Monica Kennedy, OD, started wearing glasses when she was in middle school and the ride home with her first pair of glasses was the beginning of a life-changing experience. She could see the leaves on the trees and blades of grass on the ground that were no longer meshes of green.

Years later, she attended Chipola College in Marianna, FL, on a softball scholarship with no idea what she wanted to major in, so she chose Business. One summer, she was home and went to her optometrist for an annual eye exam. They started talking about college and how she liked math and science.

Her eye doctor said, "I think you would make a great optometrist. You have the personality for it and it deals with math and science. You should really look into it."

Kennedy didn’t pay much attention to her optometrist’s advice until her junior year when she still had no idea what she wanted to do as a career. She decided to shadow a local optometrist in her college town for a day and that is when she knew optometry was for her.

“There were teaching tubes on all the slit lamps and I was amazed the first time I ever saw the retina,” Kennedy said.

She began researching schools and adding pre-requisites for optometry to her schedule. Kennedy was impressed by the UAB School of Optometry’s reputation and booked a school tour. She decided that it would be the place she would study optometry, which later lead to completing a UABSO residency, and ultimately to her becoming a traveling OD.

“We have many great optometrists at UABSO which is one of the reasons I chose to do my residency there,” Kennedy said. “I wanted to learn from some of the best and brightest in the industry in a clinical setting. For that I am grateful.”

Finding inspiration at UABSO

After transferring to UAB to finish the required optometry school prerequisites, Kennedy came to UABSO to ask for a work-study position. The first person she met was the Clinic Coordinator, Ms. Scelelar “BB” Jefferson. Kennedy worked as Ms. BB’s assistant and they immediately hit it off. She allowed her to go to Community Eye Care (CEC) clinics and it made her even more excited about becoming an optometrist. “She’s been a friend, mentor, second mother, and guardian angel ever since,” Kennedy said.

Her most memorable UABSO moments were spent in CEC clinics, Black Belt clinics, Rural Area Medical (RAM) trips, and the Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH) trip to Nicaragua. Kennedy had a passion for volunteering and seeing all of her patients’ appreciation really put her on an ideal career path.

During residency she started her job search on the AOA website with an open mind to go anywhere. A couple jobs out of the county struck her interest, but were also intimidating. After contemplating it for a few days and discussing it with her residency team, Caroline Pate, OD, director of residency programs, encouraged her to apply for “interview practice” even if she didn’t want to move far away.

Life as a traveling optometrist

Kennedy was ready for an adventure and accepted a job in Guam with an all-expense paid trip. She fell in love with working at a medical clinic on an island, while also being able to explore other neighboring countries. This was the first trip of many that would add an extra thrill to Kennedy’s job. She traveled to Singapore, Bangkok, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Paris, Venice, and Rome during her time living in Guam.

After two and a half years’ worth of adventures in Guam, Kennedy moved back to the States with the desire to combine traveling and optometry. She decided to start her own business, Eye Travel, LLC, as a traveling optometrist. She is currently licensed in Guam, Georgia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, and she is working on adding more states.

She says every clinic is a new experience and also a learning experience that could potentially help in her own clinic, if she decides to make that transition. She also loves that she can fill a void in clinics and build relationships with optometrists in different states. Kennedy loves being her own boss, making her schedule, setting her hours, and negotiating her salary.

The biggest challenge that comes with being a traveling optometrist is, by far, learning the different ERH systems. It is such a relief when working at a clinic with paper charts.

According to Kennedy in order to excel as a traveling optometrist you must have a "mobile" lifestyle, an open mind, critical thinking skills, and the ability to troubleshoot quickly and smoothly (sometimes while maintaining a poker face in front of patients).

“It definitely helps if you are adventurous and comfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone into the unknown on a regular basis,” Kennedy said.