Alumni & Students Take a Winding Path to Optometry
By Jacqui Cook
Same But Different
For some returning students, becoming an optometrist is an evolution from what they were doing, rather than the radical change it was for Junkin or Dr. Partnow. That was the case for two alumni, Ramona Baumfalk, OD ’06, and Andrea McCann, OD ’04. Both were research chemists before they came to ICO, and each cited a need to combine their love of science with the desire to be around people for making the change from laboratory to doctor’s office.
Dr. Baumfaulk graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in cellular and molecular biology and a minor in chemistry. Her plan was to do research into cancer and genetics, so she began working as a research assistant at a lab in Kansas City. One of her primary goals was to get published in a research journal, and that happened just two years out of college with an article in Infection and Immunity. So she was then left with the question of “What’s next?”
She answered that by taking a position as an associate research chemist at Quintiles Inc., testing new cancer drugs efficacy prior to clinical trial. After three years, that “What next?” question presented itself again when her employer asked her to pursue a PhD in chemistry. This time, the answer was a lot less clear.
“I was lonely in the lab,” Dr. Baumfalk says. “I wanted to talk more. I wanted to be able to share my expertise.”
Around that same time, she decided to get a part-time job for extra money toward her upcoming wedding. That job was selling eyeglasses—and that’s when her new career began presenting itself.
“I met some doctors and they asked why I didn’t go into optometry,” she says. “I noticed the doctors I worked with had such a wonderful bedside manner. When you go to your regular doctor, you have maybe five to seven minutes with the doctor. At an optometrist’s office, you easily have 20 minutes of face-time with that doctor. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of fields.”
She narrowed it down to dermatology and optometry, but optometry won out because of her experience with the doctors in that practice and also the family flexibility it affords.
I was lonely in the lab. I wanted to talk more. I wanted to share my expertise.
“I only applied to ICO,” Dr. Baumfalk says. “I had heard from a lot of different doctors I worked with that ICO was the best school. I reviewed the pass rate for board exams and was impressed at the high pass rate at ICO. I knew I had to apply there.”
Dr. Baumfalk, now 38, was 26 when she got to ICO and finished her residency at 31. She says intellectual curiosity made it an easy fit, no matter how old she was, and of course her science background helped a great deal.
“I love learning, so it was phenomenal for me,” she says. “It was great to have my life experience, but overall it was the feeling I was still growing. As an optometrist, you have to always have that thirst.”
Now back in Kansas City with her husband, Barry, and their three children ages 5, 3, and 2, she is a primary care optometrist in a hospital-based MD/OD practice. She says she has no regrets about how her career path developed.
“I think my past in research really helped me find my niche and helped me become closer with different staff members,” she says. “There are so many things you can do if you have an interest, but you have to make it happen.”