For optometrists committed to practicing in a new city or rural community, their career entails much more than just correcting sight. Sometimes it’s about saving lives.
After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in 2017, Dr. Bernard Mamphey took a chance and moved to Lakeland, Florida—a rural town about an hour from both Tampa and Orlando. He began his career at Crystal Clear Eye Associates of Florida inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses location.
The life-saving power of optometry
While he hoped he would be making a difference for all his patients, he didn’t think it would be quite so dramatic.
“One of my most memorable patients was a woman in her twenties who came in with dizziness and headaches,” he said. “She was having a bit of blurry vision with her glasses so she came in for a regular eye exam.”
When Dr. Mamphey dilated her eyes, he saw more than a vision problem. His patient had a swollen optic nerve.
“The patient came in with her mom, so I referred her to see a neuro-ophthalmologist and told her to go to the emergency room,” said Dr. Mamphey. “A few months later, her mom came in to pick up her glasses and stopped to tell me that when she took her daughter to the ER, they confirmed a brain tumor. My patient had emergency brain surgery, the tumor was successfully removed, and she was recovering at home.”
Dr. Mamphey’s story isn’t unusual for optometrists in high-demand areas, even though the term “rural optometry” describes a range that includes small villages as well as large towns. Technically, the USDA quantifies populations under 50,000 as “rural.” However, even much larger communities can be in need of qualified healthcare providers if they are more than 60 miles away from acute-care hospitals. These “medical deserts” face physician shortages and patients without access to the care they need—whether it’s necessary, basic, or preventative.
The pros of practicing in a rural community
Because most colleges of optometry are located in urban environments, it’s natural to seek a career in vibrant cities that offer culture, entertainment, and a variety of practice environments. However, what many new graduates aren’t aware of is that high-need communities can offer a lower cost of living as well as unique opportunities to expand clinical knowledge with complex cases. In a city, a patient can almost always find a specialist, but rural optometrists are usually the only doctor a patient with eye concerns can turn to. Additional advantages to practicing in underserved areas include the freedom to pursue almost any specialty, live in a dream location, and experience new cultures and adventures.
Initially, Dr. Mamphey’s wife had the idea to move from Worcester, Massachusetts to sunny Florida.
“My wife is from Canada and I’m from Ghana, and we were both tired of the cold,” he said. “Crystal Clear Eye Associates offered us both H1B Visa support. So while moving to a place with no ties seemed challenging at first, it was an easy decision to make.”
While optometrists can always find trusted mentors, rural optometry seems to include close-knit communities of colleagues eager to help young graduates. Dr. Mamphey and his wife both received support through the transition from his manager, including places to eat, explore, and shop.
“Here in Lakeland, we are an hour from Tampa and an hour from Orlando. We’re close to both Disney World, the Tampa beaches, and we don’t have to plow snow.”
Even more than the lifestyle benefits, Dr. Mamphey appreciates the guidance he received from his area OD and the office staff in addressing certain clinical issues that made his transition from student to doctor more seamless than he imagined.
“I’d say my overall experience practicing in the last few years in Lakeland has been awesome,” said Dr. Mamphey. “I’ve been able to receive great benefits, grow as a doctor, make new relationships, and I’ve seen a lot of interesting cases which has really helped me develop overall as a clinician.”
Dr. Mamphey and his wife have made connections that will become lifelong friendships that he believes make him a better optometrist. He’s also grateful to practice in a small town like Lakeland, Florida because he is already an essential part of the community. His efforts have not gone unnoticed.
“If I could give advice to an aspiring OD or new grads looking for opportunities, now’s the time to just jump right in,” said Dr. Mamphey about his decision to pursue a career in a rural community. “You never know what’s out there waiting for you. You really get to control your own destiny.”