Learning for a lifetime

August 27, 2018
AOA Educator of the Year honoree shares why doctors and staff need to stay current on the latest continuing education.
Elizabeth Steele, O.D.

Excerpted from page 16 of the July/August 2018 edition of AOA Focus.

Behind the lectern wasn't where Elizabeth Steele, O.D., originally pictured herself when she first entered the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Optometry (UABSO). But now, there's no place she'd rather be.

Currently UABSO associate dean of clinical affairs, Dr. Steele's path to the dean's office started in the same classrooms and clinic as her students. A 2003 UABSO graduate, Dr. Steele took a year's residency with the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center before returning to UABSO in 2004. Dr. Steele thrives in academia where she's not only taken on numerous leadership and committee roles but also has been recognized for her vast contributions.

Among those numerous teaching and clinical awards, Dr. Steele has been named a member of the UAB Healthcare Leadership Academy and has been honored with the UAB President's Award for Excellence in Teaching and the UAB-AOSA Teaching Award, Clinical Science Instruction, on three separate occasions. Her name is one that's easily recognizable on the clinical lecturing scene, presenting more than 40 continuing education (CE) classes for doctors of optometry, 23 workshops and five presentations to paraoptometric technicians.

But her dedication goes well beyond the classroom. A past president of the Birmingham Area Optometric Association, Dr. Steele has served on the Alabama Optometric Association's (ALOA's) Education Committee, as well as the ALOA Government Relations, InfantSEE® and Membership Committees. At the national level, Dr. Steele has served on AOA's Clinical Reference Guide Oversight Committee and serves on the New Technology workgroup, Credentialing and Faculty Relations Committees. Dr. Steele, the AOA's 2017 Educator of the Year, shares with AOA Focus her calling to academia and the importance of lifelong learning.

How did you decide that academia was right for you?

I love to watch the students grow from their beginner stage in the clinical skills course, through their nervous entry into clinic, and onto their confident patient care stage. It is amazing what they learn in those few short years! Teaching is the part I love—and the reason I keep doing it.

How beneficial was your residency with the VA?

It was the most valuable time in my educational career. When I talk to students about the importance of a residency, and share my personal experiences, I tell them that this place absolutely has my (optometry) heart. I feel so happy when I hear that one of our graduates gets to spend a year there. If I could go back and do it again, I would. The staff, the faculty and the patients are just beyond fabulous.

Being an active CE lecturer, how important is it for doctors to stay current on the latest CE?

What I enjoy most about presenting CE is that the preparation that goes into it keeps me up to date! I love imparting onto other doctors what I feel to be practical, clinically useful, and timely information that they can take back to benefit their patients. Sometimes CE also is a chance to receive a thorough review of something we already knew; reviewing or even re-learning old information with a new perspective can change clinical behaviors and decisions.

You also present CE to paraoptometric staff. How can staff CE benefit the entire practice?

Increasing staff knowledge and training can only improve a doctor's practice. Everything a staff member learns can benefit his/her ability to field patient questions, understand patient risks, increase day-to-day efficiencies and even better represent the practice to the public.

What motivates you to volunteer in so many capacities, within the school, ALOA, AOA and beyond?

Getting involved early, as both a student leader in AOSA and locally with the ALOA, afforded me the opportunity to see other successful doctors of optometry supporting their profession and pushing it forward. It was (and still is) motivating to see the drive and sacrifice that many of our leaders in optometry give. I like to do my part in what I reap the benefits from, both in the profession and in my community. Balancing the extra things with a job and a family is the challenge, and I have the utmost respect for those volunteers who do more than I choose to.

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