Sep 12, 2017
Collaborative Care

At Pacific University, Eric Pitkanen, MS, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer, works to provide his athletes with well-rounded care. Part of his holistic approach includes working with the university’s doctor of optometry and dental hygiene programs.

“We have all these resources at Pacific, so why not use them to our advantage?” he said in a university news release.

“We are trying to provide a level of care that is equivalent to [NCAA] Division I schools and better than what other Division III schools offer,” Pitkanen continued.

This fall, members of the football team visited Pacific’s Dental Hygiene Clinic upon arriving back to campus. While there, they were fitted for custom mouth guards that provide superior protection and comfort when compared with the inexpensive, plastic mouth guards that are widely used. The partnership emerged from a student’s senior capstone project that looked at mouth guards and safety within sports. Along with helping the team, this allows the dental hygiene students to gain practical experience in the process.

“Having the hands-on experience of making mouth guards is great,” Anh “Justin” Mai, a dental hygiene student, said. “It’s something I will use in my practice after I graduate. I will be taking this knowledge [about mouth guards and sports safety] and bringing it to my patients in the future.”

The football players also received preparticipation eye exams from students in the school’s doctor of optometry program. These exams focused on identifying players who needed vision care or treatment before getting on the field.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on at the College of Optometry is maximizing visual performance,” said Fraser Horn, OD, FAAO, the College of Optometry’s Associate Dean of Academic Programs, who supervised the eye exams.

Some members of the squad who wear glasses received prescriptions for contact lenses at the exam. Others who have common eye disorders, like blurry vision or lazy eye, were recommended for vision therapy or sports vision training. In this latter treatment, individuals may improve visual abilities such as peripheral awareness and depth perception.

“The better players can see, the better they can perform,” Dr. Horn said. “And, we may also reduce their risk of injury.”

Buy-in from players may have been helped by having one of the team’s alums working on the eye exams. Zachery Willits tried to highlight its benefits as he worked in the screening clinic.

“When I was playing football, I didn’t realize the importance of having an eye exam,” Willits said. “But now that I’m an optometry student, I recognize how important my vision was to both success in the classroom and on the field.”

Pitkanen has been pleased with the results of the partnership so far and looks to continue to increase the care that athletes receive.

“We ask ourselves: How do we take care of students, make their lives better and enrich their collegiate experience?” he said. “That’s what we are trying to do here.”

Image by Senior Airman Preston Webb

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