Catching Up With The #DifferenceMakers Eyecare Mission Trip

This article was created in partnership with Essilor, a proud supporter of NewGradOptometry and new graduate optometrists. 😎

Essilor DifferenceMakers

In October of 2018, Essilor of America launched its #DifferenceMakers campaign in order to recognize eyecare professionals who embody the company’s mission of improving lives by improving sight.

In March 2019, four eyecare professionals were nominated by their communities for their service and contributions to community health, and sent by Essilor to Singapore and Thailand for a week-long mission trip.

One of the eye doctors chosen for the #DifferenceMakers program was Dr. Will Tantum of the nonprofit LOVE Eye Care.

LOVE Eye Care provides no-cost eyecare out of Dr. Tantum’s practice in Blount County, TN. Each doctor in the practice sees one LOVE Eye Care patient a week, and none of these patients are charged for their exams or eyewear. In 2019, Dr. Tantum is launching another program, LOVE Little Eyes, which seeks to provide no-cost comprehensive eye exams to every child in Blount County.

Dr. Tantum laughs when he talks about learning that he was nominated for the #DifferenceMakers program. “I read some of the other stories they had on there, and I didn’t think we had a chance,” he says. “You get so used to what you do, you don’t really think that it’s special.”

LOVE Eye Care started out of Dr. Tantum’s practice, with the intention of removing the paperwork and wait times usually associated with providing community healthcare. Doctors in the practice commit to a certain number of hours a week serving the program. “[Patients] fill out a simple application, and they come in and get an eye exam at no cost to them,” says Dr. Tantum. “If they need glasses, we cover that cost as well.”

Watch more on our colleagues making a difference around the globe as Dr. Matt Geller shares his medical eyecare mission trip to India in this VLOG episode.

“In 2017, we wanted to try and focus more locally,” says Dr. Tantum of his non-profit, LOVE Eye Care. “There’s a really big need in this community for eyecare. People have barriers to care, whether they’re financial, or physical, or whatever it is, so we started LOVE Eye Care.”

About a year ago, a local news site covered LOVE Eye Care, and since then, interest in his program has poured in, Dr. Tantum told NGO. “I can’t do enough free exams here and still see patients like I need to,” he says. “So last year we decided to open the region’s first no-cost freestanding clinic.” LOVE Eye Care is currently seeking funding for this clinic, but the goal is to offer comprehensive eye exams at no cost to the local community. Dr. Tantum says that one of his biggest sources of motivation for creating the program has been seeing the number of students in the community who have never received comprehensive eye exams.

Although LOVE Eye Care started as a one-for-one program with a clinic in Guatemala (LOVE Guatemala), and then another program in Haiti (LOVE Haiti), the #DifferenceMakers trip to Singapore and Thailand was Dr. Tantum’s first eyecare mission trip.

Dr. Tantum shared with us his experience upon returning from the #DifferenceMakers trip.

The eyecare mission trip consisted of one day of orientation, three days of treating patients, and one day of free time.

The first day, Dr. Tantum and the other doctors—Dr. Hannah Cho, OD of FLOE Optometry; Dr. Sergul Erzerum, MD of Eyecare Associates; and Essilor’s own Dr. Millicent Knight, OD, FAAO, FAARM—had an orientation session at Essilor’s Singapore office.

We spent a really rewarding day listening to various people at the Essilor’s Vision Foundation speaking about the things they’re doing around the world—which is a lot.

They (The Essilor Vision Foundation) are providing services and resources in India, China, all over Southeast Asia, and of course here at home for those in need, helping millions of people, which is truly amazing,” says Dr. Tantum. “And they even brought in the people who are developing the equipment they’re using for their mission teams, which was really cool.”

“Then we went on to Thailand, and that’s where we started going into the schools outside of Bangkok and doing vision exams every day. We did 900 one day, and 800 or more the next day—they were long, exhausting days. But they were incredible days, too.”

“For the screenings, we would drive about two and a half hours in different directions to the schools,” says Dr. Tantum. Many of these schools are religious schools in impoverished areas, and each day saw the doctors arriving at a different school to treat patients. Local optometry students assisted the doctors in screenings.

“I was really encouraged to be around the group they sent me with—because each of the doctors in that group are all doing something unique, but they’re also such incredible people. There are people out there who are doing really cool stuff, and to get to spend a couple of days around them, that’s what inspired me,” Dr. Tantum said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go somewhere and see these places,” says Dr. Tantum. These kinds of mission trips, and programs like #DifferenceMakers are so important for eyecare, Dr. Tantum says, because eyecare is such a small part of the larger healthcare industry.

He says he definitely plans on doing other mission trips in the future. “After serving on this trip,” he says, “I want to continue to serve.”

Watch more on attending and getting involved with eyecare mission trips with Dr. Hannah Cho.

For doctors who want to get involved in their communities and aren’t able to go on mission trips, Dr. Tantum has some advice.

“Make sure that whatever you do, that you’re passionate about it and you care about it. I think a lot of times, when people get out into practice, in school they tell us you need to be involved because it’s good for your career. Which is true, but if you’re going to do something and it’s not something you’re passionate about, it shows pretty quickly.” But, he adds, “Nothing is too small. Nothing is insignificant.”

“People forget the value that [optometry] has. But constantly reminding yourself that something as simple as an eye exam and a pair of glasses is so life-changing,” he says.

“Sight is something that we can take for granted, and it’s really powerful. And we have this really unique skill set and ability to help people in a way that nobody else can.”

Read more stories of industry professionals who are making a difference in the lives of others, and learn how you can get involved through the Essilor Vision Foundation.

Want to keep the goodwill going and help those in need?

You can help the Essilor Vision Foundation through donations, services, and grants and support their mission to provide quality eyecare to those in need. Here are a few ways to contribute:

  • In-Office Donations – Leverage free marketing materials to raise funds and awareness for the millions of children who need vision care.
  • Glasses and Lab Services – You can get access to no-cost lenses, frames, and lab services to help your charitable efforts and those patients who are in need.
  • Community Grants – Grants are available for optometrists who work to increase vision services within their communities.

About Antonio Chirumbolo

Antonio Chirumbolo
Antonio Chirumbolo, OD, is Associate Director of Marketing at CovalentCareers. Antonio's focus is in the world of digital publications and healthcare marketing, with special attention on content creation, management, and development.

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