When I worked at a college of optometry, the vast majority of students were in their 20’s. Most of their stories were similar: They went straight from a bachelor degree program to the school where I worked. Most didn’t even take a gap year. However, there were a few students who were returning to school after having established themselves in another career. Those students are part of a growing number of persons who have chosen optometry as a second career.
Why would someone who is successful in one career, make the switch (not to mention the investment of time and money) to optometry? In my experience there are many reasons, including the following:
Needing a Change
The dreaded mid-life crisis. It causes sane man or women to question their life choices and head for either the motorcycle dealership or the plastic surgeon. While some ‘crisis’ choices are poor, some folks respond to age by taking stock of their careers and deciding to make a change. One optometrist, Keith E. Watson, OD, ME of Vernon, Connecticut, worked as an electrical engineer. While he was successful, the corporate environment left a lot to be desired.
“Imagine working for nine bosses and having to get long projects done in one-fifth the time you really need,” he said. “The stress was enormous. And working for a large corporation meant that I was subject to downsizing at any time in my career.”
Still, when Watson announced he wanted to become an optometrist, he wasn’t met with encouragement. In fact, his mother thought he was nuts! In time, however, she came around after she saw how successful he became as an optometrist.
Taking Different Path to the Same Place
Sometimes people come to optometry from working in other parts of healthcare. Emily Pike, OD, MPH worked in public health for 12 years before she made the decision to become an optometrist. She was always interested in healthcare and even applied to medical school when she received her bachelor’s degree. She was wait-listed and opted to get a master’s of public health degree instead.
Despite being successful in public health, Pike felt that something was missing. A conversation with some optometrists made her realized that optometry was for her. So she entered the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) College of Optometry. Once she graduated, Pike didn’t turn her back on public health. “Optometry is not just a separate entity in health care,” she says. “When we contribute to an individual’s health care, we’re contributing to the collective health of the community.”
Many times someone starts out studying to be an optometrist all along, but wants to specialize. For example, one optometrist, Leonid Skorin, OD, DO of Illinois wanted to learn more about ocular disease. Skorin was in optometry school in the late 1970’s, when most states didn’t have TPA laws. So, a mentor suggested that he apply to medical school. That’s is just what Skorin did. He began medical school at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine after completed study at the Illinois College of Optometry. While it meant another four years of school, being an OD in medical school had an upside. “I worked as an OD in all kinds of different practice settings through my years in medical school and during my ophthalmology residency and neuro-ophthalmology fellowship,” says Dr. Skorin. “I even taught at Northeastern State College of Optometry (clinical module) during my medical internship in Oklahoma.”
Skorin now works at the Mayo Clinic Health System. Since optometry has evolved since the days Skorin was in school, it no longer is necessary for OD to go to medical school in order to treat eye disease. Still, the best part about being an OD/DO according to Skorin is that his knowledge of optics helps him with cataract implant evaluation and refractive surgery. “Even though optics was not my favorite topic in optometry school, it constantly helps me,” said Skorin.
The bottom line is that learning never ends, and sometimes the path to your ideal career can wind and take many detours.