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International Programs Student Trip Reports
In keeping with Texas A&M’s Vision 2020 objective of graduating students with a global perspective based on global experiences, the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences provides a limited number of travel stipends to students to help them gain international work/study experiences. The following travel reports give an overview of what our students learned while living, working, and studying abroad.
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India - Archana Krishnan

Providing free glasses at eye campWorking as a Global Impact Fellow for Unite for Sight in Chennai, India was an incredibly rewarding experience both academically and culturally. I learned a lot about the field of ophthalmology while experiencing Chennai’s rich culture this past winter break. Pranav Eye Clinic is an organization that partners with Unite for Sight to bring in volunteers from abroad to provide eye care to those living in poverty in Chennai who cannot otherwise afford it. I was enrolled this internship for three weeks, from December 14, 2013 to January 4, 2014, during which time I acquired the basic skills required to do an eye exam including checking vision, screening for cataracts and performing refraction for both near and farsighted patients. Along with eye camps, I was also able to observe nearly fifty cataract surgeries that were sponsored using the trip fees that I provided to the organization.

Glasses station at an eye camp.While I was volunteering, my days began early in the morning at a free eye camp in one of the slums of Chennai. At each one of these camps, I worked alongside local optometrists to provide approximately 500 patients with a free eye screening along with cataract and trauma consultation if needed. A typical patient screening would begin with me having him or her read of a set of letters or numbers on a vision chart. Based on how much of the chart they were able to read I would give their vision a rating based on a six-meter scale. If the patient had 6/6 vision, which is comparable to the 20/20 vision we use to refer to normal vision in the U.S., I would advise the patient that they were normal and ask that they have an eye exam at least once a year. If the patient read anything less than 6/6 I would perform a refraction exam under the supervision of an optometrist to determine what power of glasses they needed to be prescribed. If the patient were over the age of fifty I would check for cataracts, and if they were positive for them I would refer them to hospital and explain their condition to them. This is where my ability to speak Tamil was extremely helpful: unlike the other volunteers who had very limited communication with the patient due to language barriers, I was able to answer their questions about cataracts. The most gratifying part of my experience was being able to comfort nervous patients by explaining that the cataract surgery is a simple procedure that will cause them minimum pain, and that they would be able to resume their daily activities within hours of surgery. One of the patients I counseled was a fifty-five year man who works on building construction. He had a mature cataract in his right eye caused him to have very limited range of vision that obstructed his work.  After his surgery he told me that he was very thankful for the free surgery because he would never have been able to afford it otherwise. He would now be able to support his family because we were able to restore his sight. These patients that we identified as needing cataract surgery were then referred to Pranav Eye Care Hospital where I was able to observe their surgery the following day. In order to gain a more in depth perspective of cataract surgeries, the doctor I worked with allowed me to perform mock surgery on a goat’s eye. I found this an extremely challenging task, as I was not used to working through a microscope, which projects a reversePerforming an eye exam in a slum of Chennai image to your eye. This also proved to be a very delicate task as the membranes of the eye are extremely thin and very easy to tear. The goat’s eye surgery helped me to fully understand the steps of cataract surgery, as well and realize how incredibly difficult the task was that the experienced surgeons made look so easy.

One of the most eye opening experiences during camps was the number of illiterate patients I would encounter who could not read number charts. It was stunning to me how so many people of ages in Chennai, a major city of India, were not able to read or recite numbers. For these patients we used the “E” chart which was a series of E’s rotated various ways. I would point to each E and the patient would use their hand to show me which way the spokes of the E were pointing. Another one of my interesting observations was the way in which people in India view diseases in general. Many of them are uneducated and are therefore incredibly frightened of diseases even as common as cataracts. Some even believe that they have cataracts because they have done something to anger the Gods. This impacts the way in which they receive treatment because they will refuse to have surgery until they are convinced that a cataract is a part of the normal aging process and not necessarily God’s way of chastising them.

After I was finished with the camps and surgeries, I would have a few hours when I got to go out and explore Chennai. Some of the important landmarks I visited included the Marina Beach and Mahabalipuram, a collection of ancient stone carvings located right outside Chennai. The thing that made my experience complete was being able to try the large variety of delicious food options available for every one of my meals

After my Unite for Sight Chennai experience, I feel that my desire to become a physician and serve others has increased a thousand fold. I am definitely looking forward to my future in healthcare, and I feel more motivated than ever to continue my involvement in global health.

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