New England College of Optometry Launches new Residency in growing field of Low Vision Rehabilitation

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New England College of Optometry created a new low vision rehabilitation residency which launched last week with Dr. Stephanie Aigbe as its first resident. Only 6 such residencies exist in the country while low vision services are in high demand.

Dr Stephanie Aigbe is standing and looking over Dr. Lexi Malkin's shoulder at a patient record in preparation of a visit.

Stephanie Aigbe, OD, NECO's first resident in its new program, reviews a patient record with Lexi Malkin, DO, the residency coordinator.

"As early as high school, it was important for me to work with marginalized communities, whether it’s far away or in my own community. So many people don’t have access to regular healthcare resources.... I want to close that gap.”

“I want to do it all, learn it all, and absorb everything about low vision.”

So says Stephanie Aigbe, OD, New England College of Optometry’s first-ever resident in Low Vision Rehabilitation. The new residency is one of only six of its kind in the country, and for Dr. Aigbe, it represents a return home: she received her doctorate from NECO in May.

Passion for change drives Dr. Aigbe. When completing her rotation in low vision and traumatic brain injury, she noticed that a little more time and attention to patients’ health and vision could change lives.

That makes her a good match for NECO, which has long been recognized for innovation in low vision research and clinical care. NECO experts are tapped regularly for speaking, educational programs, and professional boards, and a Low Vision Rehabilitation resident will add to the expertise on hand.

“It seemed natural to add this kind of residency program, and with the generous support of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) we were able to do it sooner than expected,“ says residency coordinator Lexi Malkin, OD, FAAO, Associate Professor of Clinical Optometry.

Dr. Malkin took a broad view when developing the residency. “We want to provide a comprehensive view of low vision rehabilitation that goes well beyond clinical care. NECO’s resident will join in classroom instruction, observe at community organizations, and work on independent or existing research.”

Experience with low vision patients of all ages was a critical factor in designing the residency, according to Dr. Malkin. “Working with pediatric patients and individuals with multiple disabilities adds a layer to what these residents will learn. They’ll teach young students with low vision to self-advocate in the classroom, and they’ll learn to do things like adapt vision exams for individuals with multiple disabilities. They’ll leave with a broader understanding of all that low vision rehabilitation can be in the community.”

“Every patient in low vision is very different,” Dr. Aigbe points out. “I could see ten patients with the same physical condition and yet have very different treatment plans for each. Knowing how people interact with their world at home and outside is all part of how we approach a treatment plan.”

Community group observations are also key. “What happens when the patient leaves our office with referral forms? How does a counselor use those forms to set up independent living training? By seeing the full cycle, we can do better by the patient,” says Dr. Malkin.

Funded in part by the MCB, the residency is part of an effort to increase the number of low vision experts practicing in the state. “MCB is pleased to collaborate with NECO to help address low vision eye-care access in some of the more rural areas of our Commonwealth. We have heard from our stakeholders and listened to the community and now through our partnership with NECO, people with low vision will have increased options for care. This residency is an important step towards improving access to care for geriatric and pediatric individuals in the area,” says MCB Commissioner David D’Arcangelo.

And what will Dr. Aigbe do once she’s learned it all? “Then I want to take it to a place that doesn’t have it,” she says with a smile. “As early as high school, it was important for me to work with marginalized communities, whether it’s far away or in my own community. So many people don’t have access to regular healthcare resources. My passion is social justice – disparities within the same county, the city. I want to close that gap.”

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