Dr. O’Neal’s Journey Into Optometry

June 26, 2021

Shadowing a renowned pediatric optometrist during my junior year of high school finalized my career path because ever since that experience, my sole aspiration has been to become an optometrist with such high regards in the world of pediatric optometry. I immediately knew that I wanted to emulate the multitasking doctor whom I observed: an occluder in one hand and vibrant rattle in the other to keep the infant’s attention. Once the little girl in the patient’s chair, my own experiences provide me with a dual perspective that is crucial for showing genuine compassion in the doctor-Little girl wearing glasses and a black and white soccer uniform patient relationship. In addition to my personal background in optometry, I spent the summers during undergrad college acquiring first-hand knowledge in the scientific laboratory and private practice settings. These opportunities further encouraged my interest and solidified my decision to pursue a career in optometry.  

I began getting eye exams at a young age and had strabismus surgery, necessary to improve the gradually declining vision and aesthetic appearance of my left eye, at the age of four. Soon after the surgery, I was fit with my very first pair of glasses. As an athletic child, I worried that my glasses would fall off while sprinting down the soccer field or dismounting the balance beam. However, my optometrist and optician were able to meet my needs by attaching curved rubber extensions to the ends of my glasses, keeping them snug around my ears. Some children are thoroughly disappointed when told he or she needs glasses, but I display empathy and understanding towards patients by instilling comfort and confidence to create a positive experience. It is my goal to give back to other children and provide them with the resources for living a life unhindered by vision complications as I was so graciously given myself.

Starting the process of giving back to others, I volunteered as a lab technician in an ophthalmology research laboratory at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. With a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Penn State University, I believe that it is important to understand diseases and illnesses on the molecular level in order to provide an appropriate treatment. My studies focused on the effects of cigarette smoking on human retinal pigment epithelial cells, specifically their mitochondria. Girl in graduation cap and gown on the Penn State Nittany Lion Shrine Research broadened my understanding of potential damage to the eyes, which gave me a deeper biological perspective on optometry. After learning about potential dangers to this important aspect of overall health, I felt a sense of responsibility to spread awareness and knowledge that promotes proper and essential eye care.

The following summer, I was able to begin promoting good eye health when offered a position at Weber Vision Care as an optometric technician. Within days, I was performing one-on-one visual screenings with patients ranging from 2 to 96 years old. Wearing contacts myself helped me relate to first-time contact lens wearers as I instructed classes. The most memorable class was with a 10-year old girl, who wanted to wear contacts like her mother and older sister. I was able to share tips to ease her transition into becoming a new contact lens wearer. Moments like these are humbling because Woman in black and green cap and gown holding a red diploma folder many people face the same “life events.” Yet at the same time, it is rewarding to pass on knowledge that will benefit future generations. The valuable experience I obtained as a technician at Weber Vision Care prepared me for optometry school, where I was able to help tutor others in my class.

My education from Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University gave me the opportunity to achieve my career goal of being a pediatric optometrist. Now going into my fourth year of practice at Weber Vision Care, I am thrilled every time I see an infant, toddler, or school-age child because I know that my eye exam could be the catalyst that inspires another young person to become the doctor that I have become today.