While there are valuable lessons to be learned in the books and classrooms of the UAB School of Optometry, Martin Habel, O.D. (’78), says students also can benefit from an experienced guide to help usher them into the real world. A mentor, if you will, to bridge the gap between studying pathology and helping patients.
“If students had somebody on the outside to give them a perspective on the practice world — the type of perspective they’re probably not getting in the student world — it could make a difference in their careers and their lives,” says Habel. “We need to get people oriented to what the world of optometry is like after school.”
With that goal in mind, Habel is spearheading a campaign to start just such a mentoring program in the UABSO. He said he already has received “a great response” from practicing optometrists interested in acting as mentors, and he hopes to receive similar positive feedback from students when he discusses the potential program with them this fall.
“I’m approaching this with the thought of helping people by being sort of a father figure,” says Habel, who runs a private practice in Rainsville. “Many of these students know little about the outside world. They’re so involved with learning the language of optometry and the pathology that they lose a little perspective on what it takes overall to care for people.
|“If students had somebody on the outside to give them a perspective on the practice world — the type of perspective they’re probably not getting in the student world — it could make a difference in their careers and their lives,” says Martin Habel, O.D. (’78). “We need to get people oriented to what the world of optometry is like after school.”|
“No matter what type of practice you go into, what you’re doing is taking care of people. As practicing optometrists, we have a lot of information we can pass on to help them do that better and quicker.”
Habel envisions the program as being informal, without any set parameters for what is required of the student or the mentor. The program simply would link each student with an optometrist who is practicing in that student’s area of interest, and both would decide how best to proceed.
“It could be the student talking about themselves or asking about optometry, or the mentor having the student into their practice to let them observe real-world optometry — whatever it takes,” Habel says. “If I were a senior, I would love to have somebody tell me how to find a place to practice, what I am looking for, what I should be doing. That information is very valuable.”
In addition to helping students, Habel says a mentor program also would benefit the profession as a whole. By learning all aspects of the profession, and not merely the technical knowledge, early in their careers, Habel says graduates will be more willing to take a proactive approach to optometry that will extend beyond their individual practice.
“In order to advance our profession, we always have to be working to change laws and improve our technology and techniques,” Habel says. “We need people to be involved in all parts of this profession rather than just being passive. One way to do that is to give the students perspective on how we got where we are and what it takes to do what we’re doing.
“If we can educate students from the beginning, maybe we’ll get them to play a greater role in the profession. We have an obligation to see that our profession continues and advances the way it has in the last 30 years. And I think the best way to do that is to nurture and mentor a student.”
If the mentor program is successful, Habel says it could lead to an additional matchmaking program in which students are introduced to potential associates or partners who could help graduates actually enter into existing practices.
“I believe that will be a spin-off of this,” Habel says. “We need to find a way to make that happen. Because it’s a shame when practices that have been around 30 years begin to close. It’s so hard to develop a practice, and to see one close without somebody picking it up is tough. If this mentor program leads to another program that helps create associates or partnerships, then that’s just icing on the cake.”