How one doctor lives a life of service

February 8, 2022
Whether providing primary eye health care in western Pennsylvania or over 7,000 miles away in Kenya, AOA’s 2021 Young Optometrist of the Year shares what fuels his commitment to the profession.
Erick Henderson, O.D.

Photo by Steve Craft.

Excerpted from page 14 of the November/December 2021 edition of AOA Focus.

Erick Henderson, O.D., is the kind of person who consistently steps up, no matter the challenge.

From his time serving as president of the American Optometric Student Association in 2016 to his recent call as AOA’s Nominating Committee chair, Dr. Henderson is quickly ascending the profession’s rungs and getting noticed for it.

“When I met Erick, I was really impressed with his enthusiasm for the industry and everything he was doing for optometry,” says Lindsay McCauley, O.D., of her practice colleague. “And I’m just as impressed with his advocacy for optometry. I feel like he can do great things and even be president of the AOA someday. I can see that in his future.”

Installed as a trustee on the Pennsylvania Optometric Association’s (POA’s) board in 2021, Dr. Henderson has served on the Western Pennsylvania Optometric Society (WPOS) Board of Directors in numerous capacities, as well as serving as president. Named the 2020 Young Optometrist of the Year by the WPOS and POA, he was recognized as the AOA’s 2021 Young Optometrist of the Year at Optometry’s Meeting® in Denver. All this after graduating from Southern College of Optometry only a few years earlier in 2017.

That meteoric rise aside, Dr. Henderson has never lost focus of what matters—his patients. Whether providing primary eye health care in western Pennsylvania or over 7,000 miles away in Kenya, where he volunteers on the board of the Lamu Center of Preventive Health, Dr. Henderson has lived a life of service. For that, AOA Focus caught up with Dr. Henderson to see what motivates him and fuels his commitment to the profession.

As part of the POA’s Clinical Education & Meeting Committee, you developed and implemented a student-focused program for Spring Congress to engage students. How was that received?

In past years at the POA, students were always invited to attend the POA Congress (meeting); however, there was nothing available to directly engage the students with the POA or organized optometry. I worked with the POA and the Meetings Committee to build a dynamic and exciting educational program at the POA Congress that would give the students relevant knowledge from topics outside of their classroom education. The program was very successful, and we are excited to continue to expand upon it in the future.

Your passion for optometry and delivering care to underserved communities spills over into your mission work in Kenya. How did you get involved in Lamu, and what motivates your mission work?

While a student at Illinois Wesleyan University, I serendipitously came across Dr. Rebecca Mafazy, an anthropology professor at the university. She informed me about a preventive health care clinic she and her husband, a nurse practitioner, opened and manage in Lamu, Kenya. She explained that they are working to fill in unmet gaps in the health care delivery system in rural Kenya. One of the major things lacking was adequate eye care, ranging from something as simple as reading glasses to complex eye diseases.

How have those relationships or experiences abroad shaped the care you provide back home?

Having the opportunity and experience to serve overseas has made me extremely humble and grateful. Health literacy is a huge barrier to care and is something hard for people in the United States to understand. The people I have had the opportunity to work with have never had their eyes examined before, and often I was the first doctor this person had ever met with. It is very hard to perform an eye exam on someone who has no cultural context on what an eye exam entails. This has helped me immensely to be able to better communicate and understand what my patients are feeling and experiencing.

You’ve mentioned some (good-natured) pressure about becoming AOA president one day. Is it in the cards?

It is fun hearing my colleagues and peers mention that they think I could be AOA president one day. If that is what is in store for me, I would be honored to serve. My aspirations in service to the profession are altruistic to make the profession better and lead the best that I can. If this path leads to the opportunity to serve on the AOA Board, and as AOA president in the future, I would be pleased to serve. The point I am trying to make is that I don’t do any of this for the title or recognition, but simply because I know it is what I am called to do.

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