UAB optometry student awarded one-of-a-kind residency

Hernandez will study neuro-ophthalmic disease, which is a specialty that focuses on visual problems related to the brain.

Stream Heidi H Heidi Hernandez
Photography: Lexi Coon
A student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry has earned a competitive two-year neuro-ophthalmic disease residency at the Salus University’s Eye Institute in Philadelphia. This one-of-a-kind residency selects only one resident per year.

“When I received the news that I had been selected, I was in complete shock,” said Heidi Hernandez, a fourth-year UAB optometry student and recipient of this residency. “Something just felt right; it felt almost too good to be true. I feel really privileged and grateful to have matched there.”

During this residency, Hernandez will study neuro-ophthalmic disease, which is a specialty that focuses on visual problems that relate to the brain. These may include problems with eye movements, vision loss due to injury to the brain or the optic nerves.

“As a Pennsylvania College of Optometry graduate myself, I know how prestigious and competitive this particular residency is, and I am so proud of Heidi,” said Caroline Pate, O.D., director of Residency Programs at the UAB School of Optometry. “It is the first time a UABSO student has been chosen for this program, and I have no doubt she will represent our school well. She has always been a top-notch student with an outstanding work ethic and has excelled in patient care during her time at UABSO.”

Hernandez’s interest in neuro-ophthalmic disease began when she was studying neuroscience through the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program at the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. During her time in the program, she was an Honors College student on the Personalized Path and took a course that focused on the sensory systems of neuroscience that helped her learn more about the bridge between the brain and the eyes. While taking this course, she started shadowing optometrists at UAB Eye Care and made the decision to go to optometry school. A year after being accepted into the School of Optometry, she learned about the neuro-ophthalmology residency and decided she wanted to apply.

“I was looking for a way to help people see better, while also being able to use my neuroscience background,” Hernandez said. “I knew that, by studying neuro-optometry, I could fulfill one of my goals of helping people be the best version of themselves and helping them experience their lives the best they can.”  

Hernandez will graduate from the School of Optometry, alongside her husband, on May 19, and she will begin her residency July 1.

“I am so grateful to have been able to attend UAB for both my undergrad and optometry school,” Hernandez said. “While there is always a lot to learn in this field, I know that I am leaving UAB with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills that have helped prepare me for this new role.”

 “I admire Heidi’s desire and drive to gain the advanced clinical training in a specialty area that will make her the best clinician she can be,” Pate said. “I am always so proud of all of our School of Optometry graduates who choose to seek out programs that will challenge them and set them up to become the next leaders of our profession in the future. I am so excited to see what the future holds for her, and I know she will go on to do amazing things.”