Tusculum College of Optometry plans to curb critical need for eye care in region

Brandon Paykamian • Jan 14, 2019 at 6:50 PM

GREENEVILLE — As Tusculum University works toward accreditation for its new Niswonger College of Optometry, the university expects to enroll its first optometry class in 2020 — the first step in a set of ambitious plans for the new college. 

One of those plans includes sending students and faculty to about 30 clinic sites throughout the region, including one on Tusculum’s Greeneville campus. Part of the goal is to help “accelerate the quality and access to eye care in our region,” according to Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, an optometrist and the college’s founding dean. 

“We have a very unique opportunity in that we will be partnering with Ballad Health. They have 21 centers around, and we will be providing care at those centers, with the Reeves Eye Institute and on our campus,” he said, calling it a “community-based effort.” 

Buzzelli said the college will start sending students out into the field by around 2022, just before the college gets full accreditation from the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education by 2024. In the meantime, some Tusculum faculty members will also be working with clinics throughout the region. 

“At any one time, we will have 140 students out there supervised by licensed faculty, and the institutions we are working with will be helping us with providing the faculty,” he said. “What’s unique about the plan is that we are looking for outreach with the optometrists already working in the area.”

University President James Hurley said the impact of having more students in the field training to be the next generation of rural optometrists would be tremendous for a region that is suffering from a critical need for more optometrists. 

“In Appalachia, we have a lot of ugly health statistics, and we have done a fair job of documenting the cancer cases and diabetes cases we have, but what people forget is the ocular diseases,” Hurley said. “We know that in Appalachia, we have a critical shortage of rural health physicians and a critical shortage of optometric physicians.

“We’re going to address the ocular eye diseases that are prevalent and rapidly continuing to grow out of control because they don’t have access.”

Buzzelli said he is looking forward to sending the students and faculty out into the field to help curb the need for eye care throughout the region.

“If you look at our region, it is the blindest region in the area, due to diabetes and hypertension,” he said. 

To help get things started during the college’s formative years, Dr. Gregory Moore — who has extensive experience in medical technology and the field of optometry, including serving as the eye doctor for the Chicago Cubs from 1989 to 1992 — was selected to serve as the assistant dean for clinics earlier this month. Moore previously collaborated with Buzzelli and Hurley to create the Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville, which Hurley said had an economic impact of about $35 million a year. 

In addition to serving as assistant dean for clinics, Moore will work as director of clinical and surgical education and will be an associate professor. 

“Entering on the ground floor of the Niswonger College of Optometry’s development really allows you to play an influential part in building the foundation,” Moore said in a press release. “The curriculum, the integrated clinical training and the hospital-based clinical systems that we’re establishing all combine to give us a program that will be second to none.”

For more information on the Niswonger College of Optometry at Tusculum University, visit www.tusculum.edu

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