Alumni & Students Take a Winding Path to Optometry
By Jacqui Cook
Dr. McCann echoes that same sentiment when she recounts how she came to ICO from a career with the University of Calgary Institute of Environmental Toxicology, researching the presence of PCBs and pesticides in the environment and in human breast milk. She was a week away from starting a master’s program when she put the brakes on and decided it was not for her.
“I kind of had a breakdown and realized I didn’t want to do that anymore,” she says. “I didn’t want to spend my life in the lab, fighting for grants. I wanted to talk to more than the seven other people in my lab.”
When thinking about her options, she recalled meeting an optometrist at a Women in Science event she participated in as an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
“She was talking about her career and at the time I thought it sounded interesting,” Dr. McCann says. “In optometry, you can do research, you can do patient care, you can do business. That really put the bug in my ear. When I started looking for alternatives to a career in research, I thought it was worth a look.”
She came to ICO in 2000 at the age of 27. The hardest part was adjusting to life in a dorm again, with a roommate and no income. The rest came easy.
“My time away made me appreciate the education as
She loved ICO from the moment she arrived for her interview. She canceled all her other interviews and stayed on after graduation to teach until she and her husband, Ryan Haiar, also OD ’04, returned to his native South Dakota. She just started a new position partnering with seven MDs, running a general disease and urgent care clinic, while her husband is in private practice. She continues to serve and stay connected to ICO by being secretary-treasurer of the Alumni Council.
In Optometry, you can do research. You can do patient care. You can do business. That really put the bug in my ear.
Dr. McCann, now 40 with a 3-year-old son and a baby on the way, says anyone considering a significant career change has to do their research first to be sure. Almost any career can be researched thoroughly online, and often professionals in that field will let you shadow them to see if it’s right for you.
“As an older student, you’re in a different phase of your life and taking on a heavy debt load and responsibility,” she says. “You want to be sure that’s what you want to do. You don’t want to do it a third time.”
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer in Chicago. She may be reached at