Kristin White, OD, and Kevin Cornwell, OD, are heading off to Nicaragua this week. This is not the first overseas trip for the New England College of Optometry graduates. She was president of the student VOSH group, and throughout their academic and professional careers, these two have been passionate about working with underserved populations. Dr. White worked at a community health center in Boston after her residency at the same clinic; the couple then moved their careers to New Mexico, working with the Indian Health Service. More recently, they moved to California where Dr. White works in a community health clinic and Dr. Cornwall works in the state’s prison system, examining inmates. “it’s professionally rewarding for us to gear our careers in this direction,” Dr. Cornwell says.
While they’ve done numerous short-term trips to specific regions as students and doctors, the Nicaragua project is a little different as they are working to create a long-term sustainable eye care presence there. The two, both fluent in Spanish, went on a fact-finding trip to Central America, looking for a safe community that has the infrastructure to support a small clinic and also has need for eye care. A friend suggested El Sauce, Nicaragua. It had a very busy public hospital, and there is also a private medical doctor who had room in her facility to offer as a home base for the eye clinic, and they bring down new and donated equipment every visit.
They held their first clinic there in August 2016. They also met an optometry student who still has a few years left to his training who could work in this location. “We want to get this student off the ground with dispensing and refracting; optometry training comes right after high school in Nicaragua, and the education doesn’t cover glaucoma or cataracts,” Dr. Cornwell says.
However, the two connected with an ophthalmology group in Managua, which has a nonprofit arm through which it provides surgery for indigenous people. It costs $100 per patient to organize the medication, travel, lodging and cataract surgery. When Dr. White and Dr. Cornwell got married, their wedding registry included an option for donations. “We received enough donations to get 10 people cataract surgery.”
While many ODs visit professional conference exhibit halls with a wish list for their own practices, Dr. White and Dr. Cornwell find that it’s a great opportunity to ask for donated equipment. “If I know someone who is buying new equipment for the office, I will ask what they plan to do with the old,” he says.