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Photo:  MASH students with School of Optometry and Vision Science staff

Every year, the Whakapiki Ake Project team organises the MASH (Māori Achieving Success in Health) programme, an academic enrichment initiative for Year 12 Māori students who are interested in a career in health. The programme involves visiting various departments and schools at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. This year we hosted a total of 60 students over the course of two days.

This year’s theme was diabetes awareness. While the other departments shed light on the systemic implications of the insidious condition, we discussed its effect on ocular health and vision. We also enlightened the students on the vital role optometrists play in managing diabetic retinopathy and other related conditions.

The students had the chance to experience vision impairment caused by diabetes by wearing vision-altering glasses while carrying out easy visual tasks like connecting dots and walking around. They were also able to see what life would be like if they were affected by other common eye diseases such as cataract and glaucoma. This experience was a highlight for students as they bonded over the difficulties in doing everyday tasks, while taking many selfies wearing the vision-altering glasses! They were also very appreciative of the various simulations they were shown with the state-of-the-art eye-tracking programme developed by the school.

Overall, the visit was well-received and sparked students’ interest in Optometry as a career with its opportunity to work towards improving awareness of eye disease that affects the community. Two scholarships (He Rau Aroha) are available to Māori and Pacific students for up to $10,000 per annum each to study the Bachelor of Optometry here at the University of Auckland; we hope to see some of these keen students in the Bachelor of Optometry in years to come, and look forward to hosting more students next year.