There is a bulletin board in John Musser’s apartment with a big number on it: 50,000. That’s the number of eyes the first-year UAMS medical student would like to save in his lifetime.
“That’s my dream,” said Musser. “I just want to help anyone who wouldn’t have an opportunity otherwise.”
Musser came to this goal pragmatically. It averages four eyes a day over a 35-year career. He’s already ahead of schedule after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On Jan. 22, his nonprofit, Rural Ophthalmology Optometry Treatment and Screening (ROOTS) treated 12 area students, ages 5-16, who had failed multiple school-required eye screenings.
When a child fails a school-sponsored eye screening, he or she is required to take another within 30 days. If the second test is failed, the child is referred to an ophthalmologist or optometrist for further testing; however, some children are never seen by a specialist. They sit in classes with possible eye issues or conditions that hinder their ability to learn.
That’s where Musser hopes to help.
He, five of his fellow medical students and two UAMS Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute physicians — Katie Brown, O.D., an optometrist, and Sami Uwaydat, M.D., an ophthalmologist and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology — treated the dozen students in January.
It was ROOTS’ first community event, but Musser said it won’t be its last. He’s already working on events for the summer and fall, and ways to incorporate other medical professionals such as advanced practice nurses, physician assistants and registered nurses, as well as optometry and ophthalmic medical technology students.
Dr. Brown said Musser deserves to be applauded for his efforts to provide this service.
“He’s incredibly organized and motivated,” said Dr. Brown. “He has a vision and wants to help restructure and reform screening processes so more kids don’t fall through the cracks. John’s work is commendable.”
Starting and running a nonprofit would be challenging for almost anyone, let alone a student trying to adapt to the rigors of medical school. In addition to courses like Human Structure, Brain and Behavior, and Molecules to Cells, there are hours upon hours of studying.
Musser doesn’t seem to mind the added requirements of running a nonprofit.
“The passion is there,” he said. “None of it is work to me.”
Musser was first attracted to ophthalmology in high school while shadowing physicians near his home in Michigan.
“I learned the impact of different eye procedures, like for cataracts,” said Musser. “In 10 or 15 minutes, someone could have their life changed and their vision restored. I decided right then I wanted to spend the rest of my life providing that type of care and opportunity to the less fortunate.”
Wherever his medical career takes him, Musser plans to take ROOTS along for the ride.
“Fifty thousand eyes will be ROOTS’ mission,” he said.