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    Women, leadership, and optometry

    Female ODs must create opportunities, work with mentors, and be a mentor

    Over the past several decades, the profession of optometry has experienced a gender shift, which research shows is expected to continue.1 The most recent industry report estimates the female-to-male ratio among practicing optometrists is projected to grow to 52 percent female and 48 percent male by 20221—an increase from 2 percent female and 98 percent male in the 1960s.2

    Don’t wait for opportunities—create them

    During the time when I was investigating options for my fourth year externship, I knew I wanted an opportunity that would challenge me clinically, professionally, and personally. 

    Other optometry schools offered students externship opportunities at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMC), one of the nation’s largest and most renowned military medical centers in Bethesda, MD. But, unfortunately for myself and the other State University of New York College of Optometry (SUNY) students, there was no externship program set up for us to do so.

    Related: Building trust with patients builds the practice

    Because I desperately wanted the experience of working at a military site—and at such a prominent institution as WRNMMC—I contacted my externship coordinator, started asking questions, and soon found myself working with both the president of the university and the U.S. military to create a new externship program for SUNY students.

    Six months later, the program was successfully qualified, and I gladly joined WRNMMC as the first SUNY student in its externship program.

    Although I was slightly cautious about asking SUNY leadership about a program that didn’t exist, I was determined to find a way to make it happen. You may, one day, find yourself in a similar situation in which you want to pursue something in your career that may not have been done before or is seemingly impossible.

    The lesson: Embrace change even if it involves risk, have the courage to follow unexpected paths to do new things, and create your own opportunities.

    Related: Help! My team is falling apart

    Take advantage of leadership opportunities

    I believe women join the workforce with an open heart and open mind and are either lucky to be born with innate leadership skills or have the will and determination to be taught.

    Leadership shows up in a variety of ways, and it presents differently based on the person or the circumstance. It can mean becoming the CEO of a company, owning a practice, leading a team of volunteers to provide care, providing educational contributions to the field, or working to establish yourself as the eyecare expert in your personal community.  

    Jill M. Saxon, OD
    Prior to joining Bausch + Lomb, Dr. Saxon was in group private practice in Randolph, NJ. She received her Doctor of Optometry degree ...


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