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Glaucoma
Video

AGE Initiative: Cause, Conception and Collaboration

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Important Links:

AGE Initiative Website

The Glaucoma Guidebook: Expert Advice on Maintaining Healthy Vision

 

Contance Okeke, MD:

Yes. My name is Dr. Constance Okeke. I am a glaucoma specialist and cataract surgeon. I am at Virginia Eye Consultants in Norfolk, Virginia, and I’ve been practicing for over 20 years.

Taylor Nicole Drake:

Hi, my name is Taylor Nicole Drake. I go by Nikki and I’m a third year medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Trent Wetsel:

Yeah, so my name’s Trent Wetsel. I’m a second year medical student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and I’m an interested in ophthalmology. That’s how I got my start with the AGE Initiative.

Speaker 4:

Unveiling AGE Initiative, mission, inception, and educational impact.

Contance Okeke, MD:

The mission of the AGE Initiative, which stands for Advocates for Glaucoma Education, is to enhance education about glaucoma in a way where we translate that information globally to empower people to understand the disease and know how to prevent blindness. So our goal to do is to do that in a way that’s creative, multifactorial, very inclusive, because glaucoma touches the lives, not just the patients, but all the people who surround the patient, manage the patient, treat the patient, and educate the patient. I’ve always been someone who is very excited about education when it comes to glaucoma. For a long time I’ve been working on education with glaucoma, and I recently wrote a book called The Glaucoma Guidebook, and this was something that was specifically for patients in order to help them understand the disease and empower them to be able to do what they can do because they have a large role to try to help protect their vision and protect their sight.

And in the process of launching the book last January, during January, which is Glaucoma Awareness Month, there’s a lot of attention towards glaucoma education and awareness, right after that, it really significantly died down. And so then I noted that education for glaucoma is not just about January. We really need to be educating throughout the year and putting emphasis throughout the year. And during the efforts in January, I was doing a lot of lectures to different audiences. One of those audiences included students, and many of those students at Eastern Virginia Medical School came back to me afterwards saying, “We’re really engaged. We want to see if we can work together, if there’s any room for mentorship.” And that really prompted me to think of, “Okay, well we can start working on an initiative to help enhance glaucoma education,” and I can at the same time have these students involved with projects to do that and also mentor them and get them excited about the world of ophthalmology because finding more talent in ophthalmology is something that’s also needed.

So that’s kind of how the whole concept of the idea of that AGE Initiative came about. I’m an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and I’ve been so for over a decade. And so I’ve been really excited about having opportunities to work with residents and also medical students and just either work with them in clinics, work with them in research projects. And also along the years I’ve had a number of different projects that I’ve worked on for glaucoma that a number of students have been involved in. And so one of the things that’s really important when you’re mentoring students is to show them different aspects of your career. And when you do show them in an exciting way where there’s a lot of creativity in what you’re doing, like I said, with the either research projects or other projects, like a lot of videos on my iGlaucoma YouTube channel, a lot of students have been involved with either helping to create those or helping edit those.

When you start to share with them different aspects of the field that excite you, they get excited and they start to… they’re learning in that process, but then they also get hooked on the idea of the wonderful things about the field. And that’s what you want to do. A lot of people who end up going into a field, if you look back to see how they entered it, a lot of that had to do with a mentor that really got them excited about it and exposed them to a certain side of it that they liked. And so it’s really important for us to kind of get back because I know I had that kind of mentorship to give back to other students so that they can get excited, get in the field, learn about advocacy work, creative work, helping patients, helping other doctors learn and be educated about the field.

Speaker 4:

Mentorship and research within the AGE Initiative, medical students and residents’ perspective.

Taylor Nicole Drake:

So I’ve been especially involved in assisting Dr. Okeke with promoting widespread accessibility of her book, the recent book that she publishes called The Glaucoma Guidebook: Expert Advice on Maintaining Healthy Vision. And it’s really easy to read yet thorough guide to understanding and managing glaucoma and taking care of one’s vision. I believe it’s truly an invaluable essential resource that’s especially helpful for anyone who’s living with glaucoma or those that are at high risk for developing the condition and just navigating the diagnosis and understanding their treatment options. And the accompanying images within the book really provide a clear perspective of how progressive glaucoma affects one’s vision. And I’ve especially corresponded with several local libraries, many already accepting the book as part of their catalog, whether in electronic form or print version. And that way patients, but also even just the general public can learn more about glaucoma and in an easy to understand manner from an expert.

So Dr. Okeke first came to EVMS as a guest speaker for our ophthalmology interest group, and she discussed her journey to becoming an ophthalmologist. She shed light on her successes, but also her obstacles that she faced in pursuing a medical career. And as part of the presentation, she also discussed outpatient management of glaucoma and how she assists her patients in keeping their condition controlled with regular followup, continued use of the IOP lowering medications and surgical intervention if necessary, preferably microinvasive glaucoma surgery or MIGS.

And I was already interested in ophthalmology even before medical school, since I worked for two and a half years at an ophthalmology private practice in California where I’m from. And although my exposure was primarily with comprehensive ophthalmology, several of the patients in our office were evaluated with diagnoses of glaucoma. And it was Dr. Okeke’s talk that really inspired me to develop a professional rapport with her and see if she may be able to serve as a physician mentor for me, because as a medical student aspiring to become an ophthalmologist, I wanted to gain more exposure to what eye conditions such as glaucoma were like. And that’s when she introduced me to the Advocates for Glaucoma Education Initiative or AGE Initiative, and she asked if I would be interested in volunteering. And of course, I accepted.

Trent Wetsel:

So I got involved in the AGE Initiative because of my interest in ophthalmology. That’s what I see my future career being in and after hearing from Dr. Okeke at one of her talks on campus, I saw her vision for the AGE Initiative, saw the importance of spreading glaucoma education, not just in our local area or to her patients, but globally. And being involved in the initiative, I’ve learned more about glaucoma and the disease itself and its treatments, but more importantly, I’ve seen how the impact that you can have as a physician, not just with your own patients, but being able to build something as big as the AGE Initiative that spreads education to patients beyond your normal reach or interacting with other physicians to better everyone’s care practices has been really eyeopening to me. And then from where I am currently in medical school, we don’t always have the time to learn as in depth about the actual patient experience.

So we learn why the disease occurs, how it occurs, and then how to treat it just because we have so much to learn at once. But being involved in AGE Initiative has opened my eyes more to what the patient experiences, what someone with glaucoma experiences and their struggles that don’t always come to light in a normal interaction with a physician. So being able to have that awareness and be cognizant of that moving forward, not only in the field of ophthalmology, but whatever patient I see, whatever they’re dealing with, understanding that there’s usually deeper problems that they’re experiencing. So it’s not always, “This treatment isn’t working, let’s move on to the next.” It can be, “Okay, are they having trouble with glaucoma, keeping up with their drops or are they not comfortable with their drops? Is there anything like that that they might not mention but is easily addressable and can improve their outcomes?”

Taylor Nicole Drake:

With Dr. Okeke’s mentorship, I’ve learned a lot about glaucoma management and treatment. And although I’ve known for some time that I wanted to pursue a career in ophthalmology, it wasn’t until I worked with Dr. Okeke that glaucoma in particular had piqued my interest. So now I’m actually pursuing a glaucoma subspecialty after ophthalmology is my plan. Most recently, I conducted some clinical research with her and also Dr. Bhargava, who’s the chief resident of ophthalmology, EVMS, and we performed a retrospective chart study on specifically African-American patients because they’re more disproportionately affected by glaucoma. And we looked at those who underwent what’s called the streamlined surgical system procedure. It’s a type of MIGS, and also those who may have also underwent cataract extraction too. And we wanted to see the effectiveness of the procedure in reducing their intraocular pressure, diminishing the burden of IOP lowering drops, and also enhancing visual outcomes.

And when we looked at their postoperative outcomes, we saw all the way up to six months decreases in their eye pressure as well as the number of drops that they were using. So we think that it can be a good technique that can be used in the future to help patients prevent their progressive vision loss from glaucoma. And this study is just one of several research efforts under the AGE Initiative, and I was able to present this project at the recent EVMS Research Day in October, and fortunately won best poster among medical students of over 175 abstracts that were submitted to the event.

Speaker 4:

Multifaceted perspectives, sharing knowledge and understanding with all.

Taylor Nicole Drake:

So glaucoma is often called the silent thief because it has such an insidious onset. The symptoms present so slowly that they often go unnoticed. And by the time someone notices the change in their vision, it’s often almost too late because they have irreversible eye damage. So early detection and routine screening is pretty much essential to preventing the progressive damage from glaucoma. And by spreading glaucoma awareness, we really hope to encourage patients to be evaluated at earlier stages so that they can preserve their vision and maintain their overall quality of life. And at the AGE Initiative, we believe that creating a world where glaucoma education is accessible begins with the support and dedication of passionate individuals and organizations working together. There are various ways to support AGE Initiative. These include advocacy, collaboration, partnership, and I really encourage anyone who’s interested to be a part of the positive difference that we aspire to make in advancing glaucoma awareness and education.

Trent Wetsel:

So the unfortunate truth of glaucoma is that it can affect, everyone and anyone, and a lot of people that are affected by glaucoma don’t know it. So the whole purpose of the AGE Initiative is to build that education for everyone involved. And the more people and perspectives, the better. Whether it’s physicians sharing treatment options or plans that they found beneficial or medical students like me being able to learn a little bit more about ophthalmology and also just in general, how the effects you can have as a healthcare provider or people with glaucoma being able to share their experience with the disease, it all builds a network of that education, that kind of supportive network you’re able to see for patients. You’re able to see you’re not alone. There have been other people that experience it from a healthcare provider’s perspective, you get to see, again, deeper into that patient experience and also what other people have found more beneficial or less beneficial.

So I think it all comes together to improve everyone’s outcomes. Dr. Okeke’s Glaucoma Guidebook is a great place to start. It’s kind of the foundation for everything that we’re about. It has everything that you can want to know from whether you’re general public, whether you’re a healthcare provider, you can learn so much just from reading the book. So being able to get your hands on it to learn more about the disease of glaucoma and the effects it can have, how it can present, anything like that. And then also joining our movement by interacting with our updates, interacting with any live events we have. We usually put out updates with what we’re doing on LinkedIn. We are currently working on getting a Facebook page together just so we have another form of central access to everything that we have going on, whether it’s YouTube videos or the Glaucoma Guidebook, and breaking that down more in depth or having live events where people can come and make sure that they’re putting drops in correctly, anything like that. Any farther outreach we can have is beneficial.

Speaker 4:

Growth in 2024, expectations and goals.

Contance Okeke, MD:

So the goals for AGE Initiative is for 2024, it’s really to hone in on certain projects that we would really like to say at the end of the year we’ve completed. So there are a number of different research projects where we’ve collected a lot of data and we want to be able to take that data and actually analyze it and then start to produce some publications. So that’s one big area. And a lot of that research is in the area of minimally invasive glaucoma surgery as well as advanced technology lenses in glaucoma patients. Another area is there’s certain number of just kind of establishing our online presence, being able to… all the things that we’re doing, to be able to creatively have a social media platform to be able to get education out there on a consistent basis, let people know that what we’re doing consistently through platforms like websites, social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and the YouTube channel, and just be able to be consistent with spreading knowledge for education and glaucoma.

And then there’s also some other projects like video projects. We have some interest in creating videos to help educate patients on their journey in glaucoma, as well as educate providers about the importance of education in communicating with patients so that they can understand the disease better and help do their part in taking care of their eyes following up and things like that. So those are some of the areas that we really want to focus on in 2024. And in addition to continue to collaborate with different partners to share that education.

 

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