Small steps can have the greatest impact. This is what Keri Allen, MD – an ophthalmology resident at the Univeristy of South Carolina School of Medicine's Palmetto Health Center – discovered when she spearheaded the launch of Operation Sight at her residency program in 2016. Earlier that year, Dr. Allen heard about the program at an ophthalmology meeting and immediately contacted the ASCRS Foundation for more information.
After reaching out to the Foundation, Dr. Allen learned that Operation Sight is an initiative which aims to alleviate cataract blindness in the United States through a growing volunteer network who perform cataract surgeries on needy patients in their own communities. She also discovered that there was a waiting list of eligible patients in her area, which spurred her to action.
Foundation Staff (FS): What made you want to get involved in the program?
Dr. Keri Allen (KA): My colleague and I both felt that it would be a great opportunity for some of our underserved resident clinic patients to obtain needed cataract surgery.
FS: What steps did you have to take to get the program started at Palmetto Health?
KA: The first and easiest step was getting our program director on board. She was immediately excited about the opportunity and was willing to volunteer as one of the Operation Sight cataract surgeons, donating her time and surgical skills.
FS: What was your greatest challenge in getting the program started?
KA: The greatest challenge was getting the hospital/health system on board. Our hospital has a strict no industry policy for residency programs. Therefore, we had to get the hospital administration to agree to donate the entire cost of the cataract surgery. After several months of persistence, they eventually agreed to cover all costs from IOL and OVD to surgery center fees, as long as the surgeon and anesthesiologist agreed to donate their time.
FS: What advice would you give to a resident or fellow who is trying to get their medical program on board with the Operation Sight program?
KA: Start early by gathering the facts. I started with contacting the Operation Sight coordinator to find out about the need in our area. It turns out that the Carolinas were an extremely underserved with a significant patient wait list. Next, I worked with our department to find out what programs were currently in place for underserved patients who could not afford cataract surgery. I was then able to prove that there were many patients that did not qualify for our hospital’s financial assistance program that would benefit from Operation Sight. Identifying this gap was important in order to get the hospital’s support.
Also, don’t be afraid to start small. Our first Operation Sight surgery was performed on a patient that had cataract surgery done years before and only needed his second eye done. The next year we were able to get the hospital to approve cataract surgeries for two patients who needed both eyes done. As we continue to participate in the program, our number of volunteer surgeries will continue to grow.
Dr. Allen hopes that exposing her fellow residents to charitable work now will encourage them to stay committed to volunteerism as practicing ophthalmologists. Dr. Allen’s commitment has resulted in measurable good in her community, and has created the ground work for future residents to do the same.
Join Dr. Allen and her colleagues by exploring the opportunity of bringing the ASCRS Foundation Operation Sight Program to your residency or fellowship program.
For more information on Operation Sight, please contact Evelyn Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 703-788-5786.