Born to teach
Excerpted from page 12 of the Nov/Dec 2015 edition of AOA Focus.
On the first day of class, Tammy Than, O.D., a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry (UABSO), tells her students that she has very high expectations. They already know—her reputation as a tough but fair professor precedes her.
She also lets them know that she will be working just as hard as they are to help them learn. A morning person, she's been known to meet with students as early as 6:15 a.m. It's no wonder Dr. Than is the 2015 AOA Optometric Educator of the Year.
Her students appreciate her dedication and willingness to meet them more than halfway—and they show it. Last year when Dr. Than was competing in a marathon in Kentucky—reaching her goal of running a marathon in all 50 states—a group of students drove four hours to the race to cheer her on and celebrate her accomplishment.
In an excerpt from an interview with AOA Focus, Dr. Than discusses her love of teaching and her new research project.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Every day is different. There's clinical teaching, classroom teaching; I get to do a little bit of research and have some opportunity for administration. I work with second, third and fourth years. With the second-year class, I spend about 160 hours with each one of them. I teach pharmacology and anterior segment disease, things they are going to use their whole lives. The third years I have for some of the advanced courses I teach, like the laser course and the injections course. With the injections, some of them are scared to death when they go in there, but they do it, and they are so proud when they're done. Then I work with the fourth years in the clinic, which is a culmination of everything I and everybody else here have been teaching them. When they graduate, I know that I've done all that I can do to prepare them to provide excellent care.
What is the focus of your current research?
At the 2014 AOA-AAO Summer Institute, our group decided to look at pink eye. We received an NIH R-34 planning grant to recruit patients who have adenoviral conjunctivitis. Right now there's no drug approved to treat that. But if you remember Bob Costas at the 2014 Winter Olympics, it's horrible and highly contagious, and they had to take him off the air. Depending on their jobs, people can be out of work for two weeks, so it's a huge economic burden.
Betadine, which is used for surgical prep, can be put in the eye like a lavage, and it appears to be effective. But it's not approved, and it hasn't really gained widespread utilization, partly because there's no data. This is a planning grant to get geared up for a full clinical trial. We are collecting samples at each visit, and we are running PCR [polymerase chain reaction] analysis to look at how many viral particles are still there. If betadine works, the viral load will drop off faster than the artificial tears. There are six sites all over the country, and we are in the process of adding at least three more.
You are an active member of the Alabama Optometric Association. What's happening on the state level now?
Scope expansion is always something people are thinking of. Kentucky and Louisiana recently had their scopes expanded, and we certainly teach our students so they can go to any state. But right now everyone's focused on ICD-10. There's been a state push to get our doctors ready for that. People are feeling better now, but at first there was such panic that it was going to dramatically and adversely affect patient care. I think the panic was good in a way because people have really geared up to get prepared.
Photograph by Jason Wallis