NECO celebrates 50 years of commitment to community training


In 2022, the New England College of Optometry will celebrate 50 years of its students training and serving patients in community health centers across the region. As the first school of optometry to design and create such a model of clinical training, NECO has influenced thousands of optometrists and optometry itself. Here is the story of how it all started.

Transformation: Creation of a new model of clinical training

By the eve of the 1970s, the practice of optometry was ripe for change. Progressive optometrists pushed back the tradition of optometry and leaned toward a broader scope of practice that included the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of eye disease.

The New England College of Optometry took advantage of this momentum. He responded in 1972 by embarking on a transformational update to his clinical program with the goal of training optometry students to become primary eye care providers.

For NECO, this meant creating a new model of clinical education that would move optometry education beyond refraction and clinical experiences on campus into a new educational area: multidisciplinary co-management of patients with other professionals. of health in a community setting.

No other school of optometry offered something like this.

“NECO chose a wise path: to reach out to the people, where they lived and where they sought care and other services,” said Roger Wilson, OD ’80, who spent 33 years at NECO expanding his affiliations with health centers and to work in their communities.

Forward-thinking administrators saw the benefit of affiliations

Community Health Centers (CHCs) were created to provide health and social services to low-income and medically underserved communities. (America’s very first CHC was founded in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1965.) This has made it an ideal training ground for enthusiastic optometrists in training at NECO.

Forward-thinking administrators and professors, including the president of NECO Guillaume Baldwin and NECO graduate Charles F. Mullen, OD ’69, Baldwin’s Special Assistant for Clinical Development, recognized the multiple benefits that working with CHCs can offer students. Dr Mullen, the clinical architect of the health center training model that sets NECO apart from other schools of optometry nationwide, has become National Director of VA Optometric Services and President of the Illinois College of Optometry.

“Back then, optometry students only saw a very small type of patient. The clinical training program was to be enriched by the quantity and diversity of eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, ”wrote Dr. Mullen.

Coinciding with NECO’s educational mission was a commitment to provide eye care services to underserved communities.

In 1972, NECO entered into the first formal clinical training agreement with Dorchester House. A year later, he signed agreements with the Dimock Center and the South End Community Health Center.

A catalyst for change in optometry

Student giving eye screening to young student at Boston schools

From visual screenings to patient care at community health centers, NECO students begin their clinical training within the first few weeks. Relationships with community organizations and health centers make it possible to expand access to care while offering first-rate clinical training.

By transforming what was traditionally a micro focus on the eye into a macro view of the health of the whole patient, NECO and health center collaborations have enabled students to master not only foundational skills, but also the critical thinking necessary to competently diagnose. , prescribe and treat any type of optical patient or ailment they encounter, in any type of clinical setting of their choice, anywhere in the world.

The ability to work with other healthcare professionals as peers did more than help change the practice of optometry itself: it increased the level of recognition and respect that the profession ultimately received. .

Overcome Obstacles, Create Believers

The change was not easy. Some health center administrators were reluctant to work with students; some doctors and nurses refused to work directly with optometrists; an ophthalmology company opposes cooperation between optometry and ophthalmology; and private optometrists were even worried that the new model would threaten their businesses.

Dr Mullen also highlighted the importance of a few daring ophthalmologists who resisted political pressure and helped establish the new optometric-ophthalmic interaction model, which has since been adopted across the country.

Positive word of mouth brought support to other organizations who wanted to work with NECO optometry students and the services they provided. Soon the skeptics became staunch supporters.

Expand and diversify the clinical network

In 1974, NECO alum Kenneth Myers, OD ’74, has been appointed the Veterans Health Administration’s first director of optometry. He called on NECO to set up clinical training and residency programs at VA medical centers in the Boston area.

the teacher is pointing at a computer screen with a student listening to the instruction next to them

Dr Amy Moy heads the NECO clinical network; partnerships with community health centers and many other community care settings that NECO deems essential for clinical training and to fulfill its commitment to expand access to care.

The VA has added a new dimension to the NECO clinical training model. Students were exposed to a full range of complex eye and systemic health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and neurological and heart disease. Two decades later, in 1995, NECO also launched its first residency programs based in health centers.

It was the first time that professors of optometry had worked collaboratively with academic ophthalmologists in community health centers to provide patient care and clinical training for optometry students. The principles of this model were adopted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and later applied in affiliations between Hahnemann University Medical School and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry; and the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Chicago and the Illinois College of Optometry.

Impact that continues beyond training

A young man in a red shirt points to a card the optometrist is holding for an eye exam

Dr Barry Kran oversees a collaborative eye clinic with the Perkins School for the Blind where students gain experience working with special populations in the low vision clinic.

Today, NECO offers residences in 14 different community health centers and VA medical centers. NECO students also benefit from training and internship opportunities through a diverse roster of affiliations with teaching hospitals such as Tufts Health Center and Boston Children’s Hospital and with organizations such as Perkins School for the Blind, Seamark Vision Clinic at the Cotting School, Pine Street Inn, Army & Navy Health Clinics, and Boston Public Schools.

NECO now requires students to do at least one rotation to a community health center and a VA center to graduate. Students launch their careers in optometry knowing what it is like to be a part of the community and to provide essential eye care services to its members. They learn essential skills in diversity, social determinants of health, humility and cultural competence. Many change their professional aspirations towards multidisciplinary medical optometry or even decide to practice in community health centers.

The impact on neighborhood residents has been equally positive. NECO clinics in CHCs improve access to life-saving eye care services for thousands of patients each year, at lower cost and closer to where they live and work.

The NECO heritage

“Community clinical training is essentially NECO. It defines us by what we believe in.

We strongly believe in providing life-saving eye care in community health centers as part of a patient’s overall health care. And at the same time providing excellent, unique and in-depth clinical training to students. Everybody wins.
– President Howard Purcell, OD ’82

What NECO launched 50 years ago has changed the teaching of optometry. Today:

  • The community-based clinical training model is the gold standard, with many optometry schools affiliated with CSCs and VAs for clinical training.
  • NECO’s Optometric-Ophthalmologic Collaborative Model is widely used, so much so that it’s hard to remember a time without it.
  • NECO has given new impetus to efforts to broaden the scope of practice of optometry. focus on refraction to primary eye care providers by actively training optometrists to be primary care providers early on. This included training the first optometrist in the use of pharmaceutical agents.
  • Eye care has become an integral part of the overall delivery of health care.
  • Future optometrists see a wider and more fulfilling range of paths

NECO’s network with CHCs today

“I am so proud of NECO’s heritage in training new optometrists to provide equitable eye care to underserved people in our communities,” says Dr Amy Moy, the current NECO Health Center Network Director and Chief Compliance Officer. “We have the perfect stage in our health centers to teach NECO students about culturally competent eye care and the social determinants of health, as well as how to advocate for equitable health care for all. “


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