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      Molding medical minds: A partnership begins with Des Moines University students

      Medicine and rehabilitation are not always seen to go hand in hand. Beginning this fall, however, the Iowa Department for the Blind and Des Moines University (DMU) are launching a new program to make medical students more familiar with the rehabilitative services offered through the Department.

      DMU osteopathic medical students will begin rotating through the Department for two-week stints that will expose the future physicians to a new population and a new perspective on blindness. They will also become familiar with the many services available to Iowans with significant vision loss.

      “Physicians tend to not know what they do not know,” said Dr. Dana Shaffer, associate dean of clinical affairs at DMU. 

      “This is an opportunity to have these students learn something other than the standard medical curriculum.”

      During their time at the Department, students will spend at least a week going through the Orientation Center, taking all the classes regular students take each day. They will be wearing sleep shades so they can experience first hand that a person can function successfully without vision.

      “The only way to really gain an understanding and appreciation of what we do at the Department is to go through the program as all of our students do,” said Orientation Center Director Sandy Tigges, who will oversee the DMU students. “The methods we use to teach our students non-visual techniques are proven effective over the past 50 years. Students learn new ways of living with vision loss and gain confidence in those skills and in themselves.”

      The DMU students are required to spend their third and fourth years rotating through medical clinics and hospitals gaining experience in a variety of settings. At IDB, they will be getting a different perspective on disabilities, Tigges added.

      Normally, a medical student would see patients, supervised by an attending physician. Rotating through IDB will provide the students with a view into the lives of patients outside the medical setting.

      “All of our students have seen a doctor—especially eye doctors,” Tigges said. “And sometimes they are not seen as people who are independent and can think for themselves. We hope to instill a positive attitude toward blindness in the DMU students who pass through. We hope they come out understanding that through specialized rehabilitative training, a person with significant vision loss can lead the kind of life any sighted person would lead.”

      Des Moines University logoThe students will travel with Vocational Rehabilitation counselors and Independent Living teachers as they meet with clients in their workplaces and homes. A day will also be spent learning about Library services for the blind and physically handicapped.

      Once a student’s two weeks are up, said Tigges, he or she will have a well-rounded understanding of services available at the Department, which they will then be able to pass along to their future patients.

      “This is an exciting opportunity,” she added, “and we hope it helps create a broader base of knowledge for a new generation of doctors heading into the working world.”


      Call for submissions to our oral history project on the history of blindness in Iowa

      Have a story to tell?

      The Iowa Department for the Blind is embarking on an oral history project to document experiences and memories of blind Iowans.

      We want to hear about your work life, home life, community activities and more. Any length and topic is acceptable.

      You can submit stories by e-mail to:

      or by postal mail in print or Braille to:

      Oral History Project, Iowa Department for the Blind
      524 Fourth Street
      Des Moines, IA 50309

      or record to a voice mail box at: 877-742-4938

      Please provide name, address & phone number with your story.

      This project is supported in part by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program and the Friends of the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Stories submitted will become property of the Iowa Department for the Blind and made part of a “History of Blindness” collection.

      More information is available online at: