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John Laurent, OD, MS, PhD, traveled a storied path to becoming an associate professor at the UAB School of Optometry. Prior to joining the faculty, he spent 30 years on active duty in the US Army and US Navy. During that time, he gained the knowledge and experience needed to become an educator. After 10 years at the school, Laurent retired effective March 1.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and, as a young adult, I was thinking of teaching high school English,” Laurent said. “Thankfully, an army buddy introduced me to optometry and I will be forever grateful to him.”

When his enlistment was up in the US Army, Laurent started working on his pre-optometry studies.

“I decided that I would continue to work towards the goal of going to optometry school unless something better came along,” he said. “Nothing better ever came along. I got my first eye exam when I was a first year optometry student.”

Laurent attended optometry school at The Ohio State University (OSU), earning OD and MS degrees. He pursued the MS degree to provide a future option to work in research and/or academia. Years later, the MS degree played a major role in Laurent being admitted to the UAB School of Optometry’s Vision Science Graduate Program and earning a PhD.

While he was in optometry school at OSU, Laurent was selected for the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program and was stationed at the US Army Hospital, Würzburg, Germany after graduation. He left the Army after paying back his scholarship commitment and went into private practice in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. However, he missed the military lifestyle and left private practice to join the US Navy.

After several clinical assignments, Laurent was selected for the US Navy outservice graduate program which brought him to UAB and allowed him to earn his PhD in 1996. Thereafter, he worked on two research assignments while on active duty.

“Aside from graduate degrees, my real introduction into the world of research, including the economics of it, was during four years that I spent at the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Pensacola, Florida,” he said. “I worked on night vision, vestibular-visual interaction, and spatial disorientation in aviators. From there I went to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and worked on clinical studies in a refractive surgery center.”

He worked on research in the US Navy for eight years and towards the end of that role, Laurent visited the School of Optometry and interviewed with then-dean John Amos, OD, FAAO, professor emeritus, about the possibility of becoming a faculty member. There were no openings at the time, however, Amos recommended a residency to make Laurent an attractive faculty candidate.

Four years later, Laurent left the US Navy and was selected to be the Cornea and Contact Lens resident at UABSO in 2007. He became a faculty member at the school in 2011.

As an educator, Laurent taught specialty contact lens fitting in the classroom and clinic, where he also treated patients. Classes taught include basic science in clinical optometry, contact lenses and advances in contact lens, and the business aspects of optometry.

Laurent has been a longstanding member of the American Optometric Association, a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, a Fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society, and a member of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists.

In retirement, his only definite plan is to return to UAB Eye Care each Friday to treat scleral lens patients.

“I feel a little guilty for retiring after the minimum 10 years,” Laurent said. “However, I am 72 and I did finish a 30-year military career, so my guilty feelings are fading a bit. Also, I’m really enjoying my freedom.”