Excerpted from page 20 of the March/April 2020 edition of AOA Focus.
|Photo by Steve Craft
All it takes is one defining moment for a career path to diverge, and for Caroline B. Pate, O.D., that point came during her residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry (UABSO).
Now, over 15 years later, Dr. Pate still relishes her decision to enter academia—and subsequent classes of UABSO graduates can attest to that great choice, as well. Named the AOA’s 2020 Optometric Educator of the Year, Dr. Pate, director of residency programs and associate professor at UABSO, received her Doctor of Optometry degree (with high honors) from Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 2004. After graduation, she completed her residency at UABSO and joined the school as a clinical assistant professor a year later. Dr. Pate went on to supervise the Family Practice Optometry Residency Program until 2014, when she was named director of residency programs.
Course director for diseases of the anterior segment, Dr. Pate sees patients as a clinical faculty member in ocular disease and primary care clinical services at UAB Eye Care and is a member of the University Optometric Group, the UAB School of Optometry faculty private practice, where she provides direct patient care one day per week. In addition to her teaching, lecturing and clinical research, Dr. Pate is an active volunteer with SECO, the Alabama Optometric Association (ALOA) and the AOA. Dr. Pate has received both ALOA’s Young Optometrist of the Year (2014) and Educator of the Year (2019) awards.
In an excerpt from AOA Focus, Dr. Pate discusses the role educators play in helping move optometry forward.
How did you realize academia was the right career path for you?
My residency completely changed my career path. It put amazing mentors into my life who encouraged me to consider academia. Completing a residency at an academic institution enabled me to not only gain amazing clinical experiences, but also it gave me insight and experience with teaching. With some encouragement from my residency supervisor and the UAB administration, I applied for a faculty position at UAB after my residency. Little did I realize at the time that this career path would be the perfect fit for me. I have the opportunity to see patients both directly in the faculty private practice and in the teaching clinic; to teach our students in both the classroom and laboratory settings; to carry out an administrative role as the director of residency programs; and I’m able to provide service to the profession in so many ways.
Given your role at UABSO, you have many opportunities to mentor. With students preparing for graduation—in a pandemic no less—what advice would you share?
I want my students and residents to leave UABSO with a love for the profession, not only being well-prepared with the knowledge and clinical skills necessary to take care of the patients they will serve but also to trust what they know and admit what they don’t, to never stop learning and to always put their patients first. I would encourage them to try to become involved in optometry outside of patient care as well—to find their passion within the profession—whatever that may be, and to look for ways to give back.
In what way does advancing and advocating for our profession begin with our schools and colleges of optometry?
Any chance educators have to reinforce the fact that optometry is a legislated profession is so important. I think it’s easy for students to take for granted all that we are able to do but so important to understand that it wasn’t always this way, and these privileges could also be taken away if we do not do a good job advocating for our profession.
At a minimum, I would encourage all clinical educators to support the AOA by joining as members to show to our students the importance of supporting the organization that supports and advocates on behalf of optometry. Even more so, if educators see an opportunity to reinforce to students how our profession can advance and change—whether it is a discussion in the laboratory while performing an advanced clinical procedure, or in the classroom or clinic teaching about therapeutic management of an ocular disease—I think it is setting a good foundation for our students. I would encourage all students, if they have the opportunity, to participate in advocacy efforts at the state or national level while in optometry school. Once they do, I feel they will have a newfound appreciation for the efforts of our state and national organizations, and hopefully will be more likely to contribute once they graduate.
Want to help advocate for the profession?
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Although about 13% of the U.S. population is Black, they are woefully underrepresented in optometry. They represent about 2% of practicing doctors of optometry and a little over 3% of full-time students in optometry schools and colleges, according to studies. Black doctors of optometry seek to grow those numbers.
A crusader for vision and eye care in local, state and national communities, Patricia spread her love for the AOA across the country. The AOA sends condolences and thanks to the Hopping family for their years of service.
Learn how you can apply or nominate a doctor of optometry for the 2024 AOA Leadership Institute.