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Improving Eye Care Through Community Service With the UPMC eyeVan

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Amrish Selvam is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh whose research and career interests lay in ophthalmology and who volunteers with the UPMC Vision Institute’s mobile eye clinic, the eyeVan.

Amrish Selvam is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh whose research and career interests lay in ophthalmology. Starting his medical education when the COVID-19 pandemic began, he first became interested in ophthalmology through the community service opportunities available at that time. Here he discusses his volunteer work with the UPMC Vision Institute’s mobile eye clinic, the eyeVan, and why community outreach efforts are an important step to addressing barriers to care.

“I think it's really important to address barriers to care, whether it's cost, transportation, location, making sure everyone has equal access to care,” he says. “So services like these where we go out into community I think are really beneficial, and we should continue expanding such activities to help address health equity.”

For our interview with Katie Cecconi, community service program coordinator at the UPMC Vision Institute, please click here.

Transcript

Tell us about your role with the UPMC eyeVan.

My name is Amrish Selvam. I'm a fourth-year medical student. I'm here with the Guerilla Eye Service and the eyeVan volunteering. We're doing screening events today, doing some community screening, looking at their visual acuity and fundus pictures, and trying to get them set up with follow-ups if needed.

What motivated you to volunteer with the Guerilla Eye Service?

I heard about this through our school. We have a community service organization that Jake Waxman, MD, PhD, leads, the Guerilla Eye Service, and through that they've had a couple of different initiatives helping out in the community. This is one of the initiatives I heard about through an email, and I really like doing this type of stuff, so I decided to give it a shot.

Why have you decided to focus on ophthalmology as a career path?

I first got interested in it during the pandemic, during COVID. There weren't that many opportunities to really do community service at the time, and that was right when I started medical school. There was a really cool opportunity to go out to, I think it was Greensburg about an hour away from Pittsburgh, and we did some community screening events there, and that really sparked the interest. Since then I have found some good mentors in ophthalmology who have helped me shape my future.

Why are community outreach efforts like this important in health care?

UPMC does a great job of having a lot of community service activities. Even for medical students, there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer in the community, not only in Pittsburgh, but the surrounding rural areas. I think that's something that's really important to me. My background, I grew up in India, so I really want to be able to give back to the community both in global health and community health. So this has been an opportunity for me to explore that. There's been a lot I've learned on how to set up an organization like this and the way Dr Waxman has helped create Guerilla Eyes Service and these screening events is something I want to replicate in my future.

I think it's really important to address barriers to care, whether it's cost, transportation, location, making sure everyone has equal access to care. There are definitely gaps in Pittsburgh that patients don't have easy access or easy transportation to a health care center, so services like these where we go out into community I think are really beneficial, and we should continue expanding such activities to help address health equity.

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