While giving eye exams, I am often asked, “Why did you choose to become an optometrist?” I seldom have time to fully answer that question in the exam room, so instead I give a short account of the whole story. Well, in case you are interested, I will tell you not only why, but how I became an optometrist.
I grew up in Green River, Wyoming, a small town of about 11,000 people. I was a small town girl…no really, when I say “small”, I also mean “I” was small. I was always the shortest in my class and so I was lucky to make it to the height of 5’2″ (I am really 5’1 1/2″, but I always round up). My mom is only 4’9″, so when I say lucky, I mean it! When I was young, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” varied. In the 2nd grade, I wanted to be a teacher. In the 3rd grade, I wanted to be either president of the U.S. or a Solid Gold dancer (Remember that show?). Then in the 4th grade, I got glasses. My optometrist was Dr. Rich Canestrini of Rock Springs, WY. He was (and still is) a great eye doctor. He had a very friendly bedside manner and he took the time to explain things. I just really liked the guy and I guess you could say that he inspired me because some time after getting contact lenses in the 7th grade, I decided that I, too, wanted to be an optometrist. After junior high, my answer to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” didn’t waiver. In fact, I dated a guy in high school who, when I told him that I would be an optometrist someday, literally laughed and told me that I was just a small girl from a small town who probably wasn’t going anywhere. What?? How could he say that? I wasn’t under the impression that those things made any difference in what I could do or who I could be. Well that comment stuck with me and talk about being out to prove someone wrong!
Right after high school, I was off to college and attended the University of Wyoming where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a Bachelor of Science in Natural Science/Math. The Spanish degree was important to me because I really wanted to learn the language. (I am half Hispanic, my mom’s descendents are from Spain, but I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish). I even spent a year going to college in Uruguay, South America, because after 7 years of studying Spanish (4 in high school and 3 at UW), I still couldn’t communicate very well. I decided the best way for me to learn it was to GO there and speak it and listen to it ALL the time. When I returned from Uruguay in the middle of my 5th year at UW, I only had a few months to apply for optometry school…not so great planning there, on my part. And on top of that, there was only one school left on my list of 5 that I was considering that was still accepting applications: the Southern California College of Optometry. I’ll admit that this was not my first choice. The thought of little ol’ me, from little ol’ Wyoming, heading out to Southern California intimidated me quite a bit. (And here I thought I was so brave!) I much thought I would perfer the quieter town of Pleasant Grove, Oregon, where sat the Pacific University College of Optometry. Doesn’t that just sound more peaceful? But then, I had just come home from South America where I traipsed all over the place, by myself at times, and acutally learned how to use a map. (You don’t really need to know how to do that growing up in Wyoming where you know where everything is. Heck, you barely need to know street names!) So maybe I could handle Southern California. Still, I thought about waiting a year and applying to some of my other choices, but here was the problem with that: I had taken the optometry entrance exam a few years prior and if I waited another year, my score would expire and I would have to take it AGAIN! Well, I sure as heck didn’t want to do that, so I figured I might was well go for it! I finished the application packet, sent it off and wished for the best. Within a few weeks, I heard that they would in fact interview me. I was thrilled! The only thing was that I needed to be in California in one week. Alrighty then! I went down to the local JC Penney and found the closest thing that would fit me that looked professional enough for the occasion, bought a ridiculously expensive plane ticket to California and off I was to follow my dream.
When I got there, everything was great. I stayed with a fellow Wyomingite that was in her 3rd year of optometry school and she gave me some tips on what they might ask during the interview and took me to one of her classes. I was given a tour of the school by a different student, then fed lunch and then I had my interview. It went well. I didn’t get too nervous and none of the questions stumped me. After the interview, I talked with the Dean of Admissions and it was then that I learned the class of 2002 was already full. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was literally the second to the last interview of the whole interview process…the guy who walked in after me was the last! I would be put on a wait list of over 100 other potentials. My heart sank. Honestly, if I had known the class was full, I probably wouldn’t have bothered flying out. But there was a glimmer of hope. The wait list was weighted, which meant that my position on the list was determined by the points I had scored with the application, extracurricular activities, GPA, entrance test score, interview, etc. The Dean said that historically, about 20% of the class that had alreadly accepted a position would drop out and attend a different school. So if I had scored high and was near the top of the list, I still had a chance. Not great odds, but what else could I do but wait (and pray!). It was March of 1998, and I would find out some time in June if I got in or not.
Well, I won’t leave you hanging. I got in. I called my mom some time in June on a pay phone from the middle of nowhere Michigan and she read the acceptance letter to me. (“pay phone”? I know, right? Not many cell phones back then! And Michigan? Summer job, selling books door to door, another story for another day) My mom and I cried. Without a doubt, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I was on my way to realizing my dream! (and proving that jerk wrong! Hee-hee!)
Optometry school was great, but it was no picnic. There were ups and downs and I didn’t breeze through it quite like I had other academic endeavors. I learned that I wasn’t quite as smart as I thought I was ’cause man, I went to school with some really smart people! But I worked hard and I never gave up and in May of 2002, I was given the title Dr. Jessica D. Peverley (maiden name) and I became an optometrist. That was another one of the happiest days of my life. My dad was the first to greet me as I walked off the stage and with tears in his eyes, he told me how proud he was of me. Well, you can only imagine how I cried! I had done it! A dream 14 years in the making was finally a dream come true. (Take that!! You ignorant, rude high school boyfriend who said I’d never make it!)
Seriously, though, I didn’t become an eye doctor just to prove him wrong. The truth is I wanted to be involved in a profession where I could serve the public and use my talents. First of all, I love people. I love talking with them, getting to know them, learning about what they do and who they are. I learn so much from all of my patients about everything! I love it! And secondly, I wanted to do something where I could share my talents. School was pretty fun for me, especially math and science, and so I thought I should get as much education as I could. Put those two things together and something in health care seemed an obvious choice. I thought about medicine for about a minute, but my trypanophobia ruled that out. (I passed out 3 times in optometry school! Talk about embarrassing! But I’m sure that would have been MUCH worse in medical school!!) And I wanted to have a career that wasn’t too hectic so that I could spend ample time with my future family. So with all that in mind, I chose optometry.
After graduation, I started out in corporate optometry, but I always wanted to be in private practice. There is a lack of control in most corporate opportunities that doesn’t allow the doctor to make all the best decisions for him/herself or his/her patients. I felt I could provide the best care for my patients in private practice. I could also provide job opportunities for others. I absolutely love my staff and I love the job they do for me and for you.
It’s not always easy to balance the demands of my life and my profession, but it’s worth it. As a wife, a mother of 3 boys, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an active member of my church and a business owner, it can be difficult being pulled in so many different directions. But despite some of the challenges, there are far greater rewards. I love my profession and I love serving my patients. I will always do my best to give you the best care and service because I truly do care about you and your precious vision. That is why I am an optometrist.