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How Helping Others Helped Me - By Mackenzie Kohnen

When I started my first year at SCO, I decided that I would step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to take on challenges that I’d normally shy away from so that I could grow as much as possible during my four years here. I thought about what area of growth I wanted to pursue, and I landed on selfless service. While I consider myself a caring person, I had always taken a more reserved approach to serving the community. I would make donations or spend a morning volunteering at a church festival, but I’d never truly made an effort to reach out to people in need and ask, “How can I help them?”

When I first heard about SVOSH (Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity), I knew it was the challenge I was looking for. I’d never been outside of the country (except on cruises), and I had spent very little time immersed in a culture that was not my own. On top of that, giving up a week of my summer would be the biggest time commitment I’d ever made to serve others. It was an opportunity to practice selfless service in an environment far outside my comfort zone.

I traveled to Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico with a group of twelve students and two staff doctors. Before my first day of clinic, I was so nervous as thoughts raced through my head such as, “Would my retinoscopy skills be good enough?,” “Would I be able to get around the language barrier?,” and “Would I even be helpful?” But I didn’t have much time to worry as there were 100 patients lined up outside waiting to be seen. I sat down and got to work.

Throughout the day, I stopped stressing about myself and began to enjoy the interactions I was having with our patients (via a translator, of course). I saw the joy in the eyes of myopic kids getting their first pair of glasses, or presbyopic adults getting relief with readers. This was my first real opportunity to give optometric care, I wasn’t getting paid for it, and I absolutely loved it.

As optometrists, we’re driven by the desire to care for others. The skills we’ve acquired as put us in a unique position to be able to change lives. I think we’re all called to share those skills not only with those who can pay for our services, but with those who have no access to eye care.

Through my experience with SVOSH, I’ve been inspired to continue seeking out ways to give back. I want to keep nurturing this compassionate side of me. In doing so, I think I’ll become a more caring and attentive doctor.


Mackenzie is a second-year optometry student from Bay City, Texas. She’s passionate about advocacy for optometry and giving back to the community. Her favorite brunch spots in Memphis are Sunrise Memphis, Automatic Slim’s, and Staks Pancake Kitchen.