I was the kid who was in the optometrist’s office when I was young because I couldn’t see the chalkboard when I was in third grade. My optometrist put me in contact lenses at the age of nine, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, so I spent a bunch of time in my optometrist’s office.
How did you find optometry?
I was the kid who was in the optometrist’s office when I was young because I couldn’t see the chalkboard when I was in third grade. My optometrist put me in contact lenses at the age of nine, and I’ve been wearing them ever since, so I spent a bunch of time in my optometrist’s office. When I got into college, I knew I want to go into something with the health professions, and I couldn’t quite decide. I thought of a few different things, I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, I wanted to be a pharmacist, and none of those panned out. I guess I went back to what I was familiar with-it was optometry.
What's one thing your colleagues don't know about you?
Only my close friends know this, but I love weight lifting. Three times a week I go to the gym, and I lift weights for an hour. I started weight lifting with videos at my house and then a woman opened a fitness gym with group fitness classes and I signed up. Ever since, I’ve been going to her classes pretty regularly, which has been a blast.
What are the benefits of practicing in North Dakota?
I live in a very rural place. I live in a town of 1,500 people, that’s where one of our offices is. Our other office is in a town of about 4,500 people. And unlike other places that call themselves rural, there’s no houses or suburbs or anything else in between. We’re rural. So, what I love about where I work, I think it’s a very altruistic form of optometry. I see infants to 107-year-olds. If someone gets a piece of metal in his eye, lacerates his cornea, needs contact lenses, needs an infant eye exam, has macular degeneration, we wind up taking care of it all. So, kind of fun, in that sense.
How does your practice differ from your colleagues in other areas of the country?
We end up taking care of a lot of different things, which makes the day more interesting. I really don’t have anyone to refer to-my husband and I and our associates tend to be the go-to folks.
How did you get interested in optometry leadership?
I got asked to do a few things, I saw a need. To be really honest, I was frustrated with our therapeutic bill and limitations on what we were able to do and prescribe when I moved to North Dakota. When I did my residency in the VA, I treated glaucoma, there weren’t a lot of limitations within the normal range for that time period. When I moved to North Dakota, suddenly I couldn’t prescribe medications for glaucoma, and when I worked part-time across the border in Minnesota, I couldn’t even prescribe an antibiotic. So I found myself calling local ophthalmologists and being frustrated that because I moved across a state I didn’t know how to do something I did on a daily basis beforehand. It was more geography than anything else, so I wanted to get involved because I wanted to get that changed. As they say, one thing leads to another.
As the first female North Dakota Optometric Association president, what were some of the challenges you faced?
The challenges I faced were typical of any optometrist. The year prior, I had my first child. So, I had my firstborn, five-week old in our state association board meetings.
What made you tackle the all-male world of the AOA board?
I don’t think it was so much as they were all-male. I had been involved in the volunteer structure for a number of years and felt a need could be filled. Young optometry students could identify with me because I was female. And we needed to do something as far as membership was concerned. Advocacy is something I’m passionate about, but it’s not one thing or another, it’s about encompassing all of our membership to be more adequate for all of optometry.
What's one thing you've learned from your time in AOA leadership?
Oh, I’ve changed as a person. My leadership skills are much better. I used to be terrified of public speaking. That was a baptism by fire, and now I’ve learned what speaking style works for me, so I’ve gotten past that. I think that I’m a little more forthright and definitely stronger as a person for having gone through that experience.
What's one thing you wish you could change about your tenure as AOA president?
I don’t think I’d change anything. There’s always more things that a person can do, but I think you have a time period that you’re on the board and you hope that some of the things that you started continue after you’re off the board. I think I raised awareness. I’m proud of the things I accomplished…it was a good tenure.
What advice about leadership do you have for other women in the profession?
Do something that scares you. By doing that, you grow as a person and as a leader. I cannot explain how much it’s brought to the practice or my life in general. When I look back at the times I had to speak in public prior to coming onto the AOA board, I shake my head laughing, I wish I could go back and re-do some of those. You learn what your speaking style is, and what works for one person doesn’t work necessarily for another. Obviously, the more comfortable and more prepared you are, the easier it is to deliver a message.
Where do you see the future of optometry?
I think optometry has a lot of positive things going for it. As changes happen, and the jury’s still out with what will happen with the Affordable Care Act, I think we’ve got our toe in the door for access to patients much better than what we had before. If you look at the other aspects of health in general, the increasing number of diabetics, increasing number of macular degeneration, they’re going to need care. The number of ophthalmology residents are not increasing to accommodate that care, so I think there’s incredible opportunities for optometry if optometry wants to embrace them
What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
I’ve jumped in a hole in the ice in a lake with the polar plunge! We go cross-country skiing every winter. As part of this little family-owned resort that we go to, they usually cut a hole in the lake. You sit in a sauna at about 108°F until you can hardly stand it anymore. Then you’re finally ready to run out on to the lake ice and-for safety reasons there’s a ladder so you don’t just jump into the hole-but go down on the ladder and put your body into this freezing cold water. You wear wool socks or tennis sandals or something so your feet don’t stick to the ice. The worse one was a 30 mph wind and it was below zero-it was pretty chilly out there! No, we had not been drinking. You know it’s for the photo opportunity to claim that you did it.