by Paul Freeman, OD, FCOVD — Education Committee Chair
In September 2017, I had the exceptional experience of visiting with fellow optometrists almost 7000 miles from my home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fortuitously, Dr. WC Maples introduced me to Dr. Hoy-Sun Shin, the president of the South Korea International Chapter of COVD, who I met at the COVD Annual Meeting this past April. Subsequently, COVD Korea invited me to share experiences from my career of providing low vision evaluation and rehabilitation to visually impaired patients of all ages.
I believe that low vision rehabilitation is fundamentally optometry, and includes not only an understanding of optics and the appropriate application of optics for the impaired visual system, but also an understanding of visual functioning. As members of COVD Korea, these optometrists are uniquely qualified to pursue this facet of eye care, as they are already very interested and familiar with visual function and therapy for visual deficits and simply had to extend their optometric reach to another segment of a growing population who can benefit from this aspect (low vision rehabilitation) of optometry. And indeed, our Korean colleagues showed a genuine interest in understanding how their patients with visual impairment might best be served with the ultimate goal of improved quality of life. For 2 days, the attendees not only attentively listened to hours of lectures but also participated in hands-on activities using different low vision devices to appreciate their unique characteristics. Each participant had a firsthand opportunity to use simulators demonstrating visual impairment as well as to use microscope reading lenses, telescopes, field enhancement optics, and electro-optical magnification systems, experiencing both the benefits and limitations of these devices. This allowed for an appreciation of the challenges encountered when working with this population.
One of the things that struck me in my interaction with our colleagues was how interested they are in being a part of the larger COVD family. While not everyone is able to travel to the US to attend the COVD Annual Meetings, each year several Korean optometrists make the trip, and then share what they have learned with the larger group on their return.
While we certainly concentrated on the evaluation and rehabilitation of visually impaired patients, I was also the recipient of wonderful hospitality. Despite my not knowing how to speak or understand Korean, our colleagues kept me in the mix from their opening ceremony, to an evening of fun, to a thoughtful round of Happy Birthday to me at the conclusion of my 2 days of presentation. All of this was well thought out. Dr. Shin and others (Optometrists Jong-Seok Lee, Nam-Su Kim, Eui-Seob Kim) coordinated my visit with careful attention to detail, allowing ample time for me to acclimate after the long trip, and to have many very enjoyable experiences outside of my work time. And, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the wonderful cuisine, served frequently and in plentiful quantities. My hosts were unbelievably gracious, making this a very memorable trip.