by Caleb Jones

Many UAB School of Optometry (UABSO) graduates do a great deal of work to advance the optometric profession in their communities and abroad. One such alumna is Dr. Angela Amedo, PhD. A native of Accra, Ghana who lives in Kumasi, Amedo earned her doctorate in vision science from UABSO in 2005 on a Fullbright scholarship. She returned to Ghana after graduation and has helped advance the profession in the country.

Her accolades range from becoming Ghana’s first Professor of Optometry, to being appointed by the Ghanaian government to be a national leader in the regulation of multiple health professions, including optometry. In this Q&A, Amedo discusses her career path and offers advice to future vision scientists and optometrists.  

Please provide a summary of your career path. After a Bachelor of Science degree (Hons) in Biological Sciences at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), I taught high school biology for about three years. I joined the inaugural optometry class of five at KNUST in 1991, graduating with a PG (postgraduate) diploma in optometry. I joined the two fulltime optometrists and other faculty at KNUST in Jan. 1995.

In 1998, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for the Master of Science degree in Vision Sciences at UAB and continued my studies in Dr. Tom Norton’s lab. There, we researched various aspects of myopia using tree shrews as models. I was earned my doctorate in vision science in Dec. 2005 for my work on the “The Effect of Age on Compensation for a Negative Lens and Recovery from Lens-induced Myopia in Tree Shrews (Tupaia glis belangeri)”.

Who/What sparked your interests in optometry and vision science? My late father in-law. Four or so weeks after he received surgery for cataracts, he got his new glasses. His joy at seeing again was indescribable! It was only at that time that he saw his grandchildren, the food he was eating and his surroundings. It was beautiful and I was touched.

I saw in his experience how fulfilling it would be to help people see again. When I heard from a friend that Ghana needed optometrists—as the country had only about six who were all over 60 years of age—I talked to Ghana’s father of optometry, Dr. Francis Morny (trained in Cardiff, Wales in the 1950s) about my interest. He encouraged me to the extent that I started an apprenticeship in his practice before the KNUST program started.

What are your memories of your mentor, Dr. Norton? Dr. Tom Norton, or “T.N.” was an extremely hardworking, thorough and helpful supervisor. Whenever he removed his glasses (he is a high myope) when I submitted any work to him, I knew to expect many corrections. He would find the smallest errors in my writings and use a red pen to circle any misplaced marks on my graphs.

One of his sayings was something like ‘all that fits we print’, and so we gave a lot of detail in all our writings. The result of all this was an excellent PhD dissertation. Dr. Norton treated me not just as his graduate student but was also a mentor who truly cared. He was interested in the progress of my children, and at a time when he found out that we were living off a tight budget, he increased my stipend. I will forever appreciate him for the Sundays that he offered to come to the lab to clean my tree shrew’s lenses (yes, they wore lenses!) so that I could go to church. I am so happy that I was able to visit with him and his wife recently.  

Describe how you became the Ghana’s first Professor of Optometry. At the time, the optometry program at KNUST had serious staffing challenges. It was being run by faculty from Physics, Biology, Pharmacology and the Medical school. I became the first optometrist to head/chair the department. During the period, we got our national accreditation and the Doctor of Optometry program, which gave us a lot of visibility in the university and nationally. The program became one of the most sought-after courses in our university, attracting some of Ghana’s best students. I feel honored to be Ghana’s first Professor of Optometry.

You were appointed by the Ghanaian government to lead a program that regulates the optometric profession and other health professions. This led to the birth of the Allied Health Professions council in Ghana, of which you later became the first Chairperson. What did it mean to you to receive such high recognition by the Ghanaian government? My appointment to chair the Allied Health Task Force to lay the groundwork for the regulation of some 22 health related professions, including optometry was humbling but also a joy. It was challenging and a time of learning as this was pioneering work; not only was it about regulations and accreditations, but it had political sides to it as well. My subsequent appointment as the first Chairperson of the Allied Health Professions Council was a surprise and gave me even greater joy. It was gratifying to know that the government recognized and appreciated our work.

Many of our Ghanaian vision science students say they were inspired to attend UABSO because of your success. Do you have any words of encouragement for them?  I am flattered to hear that I have inspired some of these students. It is always good to know you impacted someone positively.

I would say to continue to work hard and reach for the skies! When you reach the skies, do not forget KNUST Department of Vision Science, your alma mater. While many of you may not go back after graduation like I did, there are several ways you can contribute to the growth of that department. Let’s work together to make our dream of becoming a School of Optometry happen.

What is a piece of advice do you have for optometry students and early career optometrists? Our profession is great and would always be very relevant. Having had a little exposure to global optometry, I know we are still dealing with some turf challenges. My advice? Keep on keeping on. Excel in what you do, and time will vindicate you.

Is there anything you would like to add? The success of optometry in Ghana is due to the work of many devoted people and I am happy that I could contribute to it too. I knew I was returning to the department at the time I was receiving my education at UAB, but I had no idea how far it would take me.

Over the years, through organizations like the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and the African Vision Research Institute (AVRI) and with the support of the then giants like Kovin Naidoo in the development of African optometry, we have worked to grow the profession of optometry on the continent. The icing on the cake for me is to see my former students from KNUST here at UAB, not only as grad students but also one of them as faculty! A teacher couldn’t ask for more.