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VA Puget Sound Health Care System
American Lake Division
9600 Veterans Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98493
(253) 583-1232
FAX: (253) 589-4125

Contact Person: Alvaro Castillo, O.D. Andrew Ta, O.D.

Clinical Teaching Faculty: Alvaro Castillo, O.D. and Andrew Ta, OD (

Type of Practice: VA Hospital, Surgical Center

Outpatient clinic with combined Optometry-Ophthalmology program


  • Outpatient.
  • Average age 65.
  • Mostly male.
  • 12,000-14,000 patient visits/year.

Prerequisites for Student Interns

  • Plaese see Immunizations and Documentation Requirements for Externships webpage.

Patient Services Provided

  • Primary eye care service including treatment of ocular disease.
  • Pre-op examinations with ophthalmology
  • Five day/week rotation

Educational Objectives

  • Be able to independently diagnose and treat ocular conditions.

Student Responsibilities

  • Arrive on time.
  • Review cases at end of day.
  • Ask questions as needed.
  • Read/research about topics covered.
  • Case presentation at the end of the rotation.

Faculty Responsibilities

  • All patient care issues require examination and review by attending faculty.


  • Slit-lamps, BIOs, fundus camera, and OCT.


Please note that housing is currently available, but could change.
  • The VA provides 1-2 furnished houses on American Lake for students. Each house has 3 bedrooms (1 double and 2 single). If more than 5 students (including other programs) are assigned to student housing, both houses will be open. This poses no great challenges except for the possibility of creating schedules for showering. Each house has two bathrooms, but only one shower.
  • A washer and dryer are located in the housing area.
  • The houses are furnished. There is a refrigerator, microwave, stove/oven, kitchen sink, and minimal dishes/pots and pans. You are not allowed to remove dishes from the dining hall. The kitchen staff is VERY protective of their dishes.
  • Be sure not to leave anything of value in the common room, as things can be taken. Each bedroom has a locked door.
  • There is heat, but no air conditioning
  • TV, cable, and internet are not provided.
  • Students are responsible for the general housekeeping of their quarters.

Parking Information

  • Hospital police issues temporary parking passes. You must have a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and a proof of registration for your automobile.
  • Parking is available behind the houses.
  • The hospital police are VERY strict with regards to the posted speed limits.


  • Students should give out the following information in order to receive mail at the VA:
    • Student Name
    • Quarters Number (Depends on the house assigned)
    • VA Puget Sound Health Care System
    • American Lake Division
    • Tacoma, WA 98493-5000


  • “Canteen” will cash checks with the following identification:
    1. Current driver’s license and credit card.
    2. $25.00 limit.
  • An ATM machine is located outside the Canteen.

Research Facilities

  • If you are doing a presentation and need research information, the Library is located on site in Building 71, adjacent to student quarters. Call the library staff at 7-6340 and they will do the following for you:
    1. Do a key word computer search of books/journals.
    2. Order in the article/books as you need. Allow for delivery time of two weeks.

Exercise Hall

  • Off-duty employees, on-station housing residents, and students may use the Exercise Hall anytime Monday through Friday from 6:00-7:00 a.m., noon-12:30 p.m., and 4:45-8:00 p.m.
  • The VA Hospital accepts no responsibility for any employee, on-station housing residents or student injuries during off-duty use of the Exercise Hall.
  • Fitness equipment is available to all.

Things To Do While You Are Here

  • In the Ruston area, there is the Point Defiance zoo/aquarium, a five-mile scenic drive, a great restaurant called the Antique Sandwich shop, and Anthony’s Home Poet. There is a ferry to Vashon Island and to Proctor District (an older part of town). The Tacoma Dome area holds the Freighthouse Square (a shopping area with a variety of foods, unusual shops, almost like a little Pike Market Place. There is a large used bookstore, just down the street from Freighthouse Square, on the corner of 26th and D Street.
  • The shopping malls nearby are rather limited. There is the Tacoma Mall, The Super Mall, and Lakewood Mall. The Lakewood Mall, which is the closest to American Lake, contains a Starbuck’s Coffee, Barnes and Noble, Safeway Store, Target, Video Store, Dry Cleaners and Tailoring, and various diverse restaurants nearby. This is out the gate to Gravelly Lake, make a left, continue to the mall entrance (on the right side by sign). If you hit Mount Tahoma Drive, you’ve gone too far. On 100th Street there are the fundamentals of life – a McDonald’s, Burger King, Ram, and Denny’s as well as several other spots. The Haiku restaurant is WONDERFUL. It is difficult to find so call for directions first; also reservations are recommended.
  • In the opposite direction on Gravelly (turn right after the gate) to the street between the 76 and Arco Gas Stations (near the freeway), there is a good Italian place, Pizza Casa. Do not proceed down this street, as you will enter an undesirable part of town called Ponders.
  • In Stielacoom there is an Indian art museum, Bahr antique drug store/sandwich shop, and ER Rogers (fancy-ish restaurant).
  • Seattle is not too far away. By car, about an hour; by bus, about 3 hours. There you will find the Space Needle (a fee is charged to go to the top for a great view of the city), Seattle Center (with the international fountain, food court, and the monorail system), Westlake Mall (better than the others mentioned), Pike Place Market (the bar and grill in the market is great food), Tula’s Jazz Club, Bell Street Diner (good seafood) and Seattle Art Museum.
  • Mount Rainier is a beautiful place to visit. It is an hour and a half away. There are multiple entrances; some are free and some require $$$.
  • Olympic National Forest is an all day adventure. It has the Hoh Rain Forest, and many little towns to experience. Also, you can get to the REAL ocean, the Pacific, not just the Sound.
  • Vancouver, B.C. is about three hours away. Border crossings take up to two to three hours. You can stay at the hostel and the rates are reasonable. A really clean, big city with lots to do, see, and experience. There is a Chinatown, which is second only to San Francisco. There is the waterfront, Stanley Park, and shopping. And the exchange rate may mean that there are good discounts on items purchased.


  • There is no drinking, drugs, or illegal substance allowed on the grounds. This is a federal facility and the laws will be adhered to.
  • You are not permitted to take photos of veterans without their consent. You must have a signed consent form first.
  • The YMCA offers students (with student ID membership and a letter verifying residency) membership at a reasonable rate.
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