A SUNY experience…

It’s safe to say, the hype around this multi-storied optical eutopia, situated on prime New York real estate, is most certainly true. The State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, is a patient-care facility heralded as one of the leading teaching and largest eye and vision care clinics in the US. While our accepted mission as Snowvision scholarship recipients is to return to New Zealand with nuggets of clinical gold, it must be acknowledged how welcoming, personable and caring the faculty staff and students are amidst this beast of a city.

When compared to the four-year Doctor of Optometry (OD) programme, the scope of New Zealand practice is relatively ‘clipped’, however, it is heartening to see our clinical champions and home-grown heavy weights recognised amidst these hallowed halls.

The lightly structured Snowvision scholarship programme revolves around grand rounds, seminars and tours. This included visiting one of New York’s largest public hospitals, Gouverneur Hospital in lower Manhattan, followed in stark contrast by Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. Partnerships have been established within public hospitals across New York City boroughs with the intent to broach public healthcare disparities, while expediating career pathways for graduands.

Back on 42nd street, a brief of the Clinical Vision Research Centre (CVRC) highlighted how it streamlines the process of government, private foundation and industry-sponsored clinical research to a single point of contact. A tour of the new clinical teaching suites revealed an impressive layout, equipped with binocular indirect ophthalmoscope simulators. While Aerie Pharmaceuticals presented Rocklatan, a once-daily drop containing the Rho kinase (ROCK) inhibitor netarsudil (0.02%), designed to restore trabecular meshwork outflow, plus the prostaglandin analog latanoprost (0.005%), which increases outflow through the uveoscleral pathway, for more effective treatment of open angle glaucoma. A 30% reduction in intraocular pressure, at twice the frequency, is claimed over Latanoprost alone.

Another notable invitation was to attend staff rounds with topic du jour covering evidence-based methods for examining students. Being privy to see the brains trust collaborate on the perpetual evolution of the OD course, it was clear to see where the genuine care emanates from.

Free to negotiate the daily clinics, highlights included being tutored by Professor Mitchell Dul, one of the minds behind the algorithms of various visual field modalities, in particular SITA Faster 24-2C technology. While room 6 was a magnet for neuro-ophthalmic and retinal weirdness, made even more enjoyable by the humorous tag team of Drs Patricia Modica, Sherry Bass and Jerome Sherman. Check out, www.retinarevealed.com, a case study website edited by Dr Sherman in Review of Optometry.

Dry eye advances saw Dr Harriette Canellos literally getting up the students’ noses demonstrating the True Tear nasal stimulator, while in a world of virtual contact lens fitting, trusty trial sets and boxes of prosthetics prevailed across Dr David Libassi’s cornea and contact lens’ rooms. At the end of each month a confronting collection of corneas were amassed for assessment by visiting ophthalmologist Dr Mark Speaker. Moving from room to room he left a softly spoken trail of ‘graft’, ‘graft’, ‘graft’.

Within the halls and offices of SUNY, pictures of New Zealand hang as testament to the relationship established between Snowvision trustees, Hamish Caithness and David Robinson, scholarship recipients and SUNY staff, in particular Professor Richard Madonna and associate director Betsy Torres. In a moment of reflection, Prof Madonna attempted to recall names of some of the previous recipients, impressively managing the first and last names of all but two since the scholarships’ inception in 1997. He excused himself for the omissions, putting this down to the summer heat and perhaps the misgivings of the empty New Zealand sauvignon blanc bottle over a farewell dinner. A quick email home gave him the final missing names to which he scratched his head and replied, ‘that makes sense, I was away that year’.

It was a privilege to watch this man walk his very first patient, from 1971, out of his exam room. For anyone who knows him, when the doors of SUNY return to business as usual post-Covid-19, he will likely be there to walk the first in again.

Many thanks to the trustees for their foresight and ongoing efforts in affording Kiwi optometrists this unique opportunity. Sadly, New York City now finds itself amidst the grip of the coronavirus outbreak. To the team at SUNY, our thoughts are with you.

Katie Frame is a therapeutically qualified optometrist in Christchurch and a 2018/19 Snowvision scholarship recipient.

Since 1997, the trustees of the Snowvision Charitable Trust have awarded annual scholarships for a recent New Zealand graduate and optometrist to attend SUNY for four weeks’ clinical study. Scholarship applications for 2020 will close on 31 May 2020. For more email, hcaithness@xtra.co.nz

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