Student-run free clinics (SRFCs) primarily service the uninsured and are a unique way for medical students to gain hands-on exposure to ophthalmology. The free clinic model takes many different forms- some with episodic and longitudinal models– and this is mirrored in corresponding eye services.
To describe SRFC ophthalmology services nationwide.
This was a telephone survey study administered from June through July of 2018.
This study surveyed medical school SRFC clinics across the United States.
Survey request was sent to 19 SRFCs previously identified as having ophthalmology services via internet search. Fourteen SRFCs (73%) participated; participants were either student clinic leaders or medical directors. One respondent no longer had a distinct eye clinic so was excluded from relevant results.
Characteristics of ophthalmology SRFCs including participants, frequency of sessions, common diagnoses treated, and challenges encountered were assessed through this survey.
On average, each SRFC provided 5.15 hours per month of ophthalmology services. The mean number of medical students involved per session was 8.7. Lack of infrastructure to ensure adequate patient follow-up and faculty recruiting were cited as the main challenges in providing ophthalmology services. Most SRFC leaders indicated exposure to ophthalmology and practice with the exam as the main experiences that students sought and achieved. The most common conditions treated were refractive error (92.3%) and diabetic retinopathy (69.2%).
There are a small number of SRFCs that have ophthalmology services, and they share common features in terms of participants, staffing, and, barriers to sustainability. Ophthalmology services at SRFCs offer a unique venue for medical students to gain exposure to an under-represented field in medical school curricula. The growth of this critical venue for medical student training could be enhanced by recruitment strategies aimed at ophthalmology faculty with a strong interest in service and teaching.

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