Optometry student wins first place InfantSEE Scholarship, gains extensive externship experience
Shelby Baugh Bruner decided she wanted to be an optometrist when she was 10 years old.
“I required visual correction at a young age,” said Baugh Bruner, who is wrapping up her third year in the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ optometry program. “I was in a situation where neither of my parents needed glasses, so it never really came up until I started struggling, telling them I can’t see the board.”
Her first visit to an optometrist sealed her lifelong goal.
“In the beginning it was all the cool technology they had in the offices I went to,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is so neat they get to play with these machines all the time!’”
Those first experiences also contributed to her passion for infant vision screening, said Baugh Bruner, who was recently awarded the 2016 first place $5,000 InfantSEE Scholarship sponsored by Vision West.
InfantSEE is a public health program, managed by Optometry Cares – The American Optometric Association Foundation. Under the program, AOA optometrists provide a no-cost comprehensive eye and vision assessment for infants 0-12 months regardless of a family’s income or access to insurance coverage.
Through Vision West, InfantSEE Scholarships are offered to optometry students who plan on becoming program providers and demonstrate academic seriousness about preparing professionally for the program.
Baugh Bruner gained familiarity with InfantSEE during her undergraduate years at Missouri Southern State University. She worked with Dr. Gregory Goetzinger, an AOA optometrist who offered InfantSEE examinations through his practice in Carthage, Mo.
“The earlier you find a problem, the better the outcome is going to be,” Baugh Bruner said. “A lot of the time people say, ‘I look at my baby, and they’re doing everything normally. I’m not seeing any delays.’ But some visual problems can go undetected for long periods of time, and they’re going to have a bigger impact once the child gets into school.
“Maybe they’re having trouble even with colors and sitting still. It may look like a behavioral problem, but it’s really just that the patient can’t see. And they don’t know how to tell you that because it’s always looked like that to them.”
Baugh Bruner plans to use the InfantSEE Scholarship to fund an extensive yearlong externship experience, which she said will allow her to see many different types of patients and practice a broad range of vision assessment and care. Externship opportunities were actually one of the reasons Baugh Bruner chose UMSL.
“UMSL’s College of Optometry has one of the best externship programs,” she said. “They have a lot of options where you can do your eight-week rotations your last year.”
Baugh Bruner will start this summer in St. Louis, rotating through St. Louis Children’s Hospital, People’s Health Centers, Myrtle Hilliard Davis Comprehensive Health Centers, Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments and the Lindell Eye Center.
“Many of these clinics serve the uninsured and medically undeserved populations of St. Louis,” she said. “These clinics are important because they enable people to receive eye care who otherwise would not be able to.”
The majority of her scholarship will fund her living expenses for externships outside of St. Louis. Those include stints at the Missouri Eye Institute in Springfield, Mo., the Carl Albert Indian Health Facility in Ada, Okla., and Carthage [Mo.] Eye Care owned by Dr. Tamra Soriano.
It won’t be Baugh Bruner’s first time working with Soriano, whom she job-shadowed in high school.
Baugh Bruner wants to practice primary care and full-scope optometry, making her broad externship experience valuable. Thinking about her approaching graduation next year, she teased she’s not turning down any early job offers. No matter where she practices, Baugh Bruner plans on always being an InfantSEE provider.
“Early detection is the biggest and best step you can take to improve a child’s long-term vision health,” she said. “This is my way I can give back to the community. Not only am I directly giving back to that child and that family, but it helps that I’m also instilling in their minds the importance of eye care for life.”
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