As an optometrist in Greenville, South Carolina, Johndra McNeely, O.D., has organized several vision screenings for the Hispanic population in her community. Altogether, she helped to provide care for more than 140 patients, including some with advanced glaucoma that otherwise might have gone untreated.

“She has a constant willingness to always participate when needed and to volunteer,” says Anna Balderson, marketing and membership coordinator of the South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association.

McNeely, a 2009 graduate of the UAB School of Optometry, also advocates for the profession on a local and state level.

“Her grassroots efforts are impeccable,” Balderson says. “We know she’ll always be there helping to fight for the profession.”

McNeely was South Carolina’s nominee for the American Optometric Association’s 2017 Young Optometrist of the Year award, which recognizes optometrists who are within their first decade of practice and showing leadership skills when serving their profession, their patients and the community.

State affiliates of the AOA submit nominees each year for the award, and out of the 29 nominees from across the country, nearly a fourth are UAB School of Optometry alumni, including Amber Hurley, O.D., a 2012 graduate practicing in rural Cedar Bluff, Virginia, providing the full scope of eye care to patients of all ages — from pediatric to geriatric care.

“Her passion, her dedication, her great sense of vigor and empowerment for eye care has set her apart,” says Bo Keeney, executive director of the Virginia Optometric Association. “She has really become an advocate for the profession and is leading from the front.”

Amanda Buttenshaw, executive director of the Alabama Optometric Association, says that Alabama nominee Kristin Sullins, O.D., who graduated from the School of Optometry in 2007, has demonstrated a commitment to advancing optometry through the Alabama Optometric Association since she was still a student at UAB. She now practices in Huntsville, Alabama, and has served locally for the ALOA and on its committees.

“Dr. Sullins has a real understanding of the political process and how it affects optometry,” Buttenshaw says. “As a young optometrist, she has been involved in advocacy efforts for the ALOA and the AOA."

This year’s high percentage of UAB alumni among the nominees comes as no surprise to Zachary S. McCarty, O.D., president of the UAB School of Optometry Alumni Association.

“Faculty and alumni mentors at the UAB School of Optometry have helped to provide instruction beyond the necessary clinical skills,” he says. “They have taught us the importance of staying involved with organized optometry and advocating for the profession—to give back as those before us have given so much and allow us to practice to the full scope we have today.”

Ryan Wally, O.D., is giving back not only to the profession, but also to his community in Oxford, Mississippi. In addition to serving on the Mississippi Optometric Association’s board of directors and as the legislative chair, he helped to open and manage satellite clinics of his practice in two highly underserved rural southwest Mississippi communities.

“Dr. Wally is an amazing leader in our association, says Linda Aldy, executive director of the Mississippi Optometric Association. “We count ourselves very lucky that Dr. Wally elected to return to Mississippi to practice.”

The UAB School of Optometry alumni who are nominees for the 2017 Young Optometrist of the Year award are:

Kristin Sullins smiling


Kristin Sullins, O.D.

Class of 2007

Ryan Wally smiling


Ryan Wally, O.D.

Class of 2008

Katherine Osborn smiling


Katherine Osborn, O.D.

Class of 2006

Scott Sikes smiling

North Carolina

Scott Sikes, O.D.

Class of 2009

Johndra McNeely smiling

South Carolina

Johndra McNeely, O.D.

Class of 2009

Amber Hurley smiling


Amber Hurley, O.D.

Class of 2012

Jennifer Stevens smiling

West Virginia

Jennifer Stevens, O.D.

Class of 2010