Why Optometry? (In Hindsight)
By Dr Robin S Coady
In August of last year my associate, Dr. Janelle Brown, a newly graduated Doctor of Optometry, wrote about why she chose optometry as a profession. As I am preparing to leave this same profession after 27 years, I thought I would write about making that same choice – but from the other side of the career.
I spent my third grade year walking up to the chalkboard after the teacher had written our group assignments for the morning so that I could see them and copy them down. At the time I didn’t think too much of this since Rosemary, the girl who sat next to me in class, did the same thing! At the end of that year, I visited the optometrist for the first time. After receiving my glasses a week or so later, I was amazed at the how the world came back into focus. I’m sure many of you can relate to that story. Unfortunately for me, the world went back out of focus every year, but after a new trip to the optometrist, all was right again. By the time I was thirteen, I knew that I wanted to be a person who could restore that clarity for people.
Although I briefly considered the occupations of physical therapy or pharmacy, I always came back to optometry. I wanted to help people, and what better way than to help them see more clearly? My path was set, and I was in such a hurry to reach my goal that I completed my four-year Bachelor of Arts degree in three years. Then, it was on to optometry college at the University of Houston. Throughout all seven of those college years, I never doubted my choice.
As satisfying as it is to help my patients achieve better vision every day through the prescription of glasses and contact lenses, it is even more rewarding to help keep them from going blind by diagnosing and treating certain eye diseases like glaucoma, or to relieve their eye pain by removing a foreign object or prescribing medication. Sometimes they need the care of a specialist for surgery or other treatment beyond my scope of practice, and I am grateful for the knowledge and skill to be able to make that determination. Sometimes although patients come to me for a routine checkup, I find signs of serious health problems of which they were unaware. I have had patients diagnosed with leukemia, brain tumors, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension because of something seen during their eye examination. Although I haven’t been able to help every patient, my thirteen-year-old self never dreamed I could make such a difference in a person’s life.
The blessings of my career choice have been many in the interactions I have had with my patients. The icing on the cake of my career has been the privilege of practicing in the community of Fairbury for the past 25 years. Here I have been able to get to know my patients and care for multiple generations of families, and I have been able to employ a wonderful staff, which constantly draws praise from my patients. It has also been extremely gratifying to work with Dr. Bryan Stoller and Dr. Sasha Radford over the past few years in the process of merging Fairbury Vision Center with Pontiac Family Eye Care.
As wonderful as it has all been, and although I’m sure I easily could continue this path for another 10-15 years, I find I am currently being called to start a new chapter of life. In the weeks since I have announced my upcoming retirement, I have been deeply humbled by the response from the community. Some fellow Rotarians have “voted” to not allow me to retire. My staff has frequently commented “It’s not too late to change your mind!” Patients have approached me at Dave’s grocery store, hugged me, and told me they’d miss me. A few patients have sent me letters of gratitude and well wishes.
Why optometry? For me, it has been an extremely fulfilling and family-friendly career in which I have been able to help people and yet still raise two amazing young ladies. And although there have been many changes and challenges in the 27 years since I graduated as a Doctor of Optometry, I have never wished I had chosen a different career. I trust Dr. Brown will have an equally rewarding experience.
There will be an Open House celebrating Dr Coady’s retirement at Fairbury Vision Center Monday, January 9th at 4:00pm – 6:00pm.