Diversity Awareness and Cultural Competence in Optometry

June 5, 2014

Diversity Awareness and Cultural Competence in Optometry

We use this blog space most often to provide information to folks who are considering pursuing a career in optometry. This time, we visit a topic that pertains to everyone in the field, now and in the future. Technically, it’s two topics — diversity and cultural competence — but as you may know, they are closely related. The U.S. population is increasingly racially, ethnically, religiously, linguistically and culturally diverse. When health professionals aren’t prepared to care for patients in the context of their individual cultural norms and beliefs, access to quality care for entire groups of people is compromised. Therefore, increasing diversity among healthcare providers and ensuring they are able to communicate effectively with all patients and recognize and advocate for their unique needs have been ongoing goals across medicine. As listed below, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), with support from industry partners Walmart and Alcon, has been spearheading many efforts designed to help the eyecare profession meet these goals.

Developing a Diverse Applicant Pool in Optometric Education Mini-Grant Program

This is the tenth year that ASCO has offered a diversity-related mini-grant program. For 2014, the program focuses on increasing diversity among applicants to optometry school. The grants awarded help member schools and colleges to develop and implement activities aimed at recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority students, financially disadvantaged students and first-generation college students. This year, the program awarded nearly $20,000 to the following institutions to help fund their diversity programs, which reach out to and encourage potential students in various ways:

Illinois College of Optometry (Focus on Your Future Summer Program)

NOVA Southeastern University College of Optometry (The Preparatory Optometry Program [POP])

The Ohio State University College of Optometry (Pathways to Optometry)

SUNY State College of Optometry (Increasing Diversity by Engaging All [IDEA])

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry (Providing Diversity in Optometric Education through Continual Enhancement of Current Programs)

University of the Incarnate Word Rosenberg School of Optometry (Summer Optometry Institute [SOI])

University of Houston College of Optometry (Texas Optometry Career Opportunities Program [TEXOCOP])

Indiana University School of Optometry (Your Future/I Can See Clearly Now).

Information about the programs can be found at the schools’ websites.

Guidelines for Culturally Competent Eye and Vision Care

ASCO also developed Guidelines for Culturally Competent Eye and Vision Care to help schools and colleges of optometry prepare clinicians who can address the eye health needs of a multicultural and global community. This document is a compilation of cultural competence best practices used by schools, colleges, organizations and associations in the health professions.

To bring the guidelines to life, ASCO has also made available to member schools and colleges of optometry fully-funded, onsite Cultural Competency Curriculum Guidelines Implementation Workshops.

Grants to fund the workshops are awarded to ASCO member schools through a competitive application process. Interested institutions can apply now for a workshop to be held on their campus that will help them address the unique challenges they face in their efforts to achieve cultural competence. Applications are due by August 8.

According to Dr. Barbara Fink, Chair of ASCO’s Cultural Competency Curriculum Guidelines Subcommittee, “It is a clinical necessity that optometrists possess the patient-centered attitudes, knowledge and skills required to competently serve a diverse community with its spectrum of education, experiences, beliefs, values, customs, preferences, fears and expectations, all of which impact the interpersonal interactions involved in clinical care. The workshops give the schools and colleges the opportunity to become familiar with ASCO’s cultural competence guidelines and learn ways to implement them effectively.”

The workshops are making a difference. After each workshop that has been conducted, school administrators completed surveys identifying subsequent actions that have been taken. “In all cases, the optometric institutions are making changes to enhance cultural competency,” Dr. Fink notes. “We have also trained facilitators from several of the schools and colleges of optometry to provide the workshops at institutions other than their own.”

Cultural Competency Case Study Competition for Students and Residents

ASCO is augmenting its cultural competency guidelines in another way as well. By offering the Cultural Competency Case Study Competition for Students and Residents, it is building a database of real-world examples of how to handle culturally sensitive patient encounters, while at the same time awarding $2,500 each to the student and resident who win each year’s competition.

This year was the first year for the contest. Chelsia Leong (pictured to the left below), a Pacific University College of Optometry resident at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, won for her case study “Cultural Competency with the Navajo Nation.” The 2014 student winner was Fatima Elkabti (pictured to the right below), who just completed her third year at the University of California – Berkeley School of Optometry, for her submission “At Home for an Hour: Competent Healthcare for the Homeless.”

Looking at the Big Picture

Diversity and cultural competency are concepts that are focused on patients and the care they receive. But, in addition to enabling health professionals to respond to demographic changes and eliminate health disparities, they allow them to improve the quality of services and health outcomes, meet legislative, regulatory and accreditation mandates, gain a competitive edge in the marketplace and decrease the likelihood of malpractice claims.

“Diversity makes the profession better,” says Dana Beards, University and Student Relations Specialist for VSP Vision Care Provider Services. “We are more complete as a profession when we are incorporating different cultures and the unique perspectives each culture brings to health care. It’s not that every patient necessarily needs to be seen by a doctor of the same ethnic group or culture. But if healthcare professionals expand their cultural horizons and have peers and mentors representing a wide variety of cultures, then every doctor will be more competent in providing excellent optometric services to a wide range of patients. From a pure business perspective, a doctor who has multiple cultural competencies stands a far greater chance of being successful. And from the perspective of VSP, we want to provide the most diverse doctor network possible to the more than 65 million members that we serve nationally. It’s important that our members have the ability to receive optometric services in a healthcare environment that’s comfortable for them.”

As is the case at many optometric companies, diversity is an ongoing part of VSP’s business, beginning with its own employees. Beyond its internal policies and initiatives, the company invests in partnerships to help improve diversity in optometry. “For example, at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, we fund a program called Improving Diversity in Optometric Careers (I-DOC),” Beards says. “Each year, I-DOC identifies people from under-represented minority groups who are interested in optometry and brings them to OSU for a three-day program where faculty members, staff, alumni and students expose them to the profession and encourage them to consider optometry as a career. Over the past five years, more than 20 I-DOC participants have entered optometry schools across the country.”

Pick a Place to Start

If you’d like to learn more about diversity and cultural competency in health care in general and optometry in particular, a good place to start is ASCO’s website. There, along with detailed descriptions of ASCO’s diversity and cultural competency programs, you’ll find links to a collection of reading materials the Association recommends.