The University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry has undergone some major changes within the last few years. When the first class graduated in 1984, there were only 32 students, and that number has been steadily growing ever since. In fact, the class of 2015 just graduated 41 new optometrists.
The number of second-generation would-be optometrists joining school rosters, not only at UMSL but across the country, is also growing. Optometrist parents are often our first role models growing up as children and we do our best to mimic them. “It’s going to sting a little bit” was my very first bit of doctor-ly advice I gave when I was 2 as I was listening to my mom while she was performing a vision screening at a nursing home not far from her house.
I can remember sitting in my mom’s office on Take Your Child to Work Day, riding in the chair up and down as I attempted to see myself in the mirror through the phoropter.
Though my own path to optometry was not as straightforward as some of my other classmates, it is memories like these that stand out most in my mind. It’s also memories like these that connect me to the other legacy students in my class, who remember spending time with their parents at work, possibly helping out as office staff or even getting stuck in the back office after school until it was time to pack up for the night.
But it had its perks too: whenever Mom had an interesting case in the office, she would take time to explain to me what was happening. I didn’t understand much at the time but as I progress through school, I am beginning to have a greater appreciation for what she does and what she was trying to teach me when I was younger.
I also had many opportunities to participate in events with my mom. I have been with her and other members of the Missouri Optometric Association as they attended their annual visit to Jefferson City to visit with Missouri legislators and advocate for optometry. It helped me understand that optometry is much more involved.
Optometry is a great profession with opportunity for growth and the scope of practice is increasing, creating more opportunities than many of our parents had when they graduated. With each new generation, the profession grows into something a little bit better than it was before. Students and new graduates are bringing to the office new ways of treating disease and vision loss, along with creating new ways of looking at and solving old problems.
So while we may follow in our parents’ choice of profession, our scope of practice has increased in ways that were not offered to them. Building on a solid foundation isn’t a guarantee of success, but taking an experience and a lesson, making it your own, and making it better; that’s carrying on a family legacy.