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From Role Models to Mentors, UH College of Optometry Discuss Women in Eye Care

By: Illiana Luna, The Office of Communications Posted On: 09/09/2022


Women in Optometry
Students, faculty and staff sat in the College of Optometry’s second annual panel discussion for ‘Women in Optometry’ sharing experiences and growth in the field.

HOUSTON, TEXAS (AUG. 31, 2022) - “If I could do it all over again, I would go back to school in a heartbeat,” said Dr. Jung-Sun Kim, clinical assistant professor with the University of Houston College of Optometry.

The College of Optometry held its second panel discussion for “Women In Optometry” led by second and third-year students, Rachel Lootens, Class of 2025; Alexis Temple, Class of 2025 and Gabrielle Brending, Class of 2024, with faculty members Dr. Jung-Sun Kim, clinical assistant professor; Dr. Lisa Ostrin, associate professor and Dr. Maria Walker, assistant professor.

The six panelists shared personal growth and experiences touching on topics of family expectations to starting their families.

“We have unique challenges and unique perspectives as women and it’s nice having this discussion where we can share our experiences leading to the field,” said Dr. Danica Marrelli, assistant dean of clinical education serving as the panel’s moderator.

According to a 2016 Survey by the American Association of Optometry, the profession has seen an increase in women compared to its male counterparts with 39% of women-owned practices than in 2009 at 20%, and a growing enrollment across U.S. optometry schools.

Clinical professor Dr. Kim shared what was the right choice to a new career path as an international student.

“I wanted to go to optometry school, but as an F-1 student visa from Korea, I had to prove four years of tuition up front,” she shares.

Kim then opted to attend Houston's Baylor College of Medicine for research, soon changing career goals.

"I got married and had my firstborn which was challenging for my then schedule, and decided to start a new path,” she said.

That path led her a year later to the University of Houston College of Optometry where she fulfilled her passion for research and continued to grow her family.

“I loved optometry school so much that I decided to continue my residency which was never part of the plan, but I stayed and am now a full-time faculty member," said Kim. "So, if I had to do it all over again, I would go back to school in a heartbeat.”

Second-year optometry student Rachel Lootens’s passion stemmed from personal health issues and an early internship she gained at 12-years-old.

“I have binocular vision problems and went through vision therapy at the age of four," shares Lootens. "At the time, I was also attending Montessori school where our afterschool program required students to take on an internship and thought, 'Who better than my optometrist clinic to intern at."

Lootens began shadowing in the contact lens area from the woman-owned practice and is a part-time employee.

Associate professor and alumna Dr. Lisa Ostrin said her personal goals of attending as a graduate student were also challenging but rewarding.

“I came with a significant other knowing I wanted to get married and go through the combined O.D. and Ph.D. program,” shares Ostrin. “And because I wanted to complete my residency meaning more time in school; my husband and I decided to get married and start our family.”

Ostrin’s residency took her to Baltimore, Maryland and Berkley, California before settling in Houston as a family of six, now leading a self-titled myopia (nearsightedness) research lab. Here, she determines how genetic, environmental and behavioral factors influence adolescent eye growth.

Panelists

Second-year optometry student Alexis Temple had a change of heart after three years of medical school and help from a soccer coach.

“My high school coach was also an optometrist, and she's been pushing me towards this career path since high school,” said Temple. “After she saw how I assisted my younger sister who’s legally blind, she said, ‘My gift for helping others would be wonderful in this profession’ and it stuck with me.”

Temple proceeded to shadow her coach during the pandemic and realized her skill of being empathic was essential to delivering patient care.

Most admitted students to the college share their first encounters with an unrelated optometrist began in their high school years, prompting curiosity for the profession.

Assistant professor Dr. Maria Walker also has a lab conducting translational research between clinical science and basic science.

“I moved to Houston after my residency in Oregon where I became primarily interested in asking the deeper questions of research,” said Walker. “I loved being in the clinic and seeing patients, but the more patients I saw, my questions grew, and I wanted to have the tools to answer them.”

Walker additionally holds external leadership roles dedicating her time to education and research.

Third-year optometry student Gabrielle Brending followed in family footsteps after promising she would choose anything but optometry, soon realizing it was a well-respected field.

“After earning my master’s degree, I used that time to really explore what I wanted to do,” said Brending. “My mom is an optometrist, and one day she took me to a conference for optometry and I just fell in love with the thought of it and said, ‘Okay, moms do know best," she said.

Brending shortly applied to UH College of Optometry and is happy to have chosen her new path.

Before their careers led them to the University of Houston College of Optometry, faculty members Dr. Walker and Dr. Ostrin attended optometry school to pursue their Ph.D. while Dr. Kim obtained a Ph.D. as a scientist in molecular biology before making the switch to doctor of optometry.

The University of Houston College of Optometry offers post-baccalaureate degree programs and certification programs in a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), Physiological Optics (Ph.D.) (M.S.) or combined (O.D./M.S.), Clinical Residency training and advanced practice fellowships.