By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO
June 28, 2023
When asked about my journey to becoming an optometrist, I realized that I had a variety of motivations.
Motivations included those stemming from comments from my mom, to positive eyecare experiences at the eye doctor growing up, to different, and not always positive, working environments in my youth.
The first motivation: From as far back as I can remember my mother always half-jokingly insisted that my two sisters and I should pursue careers as doctors, dentists or lawyers. I took her comments to heart, and although she may not have meant it entirely, her comments influenced my path. Interestingly, my sisters ended up excelling in their own fields, with one earning a Master’s Degree in mathematics and becoming a professor, while the other is currently pursuing a PhD in education while serving as a dean at a local college.
The second motivation: During my childhood, I had the privilege of encountering two exceptional optometrists. When I received my first pair of glasses at the age of seven, it was a life-changing experience, as any nearsighted person can attest. My initial optometrist was particularly focused on assessing reading ability, intelligence and the impact of vision on these aspects.
I vividly recall the extensive examinations and diverse tests I underwent. I found it all intriguing. For some reason, my mother took me to a different optometry office the following year. This new practice left a lasting impression on me, with a warm and professional staff. I remember genuinely enjoying my visits for eye exams, and looking forward to my next appointment.
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In tenth grade, Bob Baldwin, OD, initially started my eye examination, but then Bobby Christensen, OD, walked into the exam room with Dr. Baldwin to fit me with my first pair of soft contact lenses—an experience that further transformed my life. Years later, I discovered that Dr. Christensen and Dr. Baldwin had co-authored a book on practice management, which explained why their office felt so exceptional. Since then, I have also become a colleague and friend of the amazing Dr. Christensen, and over the years, he has continued to influence me greatly.
The third motivation: Around the same time of that life-changing eye exam, at the age of 16, I took a job at a TG&Y store. TG&Ys are kind of like a smaller version of Walmart. I worked in the makeup and record/8-track sections. Unfortunately, while working there, I encountered two managers who displayed inappropriate behavior toward the young female employees and showed favoritism. It was disheartening to witness such behavior. Moving on from there, I became a waitress at a barbecue restaurant, only to find myself in another sexist and demeaning work environment.
Then at age 17, I worked at another TG&Y store and was “reprimanded” because two teenage boy employees kept stopping by my department while I was doing my job. I got in trouble, they didn’t. I guess she thought I was keeping them from doing their job even though I was staying in my own department doing my work. This pattern repeated in my next two jobs.
In one instance, I began as a waitress at a country club, then transitioned to cocktail waitressing and eventually taught myself how to be a bartender. After about six months behind the bar, the management changed, and the new manager informed me that the club wanted only male bartenders, and asked if I could train the guy who was replacing me. It was truly frustrating and maddening.
Workplace experiences like these, and others that I won’t mention, compelled me to seek a profession where I could be my own boss, receive and give respectful treatment, and where being a woman wouldn’t be a disadvantage.
At my first job after I graduated from optometry school, I worked for two optometrists. These optometrists were excellent at creating good patient care in their offices. But one time I asked them for a small raise for one of the employees who was a single mom, needed the money, and most certainly deserved a raise, and I was told no. This made me realize I wanted to have my own practice where I could take care of the employees the way I wanted and create a good work environment for them.
Optometry has allowed me to fulfill my mother’s wishes, create good experiences and make a difference in employees’ and patients’ lives. I believe I chose well!