A Vision of Hope for Optometry

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I joined an established private practice immediately after graduating from optometry school, and it just wasn’t for me. I was primarily doing refractive management for my patients, and I wanted to do more. I wanted to practice full-scope optometry, to truly help people and make a difference. I was able to find that fulfillment when I opened a practice in a rural community that really needed me, where I could make a significant impact on people’s lives. Today, as dean of a rural optometry school, I get to extend that opportunity to the next generation of optometrists.

I started that first practice cold in a town of 4,000 in West Texas, where I was the only doctor across two counties. Helping that underserved community spurred a love for rural eye care that eventually brought me to my current role of Dean at Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) in rural Appalachia county. In Appalachia, socioeconomic conditions limit access to healthcare, and the prevalence of vision loss is high. In fact, recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports confirm that severe vision loss in our region continues to get worse alongside conditions such as diabetes. To say Doctors of Optometry are needed here is an understatement.

At KYCO, we are committed to improving patient access to care in our community, and our students will undoubtedly make a positive impact on vision care in our region. We hope to emulate the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, which in 1997 set out to “bring medicine to the mountains.” Their efforts have significantly improved access to healthcare in our community, and in future years, KYCO will have the same measurable impact. 

In support of our mission of service to our students and community, VSP recently provided a $5,000 Vision of Hope Scholarship to our school. This scholarship is intended for a student from the Appalachian region who is committed to practicing in an underserved patient population during their career. We selected Swathi Gutti as the recipient of the scholarship. Inspired by her parents who served as healthcare providers in rural Kentucky for many years, Swathi recognizes the need for first-rate care in Appalachia. Her goal is to make eye care more accessible to all demographics.

Like Swathi, the students I interact with here are bright, hardworking, and committed to helping others. They make me excited about the future of optometry. As I see it, helping others is what optometry is all about, and these students give me great confidence in the future of our profession.

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