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HomemiprofessionProviding Care to Unleash Potential

Providing Care to Unleash Potential

Jessie Whiley’s time working with disadvantaged patients in regional Australia led to one of her most rewarding career experiences to date – providing Ukrainian refugees with access to eye care.

My first exposure to optometry was in 2013 when I began working at OPSM in Casuarina, Northern Territory, as an optical dispenser. I was introduced to this industry because my older brother had begun working as an optical dispenser six months prior and recommended I join him. I didn’t think I would become an optometrist, I just thought that it would be fun working with my brother on weekends (it was). However, I found the profession of optometry to be a unique and wholesome balance of helping people, problem-solving and working in holistic healthcare.

Helping disadvantaged individuals can be a powerful experience and it’s the type of care that makes me love our profession

I went on to study Optometry at Deakin University, graduating in 2019. Throughout my time at university, I was lucky to have outstanding placement experiences and mentors across Victoria and the Northern Territory. For the first two years as a graduate, I worked at OPSM in the Hunter Region, NSW, and since December 2021, I have been the sole optometrist at OPSM in Kempsey on the NSW mid-north coast.

Working in regional settings has exposed me to a lot of beautiful locations and people. This is paralleled with challenging, yet rewarding, clinical cases. I have found a love for providing comprehensive eye care to people from all walks of life and I am especially passionate about providing this care to those who are disadvantaged or suffer barriers to healthcare.

In early 2022, I had a rewarding experience when I had the pleasure of seeing a mother and son for an eye test. They had arrived in Australia on a humanitarian visa and shared that they were refugees from Ukraine who had to flee their country when conflicts with Russia began. After assistance from Optometry Australia, I found that they unfortunately weren’t entitled to Medicare benefits as part of their visa. However, with the help of OPSM and OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation, we were able to cover the cost of their eye tests and spectacles. This access resulted in a great outcome. The mother had a low astigmatic correction and, amazingly, her 14-year-old son had a -2.00DS myopic refraction in both eyes. He had spectacles in Ukraine but they were left behind when they fled, so he hadn’t been wearing glasses for months!

It was shocking to think that this teenage boy had been adjusting to life in an unfamiliar country without his glasses.

We learnt, from this family, that there were more refugees, some of them relatives, based all around Australia on the same humanitarian visas without Medicare benefits.

This led OPSM to work with OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation and other refugee settlement services to provide access to free eye testing and provision of glasses for Ukrainian families in Australia, of which there are approximately 5,000.

I am very proud to have played a part in helping this Ukrainian family, which has become a catalyst to provide the same care to other families in a similar circumstance.

Alongside this, I have been given the opportunity to work with OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation in other Australian communities, including the Hunter Homeless Connect group, the World Health Organisation’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre and, just recently, I attended a week-long clinic in Adelaide where we provided access to eye care for nearly 800 disadvantaged school children.

Helping disadvantaged individuals can be a powerful experience, and it’s the type of care that makes me love our profession. There are many ways in our own communities to improve healthcare access to those who need extra support and I’d encourage everyone wanting to get involved to contact local community groups, OPSM or OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation. Good vision has the power to unleash someone’s full potential, by helping them learn better, keeping them safe and promoting a more inclusive society.

Jessie Whiley graduated as a Master of Optometry from Deakin University, in 2019. She practises with OPSM in Kempsey, NSW.