Celebrate Diversity Month: The Optometrist Series – Helene Ly, staff optometrist at the Centre for Eye Health

To acknowledge Celebrate Diversity Month, Good vision for life has put together a series of stories shining a light on some of the optometrists around Australia who are championing diversity and inclusivity efforts within culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Born in South-West Sydney as a child of Vietnamese refugees, Helene Ly, is a staff optometrist at the Centre for Eye Health who is passionate about reducing barriers to eye care, treating everyone equally and showing utmost kindness and respect to the most vulnerable.

Helene believes being surrounded by a culturally and linguistically diverse population for all her life has made her the practitioner that she is today.

What is your experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations and how that has impacted you throughout your career? 

When I graduated from university, I specifically wanted to stay in my community and have been servicing Western Sydney since the start of my career. I find it wonderful that my local area is accepting of all different cultures who have sought refuge here from all over the world.

Where do you believe are the biggest gaps when it comes to the accessibility and delivery of eye health information to CALD populations and how can these be bridged to offer better outcomes?  

Newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers face significant gaps in accessing medical care due to their unfamiliarity with healthcare pathways and potentially limited support networks. Multidisciplinary care, encompassing both health and social services, is crucial in addressing these challenges, with centralised hubs guiding individuals to necessary resources.  

Similarly, ageing CALD populations encounter barriers such as transportation issues and isolation, highlighting the importance of community engagement initiatives. By encouraging participation in local social groups and offering targeted information sessions, practitioners can ensure inclusivity and support for these vulnerable populations. 

What do you believe are the most important considerations for culturally and linguistically diverse communities when it comes to accessing eye health services in Australia? 

Empowering CALD communities to access eye care involves simple yet impactful steps.  

Assessing patient backgrounds through client history forms or local Census data can tailor services, while offering pamphlets in multiple languages and highlighting language capabilities online fosters inclusivity. Prioritising patient comfort, my workplace screens for language preferences and arranges interpreter services through Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS), ensuring patient autonomy.  

Recognising diverse perspectives on eye care, practitioners should approach recommendations with openness and flexibility, considering individual circumstances like visa stresses.

How can optometrists ensure effective communication with patients who may have limited English proficiency or come from different cultural backgrounds? 

Utilising the TIS and coordinating with front desk staff to accommodate language needs optimises patient care, though this can be challenging in busy clinics. Cultural responsiveness training for support staff expands their understanding and fosters empathy in assisting non-English proficient patients.  

While cultural responsiveness encompasses various aspects, prioritising effective communication, respect and kindness remains paramount in daily interactions with diverse communities. Ultimately, ensuring patients feel empowered and confident in their eye care decisions signifies successful practice.

In your opinion, what are the key cultural considerations that optometrists should keep in mind when providing eye care services to diverse communities? 

There is so much within the scope of cultural responsiveness training that is well fleshed out in other resources, but I think effective communication, respect and kindness are really the key pillars that I try to achieve every day when working with diverse communities.   

If someone from a CALD background feels confident that their eye examination was thorough, and empowered to make choices for themself, that's the best we can do as practitioners.

What initiatives and outreach programs have you been involved in to promote eye health awareness within diverse communities? 

I have presented a couple of talks to Vietnamese community groups on common eye conditions and the importance of regular optometry examinations.   

I am currently working on a streamlined pathway for Asylum Seeker and Refugee patients from their first point of contact with the wonderful Hana at NSW Refugee Health Service either to us at the Centre for Eye Health or onto Public Ophthalmology to ensure adequate and timely access to eye care services.

What should members of the CALD community know about accessing the best eye health services/provides for their needs and where can they go for more information? 

The CALD community should know that eye health services in Australia are generally quite accessible, and being on top of eye health and vision has flow-on effects for quality of life.   

The Vision2020 site is a resource I tell a lot of my patients about; it is accessible in multiple languages and helps patients easily book eye tests and learn about common eye conditions.

How to find your closest CALD optometry practice 

You can use our easy Good vision for life search tool here and filter by language spoken to book an appointment today. 

Helene Ly is a staff optometrist at the Centre for Eye Health (CFEH). 

CFEH is an initiative of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and The University of New South Wales. 

Its vision is to reduce the incidence of preventable blindness within our community, helping to avoid the financial, psychological and practical consequences of vision loss by providing eye imaging and diagnostic and management services to those most in need.

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