live, real patients that were not their classmates. So over the course of this weekend maybe they performed these skills a couple hundred times. Also to work with a real patient population who do not respond in a predictable way was extremely invaluable to them.”

Patients began lining up for the doors at 2 p.m. the afternoon prior to the clinic opening, even before the RAM trucks arrived to unload the equipment. The expedition took place in LMU’s 5,002-seat basketball arena. The basketball floor was divided with half the court being utilized as the dental clinic with over 20 portable chairs and the other half dedicated as a make-shift waiting room and eye-glass dispensing area. Donated frames were laid out on six tables for the participants to choose from after they visited the eye doctors and students. The eye examination area was set up in an auxiliary gym that is normally used as an indoor batting cage.

“I don’t know what I expected, but it was a lot more organized and better run that I expected.” Reddell said. “It seemed like by the time they got to us they knew what was going on and we knew what was going on and everything moved smoothly.”

Once the clinic opened at 6 a.m., patients were guided through registration and triage before making their way to the dental, medical and vision waiting areas. Once inside, patients could be in line for most of the day if they chose to take advantage of all three areas. No matter the wait, Venable said all of his students commented on how grateful the patients were. “Virtually everyone said how wonderful it was to see people who really had a need and were very appreciative of what we were doing.”

The partnership between LMU and SCO will not stop with the RAM clinic. Faculty and students from both SCO and LMU-DCOM discussed exchange opportunities, including exchange of instructors with visiting professorships as well as student exchange projects.

“For the first time with kind of short notice, this experience exceeded our expectations,” Venable said. “We knew a couple months in advance, but now that we know it is going to occur we are going to create a project to go into the future. We would love to come back.”

Established in Memphis, Tenn., in 1932, Southern College of Optometry is an independent, not-for-profit institution of higher education with a mission to educate men and women in the art and science of optometry. For more information, visit www.sco.edu.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies.  The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423-869-6280 or e-mail at admissions@lmunet.edu.
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CAPTION 1: Southern College of Optometry (SCO) students Gabi Fialka and Mary Quan conduct an eye exam on a patient at Lincoln Memorial University’s (LMU) Third Annual Remote Area Medical Health Expedition. The SCO students were part of a 31-person delegation that provided eye care at the free clinic.