New ophthalmology unit opens at University of Kentucky Salvation Army Clinic

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Although the clinic has a partnership with The Salvation Army, it’s completely self-funded through university grants, donations and fundraising efforts.

The student-run University of Kentucky Salvation Army Clinic (UKSAC) is officially expanding its offerings to include ophthalmic care.

The free medical clinic, founded by physicians Abner Golden and David Cowen, is opening a new ophthalmology clinic to improve the eye care of anyone lacking insurance or simply intimidated by large health care systems. Staffers are also hoping the clinic will serve as a bridge to other providers who can help those in need.

According to Dr. Julia Stevens, associate professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics, and liaison to the students working to bring the clinic to life, the opening of the ophthalmology clinic was “a culmination of people saying we can do this.”

When the UK Department of Ophthalmology began the process of moving their clinic into the new Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center, now located on the UK campus on South Limestone, the opportunity to acquire donated equipment and supplies from the old space arose.

Medical students Paras Vora and Riley Bylund jumped at the opportunity to increase volunteer opportunities at the Salvation Army Clinic and help underserved patients receive vision care.

“We had the idea to encourage more volunteer opportunities within the field of ophthalmology, and serendipitously Dr. Stevens had just found out that there would be equipment and supplies available as the Department of Ophthalmology moved to the new Shriners location,” Vora said.

In 2017, Vora and Bylund began the process of developing the new clinic space. Because of the donation of equipment, Vora and Bylund say they only needed to secure a minimal amount of funding. The pair submitted a proposal to the Salvation Army Clinic Board and the proposal was accepted.

A portion of the space at the Salvation Army Clinic, located on West Main Street in Lexington, was modified to create a hybrid exam room which could function both as a traditional exam room as well as a specialized eye exam space.

While Voras and Bylund have advanced in their studies and begun to focus on research, the current clinic managers are excited about what the new space will mean in terms of serving the community and improving their skills as physicians.

According to a joint statement from students Connor Appelman and Marc Kai, “Starting an ophthalmology clinic is exciting because it provides students a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience practicing ophthalmology examination techniques under the guidance of caring physicians—all while providing a much-needed service to patients who otherwise would not receive this type of care.”

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