Women in Focus: Dr. Stephanie Aguilar on Being a Young Optometrist in 2018

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As 2018 get's kicked off, it's been so much fun getting to meet more young female optometrists making waves in our profession through Eyedolatry.  The stories of these women are so inspiring, especially since when I was a student optometrist I had no young female doctors I could look up to as a role model in navigating my new career.  Times, they are changing, and none too soon!  Review of Optometry published their 2017 salary review, and the gender pay gap for full time optometrists is an abysmal 40% (up 3% from 2016).  In the face of a not-so closing gap in our profession's income, the number of female optometrists entering the workplace is at an all time high.  These ladies will be leading us into a brighter future, not just in closing wage discrepancies and challenging the male-dominated representation in leadership across our industry and profession, but in how they innovate and expand the scope of our profession.  

The optometric work force is changing!  Women in Optometry reported last year that 66% of optometry school graduates in 2021 will be female.  Dr. Stephanie Aguilar (above) is one of this new generation of optometrists that will be the first to see the profession switch from male dominated to female dominated.

Today we're featuring one such young female leader in optometry, Dr. Stephanie Aguilar of Alamo Eye Care in San Antonio, Texas.  She's an associate doctor at a private practice that is also owned by a female optometrist, Dr. Melanie Frogozo.  Female doctors working for female doctors is a relatively novel change within our industry, and it's been so exciting to see more female optometrists owning their own private practices, and hiring the next generation of young women as their associates!  

After earning her doctorate from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico in 2015, Dr. Aguilar pursued her residency in ocular disease and primary eyecare at the VA Boston Healthcare System. Why did she decide to pursue optometry? She was exposed to the profession at a very young age. "Every year I went to the optometrist, I enjoyed going because my doctor was sweet and I got to pick out cool glasses that helped me see better. In college I shadowed a few of my dad’s MD friends, knowing I wanted to go into the healthcare field. I asked my optometrist at the time if I could shadow him. He agreed and I started an unpaid internship working part-time. I LOVED it. He became my mentor and asked me if I could see myself becoming an optometrist and being happy for the rest of my life." 

Dr. Aguilar at her residency graduation
The decision to pursue residency training after completing optometry school can be a difficult one.  Dr. Aguilar knew by her third year in school that it was the right decision for her. "All of the coolest speakers (whether AOA representatives, private practice doctors, etc.) that came to school had done residencies and spoke so highly of the experience. My professors in school also recommended a residency to improve my clinical skills, as well as gain knowledge and experience before going into the workplace. At that time, I was also considering a career in a hospital setting and knew if I wanted to ever do that, a residency was a must."

She has great advice for student ODs that are interested in pursuing a residency of their own. "The best way to prepare for residency applications is to start early. The easiest ways to stand out are to be involved in your school and excel in the areas that your residency is in."  During the interview, be prepared to discuss specifics about your clinical experiences so far, and be personable and conversational throughout the process. "Think of a few clinical scenarios that were significant to you, as this was a common topic of conversation during interviews. As always, be yourself because it’s likely that during your interview you are not only being evaluated on your credentials, but also whether or not your preceptors can stand working with you for a year!"  

Finding the right job out of school or residency is a huge milestone (or hurdle!) in a young optometry career. While Dr. Aguilar had entered her residency considering working in a hospital setting, it was a private practice back in her home town of San Antonio, Texas that became the right fit for her.  Like many great opportunities, networking was the key.  "In my case, who I knew was critical. I found my job through a previous volunteer experience. Every time I came home from optometry school, I would volunteer at the Haven for Hope I Care Clinic that provides eye care for the homeless population in San Antonio. I had a good relationship with the manager at the office. While in Boston, I called her and asked if she knew any doctors hiring in the area. She put me in contact with two doctors, one of them being my place of work now. My advice is to treat everyone with respect because you never know who will help you down the road. Keep your options open, interview with many different offices and always ask for what you deserve in compensation."  With our pay gap as it stands currently in optometry, her words of advice can't be more of a call to action!

Patient care is Dr. Aguilar's true passion, and it hasn't taken long in her young career to see her love for optometry touching lives.  Even after a residency focused on treating and managing ocular disease, it's the simple day to day mission of being an optometrist - helping patients see their best - that has left the biggest impression on her so far.  "The patient encounters that impact me the most are those in which I feel I’ve made an improvement in the patients’ lives. Whether it’s a patient that is successfully fit into multifocal contacts, a child seeing their parents clearly for the first time thanks to new glasses, or a corneal ulcer patient that is healed after two weeks of pain and blurred vision."

The future for young optometrists hold exciting promise, but plenty of challenges as well. "In my opinion the biggest immediate risk to our profession is telemedicine or optometry offices that offer a “comprehensive eye exam”, when in reality it’s someone remotely performing refraction and then reviewing anterior and posterior segment photos."  

"Another risk to our profession is the group mentality that someone else will take care of this problem. In my opinion, all optometrists should support the American Optomteric Association because they work tirelessly to support and improve our profession. Without them, there is no telling where optometry would be and I hope I never to find out. So being a member of the AOA, joining their team or lobbying on optometry’s behalf is advantageous to all of us."

Want to learn more from Dr. Aguilar?  Stay tuned for more articles written by her appearing on the blog, and you can reach out to her for advice or mentorship by email!

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