Did you know eye exams can change lives?
Picture a young child in school who can’t see the lesson on the board. That child is at a disadvantage in learning inside the classroom and beyond. However, having access to an optometrist and being able to see clearly could set them on a path to success. For others, access to an eye exam means the chance to detect signs of a chronic disease, like diabetes, even before symptoms show.
At VSP Vision™, we support health equity by expanding access to vision care to those who need it most. However, we recognize that access is only part of the solution, and people can experience even better health outcomes when diversity in vision care increases. That’s why we’re removing barriers to care and helping advance the next generation of optometrists. When I joined the organization in 2020 as Chief Diversity Officer, I was inspired to build on a rich history and accelerate efforts to ensure an inclusive and diverse culture that delivers on our commitment.
Our dedication to health equity stretches back nearly 70 years with our founders, including Dr. Marvin R. Poston. As the first Black optometrist on the West Coast, he established free vision screening programs in underserved communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. He also took it upon himself to mentor Black optometry students and create a consulting service for those with dreams of opening their own practice.
Today, in partnership with the National Optometric Student Association, we’re proud to support students with the Dr. Marvin R. Poston Leadership Award as one of many scholarships that continue Dr. Poston’s mission to diversify vision care and champion young optometrists.
As we strive to honor the legacy of Dr. Poston, our pursuit of health equity hasn’t been without self-reflection. When the country was grappling with racial unrest in 2020, we used the time to understand how we could better meet the diverse needs of the communities we support.
Among the initiatives borne from this recommitment was a partnership with Black EyeCare Perspective, an optometrist-led nonprofit with a mission to redefine the color of the vision care industry. While the Black community constitutes 13.4% of the U.S. population, only 1.4% of practicing optometrists are Black. Increasing representation is essential to ensure that everyone can access an optometrist in their community who understands them.
Over the course of 2022, and in support of Black EyeCare Perspective’s IMPACT HBCU, our partnership hosted outreach events at Florida A&M University, Tennessee State University and Paul Quinn College, and the impact was immediate. More than 300 students gained awareness of optometry careers and more than 200 students received free eye exams. In some instances, students shared that their school’s event introduced them to a Black optometrist for the first time, underscoring the importance of representation in health care.
As part of our ongoing partnership with Black EyeCare Perspective, this year, we launched the Empowering Equity Scholarship as another way we’re supporting new pathways that promote a standard of equity in optometry.
While our scholarships and partnerships help support health equity by shaping the vision care industry of tomorrow, VSP® Eyes of Hope®, along with volunteer optometrists, helps close the gap by providing people access to free vision care and eyewear today.
In 2022, after the pandemic exacerbated the need for care, we invested $1 million to expand vouchers for free vision care and relaunch mobile eye care clinics. More than 25 years ago, we launched our first program to connect students in need to a local optometrist for free vision care and have expanded it for adults. We’ve also added programs to ensure people affected by a disaster can replace their lost or damaged eyewear and invested in mobile clinics to bring the optometrist’s office to communities in need.
It’s inspiring to work for an organization that’s funded $3 million in scholarships and grants, provided access to free vision care for 3.8 million people, and invested $20 million in disaster relief. But we know there’s more work to be done, and we remain committed to increasing diversity in vision care and bringing care wherever it’s needed most.