Chicago, often, by locals, is referred to as “a city of neighborhoods”. Going through Pre-Service Orientation when I first moved here in August, I didn’t quite understand what that meant yet. It seemed like everyone I was meeting was telling me this! As I started serving at the Princeton School Vision Clinic with Illinois Eye Institute, I soon learned that what this really meant was that although Chicago does have unique public health challenges, each neighborhood has their own unique profile of community needs as well. Based on where a patient lives, their health needs, or access to resources, can heavily vary.
My host site in particular, serves as an institution where all Chicago Public Schools students can receive a comprehensive eye exam, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. Since Chicago Public Schools covers such a vast area, no two patients who walk in our door are the same. Due to this, we naturally experience a lot of diverse encounters. We could have an alternative high school come in that serves students at-risk for dropping out on the South Shore, or we could receive children who simply just moved into the district needing a mandatory eye exam for school administrative purposes.
The majority of students that come to this vision clinic, though, are students who attend CPS schools on the South or West side of the city. As mentioned before, the health needs, and access to services, is different in these areas than it is up in the Loop or in Lincoln Park. Even though all the students we see are different, we do see some common similarities by neighborhood. For many, we are their primary vision care provider due to proximity, and insurance. For others, like recent refugees to Chicago who need an eye exam before entering the school system, we’re the easiest place to quickly access without an appointment, as we take walk-ins. For big groups of students that do not pass their vision screening in their schools, we are able to accommodate many of them at once, enabling the school to make one field trip out of the day.
The ability to meet people through flexible avenues such as walk-ins and field trips helps us provide vision care to as many children as we can in Chicago Public Schools. Learning about the challenges their community may face can provide us a baseline insight as to how to help them best. The rest, though, the individual aspects of interacting with the patients in order to complete a comprehensive eye exam comes to us from motivational interviewing, compassion, teamwork with other staff, and above all, lending a listening ear. Many times the best way to learn how to serve someone, is just to listen to what they’re saying to you, and ask.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Prema Kondragunta.
Prema is a Patient Navigator at Illinois Eye Institute at Princeton Vision Clinic.