USC Roski Eye Institute hosts immersion program directed toward undergrads from underrepresented communities

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USC Roski Eye Institute Hosts Immersion Program Directed Toward Undergraduates from Underrepresented Communities
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The USC Roski Eye Institute recently held a two-day in-person summer program designed to introduce USC undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to careers in eye care. The event, “Eye Care for All: An Introduction to a Career in Eye Care,” garnered participation from students across USC, particularly the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the Viterbi School of Engineering.

“Eye Care for All” was spearheaded by two Roski optometrists: Lernik Torossian, OD, and Kent Nguyen, OD; both Assistant Professors of Clinical Ophthalmology.

“There is a need for more diverse professionals in healthcare,” said Dr. Nguyen. “Our goal in creating this program was to inspire underrepresented students to pursue careers in eye care and vision sciences. We wanted to encourage them to explore these fields through fascinating presentations, inclusive discussions, and engaging hands-on activities.”

Throughout the two-day program, students had the opportunity to attend lectures on ophthalmology, optometry and vision science research delivered by Roski faculty from diverse backgrounds. Faculty shared with the students what it is like to work in the fields of retinal surgery, oculoplastics, sports vision, corneal surgery, binocular vision, strabismus and more. Faculty also discussed their experiences as healthcare providers and gave advice about medical education and careers in eyecare.

“I’m inspired to see healthcare professionals in all shapes and sizes, and how that ultimately impacts comprehensive care,” said Darryl Payton, a Human Biology major from the Class of 2023.

“This event helped me learn about different careers in the medical field,” added Matthew Vega, a Health and Human Sciences major from the Class of 2025. “What we learned about the specific research being done to slow down the loss of eyesight was of particular interest to me.”

A highlight of the program included an opportunity for undergraduates to meet one-on-one with current KSOM medical students, to ask questions about their training and career paths. Under Dr. Nguyen’s supervision, medical students also led the attendees through a hands-on cow eye dissection. The experience allowed students to get a close-up look at the inside of an eye, seeing the lens, cornea, vitreous, retina and optic nerve for the first time.

“I’m eager for more information on optometry because that’s my intended career path,” said Irene Kang, a Biological Sciences major from the Class of 2024. “Even though I’ve seen a ton of pre-med resources, optometry is one of those specialties that’s often overlooked. When I heard about this event, I knew I had to show up!”

The students echoed a desire for more exposure to medical specialties during their undergrad careers. As a result, Dr. Torossian and Dr. Nguyen hope to make “Eye Care for All” an annual program, which can be offered to more undergrads in future years.

“We are grateful to the students that chose to learn and grow in this small supportive setting during their last couple days of summer,” said Dr. Torossian. “We will continue to support them and invite them to other events in the hopes of helping them nurture the relationships they’ve built. We hope to share their many successes with other students, to inspire future generations and further diversity in healthcare.”

The 2022 program would not have been possible without the support provided by JEDI-West and the office of Dean Carolyn C. Meltzer. They, along with many others at USC, see the importance of diversity in healthcare and helped make the program a success this summer.

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