Where did you grow up?
I am born and raised in Hot Springs, AR. My mom is a pharmaceutical sales rep, and my dad is the owner of Grapette Soda. He works closely with Walmart creating the flavors for soda and ice cream. He thought that one of his five children would be able to take that over but so far I’m an optometrist, my brother is an MD, my sister is going to optometry school, next one is an engineer, and the next one is a lawyer.
Why switch from pharmacy to opticianry?
Deep down, I always knew I wanted to be an optometrist—I did a project on optometrists in the fifth grade. I was blessed to have an influential and impactful OD who didn’t treat me like the kid that I was but involved me in eye care. It sparked this interest. Given that my mom was in pharma sales, in college I quickly realized it was a great side job and I could get paid more than average for the same amount of time. So, I decided to work as a pharmacy tech, which was great, but it helped me solidify that I really wanted to pursue optometry. Because I am cautious, I took a year off before graduating undergrad and worked full time as an optician apprentice, at the front desk, as lead technician, and in billing [laughs], all in one, because I wanted to make sure this was right for me. Working as an optician apprentice showed me I was ready and I wanted to take it to another level.
Previously by Vernon Trollinger: Q&A: Barbecue, OD-MD communication, lifelong learning
Why three externships in such diverse areas?
I wanted to focus on ocular disease. I had rotations with a therapeutic optometrist, neuro-optometrist, and at Southern College of Optometry. I wanted to push myself fourth year. Instead of doing a residency, I wanted to give it my all at the hardest possible rotations. Right after school, I had the opportunity at my current practice to do post-ops for a corneal specialist. I had been here about two weeks, and he up and moved to Colorado. I inherited hundreds of corneal transplant patients. I had to learn quickly how to take care of them. Now I realize I thrive in that atmosphere of figure-it-out, call-us-if-you-need-anything, good-luck. [Laughs]
What do you wish you knew before you went to optometry school?
I wish that I understood how close the relationships could be that I would make with my patients. After you see people for year after year, you are up to date on their cancer prognosis or their family friend who is going through this and you establish this connection. The doctor/patient relationship is very important, but I wish I knew before optometry school where to draw that line versus being too much of a friend to the point where they call you on your cell phone at night. [Laughs] I never realized I would become such friends with my patients, and I don’t see them as patients anymore.
Read Dr. Coats' latest blog: Examine evaporative dry eye disease exposure in your patients