Faith Mission Outreach Eye Clinic

Faith Mission Outreach Eye Clinic

By Ben Lewis, Director of Communications and Special Projects

Life can be scary when you can't get the help you need because of your past. The pain of needing to explain yourself over and over again to different people is often worse than receiving a difficult diagnosis.

Until she came to the Faith Mission Outreach Eye Clinic, that was exactly the case for a recent patient. She came to the clinic, which is run by Ohio State's College of Optometry, with complaints of severe headaches as well as a recent weight gain and a whooshing sound in her ears. But because the patient was a past drug addict, the three emergency rooms she had visited all thought she was just seeking drugs for her habit.

We were able to dilate her eyes and see papilledema - a sign of increased intracranial pressure - that was to blame and sent her for treatment, said Dr. Joan Nerderman, the clinic's director. We were concerned that she may be afraid of the diagnosis that it could be a brain tumor or pseudo tumor (acts like a tumor but is not) but instead she was relieved that someone believed her and had a diagnosis where she could get treatment.

Stories like this aren't uncommon at the clinic, which has operated out of the Faith Mission homeless shelter in downtown Columbus since 2000. This partnership with Faith Mission has allowed Ohio State to help not just those at homeless shelters, but those who are uninsured referred by free clinics and social service agencies throughout Franklin County. With the rise in unemployment over the past few years, there has been a surge in patients.

Meeting their vision needs is just one step in helping them rebuild their lives and improve their chances to get that job if they can read again or see to drive, Nerderman said.

The clinic, which provides senior student externs with a unique experience under the supervision of a faculty optometrist, has grown significantly since its inception. In the beginning it saw 250 patients per year with only about 20 outdated frames available, but is now seeing more than 1,200 patients per year with more than 400 up-to-date fashion frames.

The clinic's outstanding work earned it one of Ohio State's two nominations for the 2011 Outreach Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation and C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Awards.

The program's benefits extend beyond the Columbus patients and student optometrists. A survey of optometry alumni found that graduates who completed an outreach rotation as a student donated 94 percent more of their professional services in their communities after graduation, compared to those without the student outreach experience.

The externs who rotate through Faith Mission get to see the effects of poor general health, domestic abuse, head trauma and street drugs and learn to adapt their exam to meet the patient needs, Nerderman said.

As the clinic continues to expand its vision services, it also hopes to enlist the help of other professionals to continue to serve this at-risk population.

If you would like more information, please contact Dr. Joan Nerderman at