Sims named ALOA Educator of the Year

The American Optometric Association granted the associate professor this honor.
Written by: Satina Richardson
Media contact: Anna Jones

janenesimsJanene Sims, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO with Caleb Gardener, O.D.Janene Sims, O.D., Ph.D., FAAO, associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, was named the state’s 2022 Optometric Educator of the Year by the American Optometric Association.

“The goal of optometric educators is to prepare the future leaders of the profession,” Sims said. “This includes business owners, researchers, political advocates and teachers. It is very humbling to be recognized for doing something you love.” 

Sims joined the UAB School of Optometry’s faculty full-time in 2003. Her plan after earning her Doctor of Optometry degree from UAB in 1996 was to join a private practice. However, a clinical encounter with Melvin Shipp O.D., DrPH, a former faculty member, made Sims rethink her initial goal and consider academia as a career. She recalls the moment as if it happened yesterday.

“Dr. Melvin Shipp asked, ‘Are you sure you saw everything in the right eye?’” Sims said. “‘Take another look.’ I strapped back on my binocular indirect ophthalmoscope and found a small area of RPE hyperplasia. Instead of making me feel bad for missing a peripheral finding, he congratulated me with a ‘great job.’ I asked him ‘Why can’t there be more faculty like you?’ and he answered my question with a question. ‘Why can’t it be you?’” 

Today, Sims occupies the office that once belonged to Shipp, then the only African American faculty member in the UAB School of Optometry. He became the first African American optometry school dean in the nation after taking the helm at The Ohio State University.

Sims is service director for Community Eye Care, the Primary Care resident supervisor and the director of Academic Integrity. She precepts in the Primary Care and CEC clinics and is course director for the Professional Communication and Introduction to Clinic courses, also. Outside the school, Sims is an advisor for the National Optometric Student Association and a member of the Equity Leadership Council for the University. From her many roles and responsibilities, there is an important lesson Sims enjoys passing on to her students: Make the most of what you have.

“Dr. Felton Perry, former CEC service director, would encourage us to think outside of the box to be able to perform an exam or vision screening in less ideal situations so that patients can feel confident that they received a quality exam,” said Sims.

Sims says that the ability to convey complex knowledge to students yields an educated student as well as an informed patient.  

“We are also patient educators who strive to effectively communicate diagnoses, possible outcomes and recommendations,” she says. “Compliant patients are usually very knowledgeable of their condition. I’d like to think that we had a part in that.”