The president of Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity is excited to chip away at preventable blindness.
Even before Kirsten Madeline Johnson decided to attend SUNY Optometry, she knew that she wanted to work with Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, which helps bring eye care to people in developing countries. Now, as a fourth-year student, Johnson assists in identifying locales that need care and works with optometrists and students who donate their time and resources.
“As future optometrists, we are in a prime position for humanitarian work that chips away at the immense world problem of preventable blindness. The skills we are honing can benefit millions of people around the world,” she says. “I am lucky to have been in a leadership position where I could directly see the impact of my work and see the lives that were changed for the better.”
She also values her work with the SUNY IDEA (Increasing Diversity by Engaging All) initiative, which includes writing articles and posts on social media. “SUNY IDEA aims to engage prospective optometry students. My role is to present thought-provoking articles and ideas that are applicable to those interested in entering the medical field in the hopes of stimulating introspection and thoughtful conversation,” Johnson explains. “This is important to ultimately create a more diverse, productive and self-reflective student body.”
While Johnson says she has enjoyed all the clinical settings she’s entered on her way toward earning her Doctor of Optometry degree, pediatric eye care has her heart. “I will be the first to admit that pediatric eye exams can be difficult. You have to have extreme patience and energy for these exams, but the reward of helping children achieve their best possible vision is absolutely worth the effort,” she says. “I am especially passionate about clear vision for children because of the huge impact eyesight has on a child’s ability to learn, develop and succeed in school.”
The El Dorado Hills, California-native is set to graduate in May 2018, and she credits the College community with helping to get her there. “What I enjoy the most is the mutual respect that the professors, staff and students have for each other,” she explains. “Being surrounded by colleagues who admire and encourage each other so selflessly has made my optometry school experience the best years of my life.”
Johnson plans to pursue a pediatric residency after graduation, and is interested in the new Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity Corps program, which helps optometrists start optometry schools in countries that don’t have them. She hopes that other SUNY Optometry students will take full advantage of the opportunities the College offers and use their skills to make a positive impact. “Our diverse interests and strengths combine to make a profession capable of far more than any one person could accomplish,” she says. “If every student took the time to find something beyond themselves to pursue during their time in school, then optometric education, the profession, and ultimately our future patients would benefit.”