Optometry Podcast: Dr. Sergul Erzurum Difference Maker

This podcast was produced in partnership with Essilor.

 “I went to medical school because I liked biology and I wanted to help people,” shares Dr. Sergul Erzurum on how she first became interested in pursuing ophthalmology. She spent a summer during medical school in an ophthalmology rotation and she fell in love with the passion of the ophthalmologist she was studying under and knew the career was her calling. She now passes that passion for ophthalmology forward, mentoring medical students to encourage them to pursue ophthalmology as well.  “What I love about ophthalmology is that I could be a family doctor.” The relationships she builds with patients and their families inspire her every day. 

Dr. Sergul Erzurum, Ophthalmologist

Dr. Erzurum is dedicated to giving back, not just by mentoring others to join her profession, but in providing the gift of sight to her larger community. In 2017 she teamed up with a friend to found Sight for All United. The idea was born out of her experience with patients being denied access to healthcare due to the gap in uninsured and underinsured coverage and fees. Patients were unable to afford medical care due to out of pocket expense or high deductibles, and she felt that as a healthcare provider she needed to help close that gap.

Sight for All United is a team of 43 eyecare volunteers in her Ohio community, including optometrists and opticians. Working with the larger community is essential to their success and reach. One of the first major projects Sight for All United took on was when they were called by an inner-city school nurse.  The nurse asked them to provide eye exams to students that had failed vision screenings at school but had never gotten an exam to solve the issues revealed by the screenings. In that school, 95 kids needed exams, and of those children 85 had serious medical problems that required glasses, patching, or therapy. 

The impact Sight for All United has made on the Youngstown, Ohio community has been astounding. In 2018 they screened all students in grade K-4 in the local school system – a total of 2,500 children. Of those, 500 failed the vision screenings and Sight for All United was called upon to provide eyeglasses, patching therapy, or surgery when necessary. With the volume of kids that they were caring for, partnering with the larger community was imperative. They worked alongside the local United Way to bring in volunteers to help with vision screenings, and they partnered with Essilor Vision Foundation to provide 2 pairs of glasses for every child (one for school and one for at home). 

Dr. Sergul Erzurum, Ophthalmologist

As an honor for being recognized as one of Essilor’s Difference Makers, Dr. Erzurum joined other volunteers and honorees for Essilor’s #DifferenceMakers Mission Trip earlier this year.  They spent two days in Singapore where they visited Essilor Vision Foundation’s headquarters to learn how the organization is developing vision care in global communities of need. They are working closely with underserved areas by teaching local providers the skills needed to provide eyecare and leaving behind the tools necessary to maintain a sustainable eyecare clinic. Dr. Erzurum and the rest of the volunteers then proceeded to Thailand to provide care to the local community in need for eight days, working side by side with local optometry students from Thailand. 

The trip inspired Dr. Erzurum to focus on what more she could do in her own community with Sight for All United. Her three big takeaways were:

  1. No one is too small to make an impact. Any little thing that she or others can do, does make a difference in someone’s life. 
  2. Collaboration is king.  “We can’t achieve anything if ego gets in the way; we have to learn how to work together,” she explains.
  3. No goal should be forsaken because it’s too large. “The larger the better!” Essilor has a goal of wiping out vision loss by 2050, and they are making a major impact in this direction. “We’re only limited by how large we can dream.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. Sergul Erzurum

Dr. Erzurum has big plans for Sight for All United for the rest of 2019 and beyond.  In addition to continuing to provide vision screenings and care to local elementary schools, they are working on growing their network of medical referrals so that patients served can be referred to other healthcare partners whenever an eye exam reveals another problem that needs to be addressed. They are also collaborating with Remote Area Medical and the Ohio Optometric Foundation iSee program to provide eyecare to those in need. A new project they are taking on is working with a literacy program in a local school.  The school has targeted 60 students in their literacy program and Sight for All United will provide eye exams and track improvements in reading performance after receiving any ocular aids or treatments the students might need. 

If you’d like to join Sight for All United or are wanting to set up an organization in your own community, you can reach out to Dr. Erzurum on Instagram @sightforallunited.

The Difference Makers Podcast Series is brought to you by Essilor of America. Essilor’s corporate mission is improving lives by improving sight, and this year Essilor is shining a light on Difference Makers in eye care – those people who are doing their part to improve lives by improving sight. In each Difference Makers episode, we’ll interview someone who is making a difference in eyecare through their unique story and passion for giving back. By partnering with schools, eyecare professionals, nonprofit charities, and community leaders, Essilor Vision Foundation is able to provide vision exams and glasses to children in need. To learn more go to https://www.evfusa.org/