My path to academic optometry


Dr. Laurel Roberts Kelley


written by guest author Dr. Laurel Kelley

I made the decision to pursue optometry when I was a freshman in college. Like many young adults just out of high school, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field due to my interest in the biological sciences and the vague idea that I wanted to help people. In addition to helping people, I wanted to have the freedom in my personal life to make decisions and commitments as I got older and my priorities changed. One of my first courses in the pre-health program in undergrad reviewed a catalog of potential healthcare careers, including many that I had never considered – like optometry! I had been going to the eye doctor since fourth grade but had never thought of optometry as a career option until going through the catalog. It seemed to be the perfect combination of science, helping people, and the freedom to adjust as I got older.

For those who are considering a health profession, especially medicine, realize that becoming a medical doctor is not the only path. I did not learn until college that there are many more opportunities available, including other 4 year professional programs in which you can receive a doctorate.

Once in optometry school, I realized how optometry balances the combination of art and science. You have tests that you perform to achieve a glasses prescription, but then you have to talk to the patient to determine what their lifestyle needs are and you may need to adjust the prescription to best suit their activities of daily living.

What I knew about optometry came from my experiences as a patient and shadowing, I didn’t realize that optometrists did more than just prescribe glasses!

As primary eye care providers, optometrists can diagnose both ocular and systemic conditions, and treat many eye conditions and diseases. They also have the ability to co-manage with ophthalmologists, specialists, primary care physicians, and surgeons.

Growing up I had always entertained the idea of becoming a teacher – I thought it was so fun to help others learn and see them excited about new topics and material. When I entered optometry school I thought there was only one option – private practice. I didn’t realize some of the possible clinical settings in addition to private practice: Veterans Affairs hospitals, university hospitals, commercial settings, and academia. Once I realized I could combine my passion for teaching with this profession that I had fallen in love with, I knew exactly the path I wanted to take.

With those goals in mind, I pursued a residency after completing optometry school so that I could become specialized in anterior segment and dip my toes in precepting students. It came naturally to me and the only place I applied for a job after completing residency was back at the optometry school I had graduated from. Academia also provides all the newest and most up-to-date research and technology, so I knew I would also be on the cutting edge.

I chose to pursue optometric academia because I wanted to make an far-reaching impact on the world. By seeing patients and training the next generation of optometrists, I feel that I am fulfilling the dreams I had set for myself.