I Had to Do It Over
Don't Get Locked Onto One Track
residency, this optometrist changed her career goal from private practice
to academia. You can make a switch, too at any time.
By Kelly K. Nichols,
O.D., M.P.H, Ph.D.
WHEN I LEFT MY HOME
in Reno, Nev., for college, I always expected to return and join a private
practice after graduating from optometry school. I was attracted to private practice
because it's an excellent setting for women and offers a comfortable income
and lifestyle. Surprisingly, these same advantages prompted me to change my plans
and pursue an academic career. Here's my journey.
Changing Course in Mid-stride
When I graduated from the School of Optometry
at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1995, my clinical experience at a
large ophthalmology referral center piqued my interest in researching dry eye disease.
My plans for private practice were put on hold when I joined a graduate program
at The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Optometry in Columbus. Here, I decided
academia was the career path for me.
In 2000, after I earned a combined
master's degree in public health and a Ph.D., I joined the faculty at OSU. Today,
my research focus is dry eye in postmenopausal women.
In retrospect, I realize the quality
of instruction I received at Berkeley and OSU influenced my decision to work in
academia. I saw how optometrists took time away from their practices to teach a
few days a week, and I understood firsthand how their passion and love of the profession
energized future optometrists.
Is Academia for You?
If you're inquisitive and have a desire to learn
and teach, I encourage you to consider an academic career. Teaching is rarely presented
to students as a career option, but the need for optometry school faculty will increase
as more professors retire in the near future.
Some students may see income as a major
obstacle to an academic career. Teachers don't make as much money as private practitioners,
but we do benefit from less tangible rewards such as work-related travel, a flexible
schedule and the opportunity to work with bright, talented people. You always can
supplement your income with lectures and consulting.
Never Too Late
You don't have to decide if you want an academic
career today. Just remember, you can always revisit this option and make a change
at any point in your career. In fact, some of the best optometry professors worked
in private practice or industry for years before becoming teachers.
Whatever career path you choose, your
first decision doesn't have to be your last. Often you discover your passion during
the course of you career. Once you make a contribution and spend time in the field,
your opportunities will expand along with your experience.
Dr. Nichols is an associate professor at The
Ohio State University College of Optometryin Columbus.
Optometric Management, Issue: April 2006