Championing pediatric eye, vision care

May 11, 2017
InfantSEE® Award honoree discusses her passion for children’s eye care.

Reena Patel, O.D., isn't just passionate about pediatric eye care—she's an absolute, fervent advocate.

Even prior to optometry school at Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO), Dr. Patel knew she wanted to work with children, taking every opportunity to make that dream become reality. And when it did, she wasted no time setting sights on her next goal: making a difference.

Now an SCCO assistant professor, active in the school's Pediatric Vision Care and Vision Therapy services, Dr. Patel has been a champion among patients, students and colleagues in raising awareness about InfantSEE®, a public health program of Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation. Notably, Dr. Patel reinforces InfantSEE through a number of hands-on workshops, designed to grow familiarity and experience in pediatric care.

But her enthusiasm doesn't stop at the classroom. Dr. Patel also is a children's eye care advocate in her community and state, recently joining the California Optometric Association in its efforts to promote comprehensive pediatric eye examinations in the legislature. 

"I am blessed to be doing something that I truly love and am lucky to improve the lives of children daily," Dr. Patel says. "Over the years, I have been extremely lucky to have the most incredible mentors. I cannot thank them enough for their wisdom and never-ending guidance. Their passion for children's vision is contagious, and I enjoy passing that same enthusiasm down to my students." 

The 2017 Dr. W. David Sullins Jr. InfantSEE Award winner shares her thoughts on involvement, advocacy and the importance of pediatric eye care

What does it mean to receive the Dr. W. David Sullins Jr. InfantSEE Award?   

I was literally speechless when Dr. Ida Chung told me that I was chosen to be the recipient of this prestigious award. Dr. Sullins was a visionary and extremely passionate about the InfantSEE program. To be recognized in his honor for doing something that I love is truly a surreal feeling.

Tell us about the hands-on workshops that you coordinated, and why?   

The workshops were designed to give practitioners hands-on experience at performing comprehensive eye exams on infants 6 to 12 months of age. I wanted the doctors to feel comfortable working with infants, and to show them how simple it is to examine infants with basic equipment in a primary care setting. In addition, I wanted to motivate the practitioners to become InfantSEE providers. The workshops were very well received and many of the attendees expressed interest in incorporating infant eye exams into their practices. 

These workshops proved to be an excellent opportunity to promote the importance of early eye examinations to our community. In an effort to recruit infants for the workshop, we reached out to various local organizations and gave them information about the InfantSEE program. Most individuals were unaware that infants should be examined as early as six months of age, and they were pleased to learn the examination would be provided at no cost through the InfantSEE program. 

Overall, these workshops were truly a win-win-win situation. The doctors gained hands-on experience, the parents learned about the importance of early eye exams, and the infants received comprehensive eye exams. 

I would love to see these types of workshops being offered across the country. If anyone is interested in doing so, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.   

How does this passion fuel advocacy for pediatric vision care? 

In my opinion, providing appropriate vision and eye care to the pediatric population is a no-brainer. Children with vision disorders may experience a range of symptoms, but unfortunately, they may not know their vision is abnormal and therefore won't complain. The sooner a vision problem is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated and subsequently provide a better framework for that child to maximize their vision and eye health, as well as their potential for learning. I enjoy seeing patients in our pediatrics clinic, but my heart goes out to the children I see who have an undetected vision disorder, which may have impacted their vision development, academic performance or much more. When I explain the clinical findings to parents, they often say, 'why didn't I know about this sooner?' and that tears me apart because I always think, 'yes, why didn't they know about it sooner?' That's a big reason why I have become very passionate about advocating for pediatric vision care.

Children are our future and it is our responsibility to provide them with the eye care they need to improve their vision and eye health, their overall development, their potential in the classroom and their quality of life.   

How do you reinforce the importance of children's vision with your patients, or at SCCO? 

Marshall B. Ketchum University (MBKU) is committed to providing children in Southern California with the eye care they need. For example, we have "Children's Vision Days" that take place 1-2 days a week throughout the year. On these days, children are bussed in to our clinic from local elementary schools. They undergo comprehensive eye examinations and are provided with glasses, if indicated. Just in this past year, we saw over 1,000 children through this program. This is only one example of the many things MBKU/SCCO does to promote children's vision.

I am honored to learn from and work alongside some of the best faculty out there. My amazing colleagues in the pediatrics vision service and I are all dedicated to teaching and sharing our passion of pediatric optometry with our students. We are also involved with numerous clinical research trials looking at various visual conditions in children. In addition, we give in-service talks to local schools, pediatricians, nurses, mommy-and-me groups, etc. to educate the community on the importance of children's vision. We also give continuing education lectures to ensure eye care practitioners have the most up-to-date knowledge to best treat and manage the pediatric population. 

Learn more about InfantSEE, and access AOA's new evidence-based clinical practice guideline, Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination.

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