By Josephine Owoeye, OD, MPH, Assistant Clinical Professor at University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Optometry
When I was about 10 years old, I had my first eye exam and I needed eyeglasses. I remember being impressed by the way I was taken care of and then asking my dad to research the differences between ophthalmologists and optometrists. My dad still has that note today—scribbled with comparisons on it—and that experience ultimately led me to pursue my own career in optometry.
I graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 2003, and it didn’t take long during my pediatric residency before I knew this was the path I wanted to pursue. I was fortunate to get my first job with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. It was one of the best things to happen in my career when I received a response to a cold email about a pediatric eye disease study. The coordinator responded, and I participated in that study from 2004 through 2006. During that time, I also started seeing patients at the Wilmer Eye Institute. It was extremely fulfilling, seeing patients for primary care and ocular disease, as well as specialty eye care for children with amblyopia and genetic disorders. I also earned my master’s in public health at Johns Hopkins University because of my interest in preventable blindness.
Reflecting back on my career so far, I’m proud of how I’ve developed my niche as a pediatric eye care provider at Johns Hopkins. I refer to my work in the profession as my service. I love nurturing patients and serving them in a way to help them. So after almost 12 years, it was time to take my service to another level. I made a change and a transition in my career when I was contacted by the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Optometry and asked to apply to join its pediatrics department. I was eager for the opportunity to transition into academics and to share my knowledge with many students, yet it was difficult to leave my longtime patients in Baltimore, some of whom I have been seeing since they were just four weeks old.
I made the move in June 2016 to help prepare for the inaugural optometry class. My mission sticks with me as I provide service through teaching and preparing the students who are part of a new school, which can better serve our area. I can nurture the students, who then in turn will be able to develop connections with their own patient bases. Working in academia is an opportunity to inspire and empower. These young minds are excited, and it’s a chance to not only teach them but help them become doctors.
As we prepared to open our new building by the end of 2016, I’ve stepped in to help out in a few other roles in student affairs and advisement as the faculty and administration grows. I want to show these students how to be at the top of their game, and I can only do that by being a good role model. I hope to inspire them, the way that they are already inspiring me. I tell my students that my journey has not been up a ladder but a weave of opportunities, through which I’ve provided service to patients and the community. There’s great opportunity for them to do the same.