Beginning in summer 2018, Pacific University’s College of Optometry will host 36 optometry students from China pursuing a bachelors degree in Applied Vision Science.
The new program was approved one year ago by the Board of Trustees.
“It’s a three-plus-one program,” Jennifer Coyle, dean of the Forest Grove College of Optometry said. “Three years in China at their host institution and one year with us and it leads to a bachelors degree. Students at Nankai University will have dual degrees so they will receive a degree from Nankai and also from Pacific at the same time.”
In China, 90 percent of teenagers and young adults suffer from myopic vision. One-third of the world’s population is nearsighted, but the greatest number of the nearsighted population is in Asia. The director of the Vision Performance Institute, Shun-Nan Yang, who travels to China quite often, was presented with an opportunity to help alleviate those suffering from myopia in China.
“He was approached by the two programs there because they knew he worked in an optometry school in the U.S.,” Coyle said. “They wanted to offer something broader and more intensive for their students so they actually approached us to develop the program.”
The Chinese students who will be coming here for a year will be able to improve upon the availability and abilities of optometrists in China and to help with the largely overwhelming numbers of people who need eye care in China when they return.
“There’s a huge demand, especially in western China because they don’t have as many big cities and it tends to much more rural and they desperately need eye care,” Coyle said.
The training will be rigorous, but the educational opportunities will allow the students to learn skills and gain knowledge they might not have otherwise. They will also be able to help close the gap between doctors available and people in need of treatment.
“It’s staggering to me; they can’t keep up,” Coyle said. “There are so many things that we do in the U.S. as optometrists that they don’t even learn.”
The international students will have an intensive work load during the year-long residence at Pacific’s Forest Grove campus. They will have 44 credits for the College of Optometry program, but they will also have credits to complete in the bachelors program. Pacific’s usual optometry students take about 22 credits per semester.
“So it’s equivalent to that and what’s going to make it even more challenging is they have the bachelor’s program just like all the other programs at Pacific [and] they have to do two capstones,” Coyle said. “So their research will be on a diversity project and the other will probably be very clinically focused [like an] intensive case report or a literature review on some sort of vision or eye care topic.”
Having the Chinese optometry students on campus will provide an exchanging of cultures with existing Pacific students and they will also have the opportunity to experience university life in the United States.
“It’s a global experience for them just as it is having international students on our campus gives our current students a more global perspective,” Coyle said. “Our students will benefit because they do not have necessarily as global of a view of what optometry is like in the rest of the world, so those students can teach them.”
The Applied Vision Science program benefits not only existing and the visiting students, but it will also improve the quality of life for many people living in China who suffer from myopia.
With all the possibilities, there may be opportunities to expand this program to include other countries and other international students who would benefit from cultural and knowledge exchanges at Pacific as well.