Celebrate Diversity Month: The Optometrist Series – Sam Hobbs, optometrist at Community Eyecare

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.

For Sam Hobbs, an optometrist at Community Eyecare, who has traversed remote and regional Indigenous communities across South Australia, trying to understand diversity through a different lens says it has done nothing for him but foster more openness and empathy as a person and as a professional.

His ongoing work within remote and regional Indigenous communities takes him to various AMS clinics (Aboriginal Medical Service), seeing him travel as far north as Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara country (APY) on the South Australia/Northern Territory border and as far south as Boandik land (Mount Gambier) to visit patients.

How would you describe your experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations? 

I think exposure to such diversity is inherently good. This job has impacted me by opening my eyes to public health issues and broader political health issues.  

Working in multidisciplinary clinics also feels more holistic and patient-centred when compared to the typical “standalone” optometry model. This multidisciplinary approach may even highlight potential ways that metro healthcare could function more effectively, too. 

Where do you see the biggest gaps in the accessibility and delivery of eye health information to CALD populations and how can these be bridged to offer better outcomes? 

Trust and education are paramount in healthcare, particularly within CALD communities where they often fall behind national averages. Trust, especially crucial in Indigenous communities, is the linchpin of accessibility and delivery of eye health services, as without it, patients may not seek care. 

While infrastructure and optometrists willing to work in outreach exist, the presence of long-term local staff emerges as a critical factor distinguishing good from exceptional practices, fostering deeper connections with patients. Investing in and empowering local staff holds the potential to significantly enhance clinic effectiveness.

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

Communicating with Indigenous and migrant communities requires a targeted approach that considers the diverse social networks and language barriers that can render traditional mediums ineffective.  

Understanding cultural nuances is essential, necessitating a departure from Western norms and proactive engagement with community members. Use of culturally safe communication, facilitated by tools like Google Translate and visual aids, fosters empathy and accessibility.

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

Understanding the nuances of trust and comfort levels in clinical settings is crucial, which takes patience and empathy for those navigating unfamiliar cultural contexts.  

It is imperative to recognise the shared humanity behind cultural differences and to prioritise equity over equality in healthcare delivery if we ever want to close any gaps in this space. 

Marginalised communities require additional support from both clinicians and society at large to bridge existing gaps and foster empowerment, connection and elevation.

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

Participating in a "Mums and Bubs" day at the Umoona Community Health Clinic was a rewarding experience. This comprehensive event catered to Indigenous mothers and children, offering screenings across various healthcare disciplines.  

With activities like balloons, music and a barbecue, the event fostered a sense of community while integrating healthcare seamlessly. The holistic approach not only facilitated screenings but also built trust and provided culturally safe health education—a testament to the power of community-centric initiatives.

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

The difficulty in finding eye health services underscores the need for improved resources. 

A government database with customisable filters for location, preferred healthcare providers and language could greatly enhance accessibility.  

Existing tools, if any, must be effectively marketed, potentially through community advocacy efforts to bridge the gap between services and community awareness.

A final thought 

The misconception that existing government spending negates the need for further support in CALD and Indigenous communities often leads to misplaced blame on the communities themselves.  

However, the focus should be on critiquing service delivery methods rather than solely relying on financial investment. Meaningful engagement and understanding of these communities are essential, requiring governments to prioritise effective integration of services.  

Embracing diverse voices and backgrounds in hiring practices is vital in addressing these issues.

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 and diverse services provided (i.e. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health) to book an appointment today.  

Sam Hobbs is also an optometrist at Adelaide Eyecare and works out of the Westbourne Park (415 Goodwood Road) and Blackwood (165 Main Road) clinics. He also works as a member of academic staff at Flinders University. 

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