RFrancis

A Mission to Pay it Forward

By Randi-Jo Francis November 09, 2020

As I look toward my graduation next year from the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), I reflect on all of the people who have supported me along the way—starting with my parents, who moved our family from Jamaica to Canada to give us more opportunities, to my peers and mentors here at school. I know first-hand the impact of that support, and it is my personal mission to pay it forward to others as I grow as a student and a future clinician.

My interest in optometry came by accident—literally. The summer before my last year of undergrad, I was playing competitive soccer and got hit in the eye with a soccer ball. I was down for a while and when I finally opened my eyes, I couldn’t see very well. It turned out that I had a hole in my retina and needed surgery. Throughout the operation and follow-up care, I was so impressed with what the doctors did and how they made me feel that I decided to pursue optometry. In fact, between undergrad and optometry school, I worked for the doctor who treated my injury, and she is now one of my mentors.

Following graduation, I plan to enter private practice optometry because of the flexibility and freedom it offers. I like that you can tailor your practice to whatever mode you want, whether it's medical, refractive, or both, and you can choose your own specialties. I personally want to practice full-scope, medical optometry, focusing on ocular disease. Another benefit of private practice is that it allows you to determine your own schedule. Part of my personal mission is to give back to the community for all that’s been given to me, so having the freedom to do that outside of work is very appealing.

Someone who embodies this spirit of giving back, of paying it forward, is Dr. Marvin Poston. Dr. Poston was a trailblazer in optometry and did so much for minorities in our field. I just hope to continue in his legacy, especially being a minority myself. That is why it was such an incredible honor to receive the Dr. Marvin R. Poston Award for 2020. It was so humbling to be recognized for my community involvement and leadership with an award named after a personal hero of mine.

I was also honored this year to receive the 2020 VSP/AAOF (American Academy of Optometry Foundation) Practice Excellence Scholarship for demonstrated excellence in clinical performance and academic performance. I feel like ICO took a chance on me at the beginning—I had average grades and was dealing with my injury when I applied, and they accepted me into their program, supporting me ever since. For them to nominate me for this award was so validating, and winning the financial scholarship from VSP and AAOF couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been a tough year with COVID-19, and the funds helped with my education costs. It’s just the latest example of how VSP and their schools team have supported me on my journey, providing resources, training, connections, and guidance to help me be successful.

Like the rest of the world, we students have felt the impact of COVID-19. Most education has moved online, and many of our rotations have been canceled or rescheduled. While the changes and restrictions have been challenging, the rotations I’ve been able to secure have been incredible, and our teachers have provided extra education during distance learning. As I see it, we can’t control what is thrown at us, but we can control how we respond to it and emerge stronger on the other end.

As graduation approaches, this phase of my journey is coming to an end. I would not have made it this far without the support of my parents, who have sacrificed so much and are behind me every step of the way, and the numerous other people who encouraged and mentored me. I take every opportunity to pay it back, mentoring other students and working in my community, and will continue to do so. The future of our profession is bright, and I look forward to working together to make it even brighter.

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