Nadimire Jules felt like a celebrity when she entered a remote village in Ghana to provide eye exams and hand out glasses to the people living there.
"The kids and the adults were so happy to see us," Jules, 27, said about volunteering for one month in the West African country as part of Unite For Sight, a nonprofit organization that provides free eye care to people in Ghana, India and Honduras.
"A lot of people had never even seen an eye doctor, so they were really happy to be able to talk to someone and receive treatment free of charge."
On June 24, Jules left her boyfriend, family, friends and all the comforts of America to assist with cataract surgeries and eye exams and to educate people about proper eye care.
She worked in a group with six other volunteers, including nurses, doctors, medical students and translators, who traveled to different villages equipped with eye charts and exam equipment.
"If we saw any patients with operable cataracts, they were scheduled to be taken to the eye clinic free of charge," said Jules.
Jules, a 2000 Westbury High School graduate, went through a rigorous application process involving writing multiple essays and getting recommendations.
Along with completing course work and studying for final exams for her first year at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Jules watched hours of training videos, raised $1,500 toward providing free cataract surgery for patients and collected 500 pairs of reading and sunglasses.
"It's a self-selected group," Jules said of the volunteers. "For you to go through all that was involved in the application process, you must really want to do it."
Jules said some of the biggest adjustments to living in Ghana were washing her clothes by hand, having no air-conditioning and needing a water bottle when she brushed her teeth because she was instructed not to drink the local water.
The 'E' chart
Because Jules is entering her second year of medical school, she wasn't able to directly assist with surgeries or physical exams, but she helped and observed the nurses. She said her favorite part was giving the visual acuity exam to patients - better known by the "E" chart.
"I felt like I had a lot more interaction with patients, and I got to speak the language a little," said Jules, a Haitian native who moved to New York when she was 4 years old. Jules said she and her group evaluated about 80 people per day.
To prepare for her trip, Jules spent time at the Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island in Carle Place, an eye care group, to learn about cataracts, glaucoma and eye anatomy. "She seemed very ambitious, and very dedicated to the people," said Dr. David Sachs, one of the doctors Jules observed. "She's only going into her second year of medical school, and she's already seeking out things that people out of medical school don't do."
Jules said she's definitely considering ophthalmology as a career after she graduates in 2012.