Many of our faculty are SCCO Alums, including Assistant Professor, Dr. Dawn Lam. We sat down with her last week and talked about her path to becoming an optometrist. Since all faculty here at SCCO participate in applicant interviews, we talked about how she goes about the process and what she looks for in an interviewing applicant.
Dr. Lam took a unique path towards her O.D. degree by starting with earning her Bachelor of Science in Cell Biology and Genetics and a Master of Science in Visual Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. She said in high school her aptitude test results told her she should be an optometrist or architect but it took dabbling in dentistry, medicine and joining the Pre-Optometry club at UBC for her to realize that optometry is what she wanted to pursue. Reflecting on her experiences in the Pre-Optometry club, she said, “I interacted with a lot of optometrists through the club and noticed they all loved their job
and decided that’s the path I’m taking.”
Frequently, applicants apply to more than one school which often lands them in a predicament when trying to decide which school to attend. When asked about how she ended up at SCCO, Dr. Lam weighed her East Coast versus West Coast options and explained, “I looked at the U.S. schools very seriously because of the competitiveness. Ultimately, I knew if I went to school on the West Coast, I could network better.” Dr. Lam continued her education by completing a Cornea and Contact Lens Residency at the University of Houston. Upon completion, she came back to SCCO to be a full-time faculty member.
When asked her favorite part of being a faculty member at SCCO, she said, “how close-knit the faculty is. The culture is very welcoming to new faculty. It’s a smaller community and the faculty are always concerned when students are struggling so collaboratively figure out a way to help them succeed.” Dr. Lam enjoys how close the students are as well.
As one of our interviewers for the optometry program, Dr. Lam interacts with many of our applicants and finds that those who worked outside of optometry in a public service position are much more likely to understand how to interact with patients. For example, “You don’t know who’s going to sit down in that chair. You don’t know if they’re going to be happy or if you need to turn their day around.” She hopes that by having the experience of public service, applicants will understand what they’re getting into as an optometrist. Essentially, she notes, “You don’t have to be the smartest person to be a good optometrist, but you definitely need good common sense and willingness to be patient with the public.”
Besides the experiences, Dr. Lam also looks for the intangibles in applicants. She says there are “no right or wrong answers, but someone can respond with conviction and demonstrate they are prepared.” It would be the difference between an applicant responding quietly about their lack of variety in shadowing sites and displaying confidence that what they did witness during their time in the office only enhances their enthusiasm about becoming a practitioner.
Her goals for herself and for her students are to move optometry forward by taking what they’ve learned and putting it into practice. That can be done whether it’s through research or growing optometrists by “water[ing] them and give them sunlight.” Did we mention she is an avid gardener and really good at growing tomatoes?