Home 2024 Graduation Recent Top Graduates: Where Are They Now?

Recent Top Graduates: Where Are They Now?

Women In Optometry caught up with a few of the recent top graduates featured in previous stories about the top grads of optometry schools. Scroll through and find out where they are now on their journey.Celebrating the class of 2024

 CLASS OF 2022: 2 YEARS LATER

Stephanie Schwartz, OD, SUNY College of Optometry

portrait of Dr. Stephanie Schwartz- recent top graduate from 2022
Dr. Schwartz

Stephanie Schwartz, OD, decided she wanted to be an optometrist at the age 15 when she was growing up in Woodbury, New York. Following her graduation as the top female student in the class, she joined a primary care practice in Westchester County, and she remains employed at the practice today. She’s thankful for her thorough SUNY education, which has helped her build her confidence and trust to provide exceptional eye care to patients. She’s staying up to date on all new medications and procedures, and she’s making connections with local ophthalmologists for co-management when needed.

Along the way, Dr. Schwartz says she’s learned the true value of a strong staff. “You’re only as good as your team,” she says. “Collaborative care within an office is imperative to providing the best patient care. My team is the reason why I can consistently provide high quality care for my patients.”

Dr. Schwartz's graduation photo
Dr. Schwartz as a recent top graduate in 2022

Dr. Schwartz says she enjoys the everyday opportunities to listen to and be there for her patients. Each patient in the chair could be a case that’s far from routine. For example, she might find a patient had a sensitivity to their multi-purpose contact lens solution that they had been using for more than four years. Or she might need to secure same-day retina referrals after high-risk symptomatic retinal breaks. “I am certain that the decision I made to become an optometrist was more than correct.”

 

Dr. Qiu now, a recent top graduate from optometry top grads featured in 2022
Dr. Qiu

Sharon Qiu, OD, MS, New England College of Optometry

Sharon Qiu, OD, MS, didn’t plan to go back to school to earn her PhD when she graduated at the top of her class from New England College of Optometry in 2022. Yet during her residency in Cornea and Contact Lens at the University of Waterloo, the opportunity presented itself, and Dr. Qiu decided to pursue it. She enrolled in the Vision Science PhD program after completing her residency in August 2023 with an anticipated graduation in Summer 2027.

VIEW THE TOP GRADS IN ALL THE REGIONS HERE

Dr. qui's graduation photo from 2022
Dr. Qiu as a recent top graduate in 2022

Dr. Qiu, who grew up in Hangzhou, China, and Ottawa, Ontario, is also supervising fourth-year optometry students in the Cornea and Contact Lens Clinic on a part-time basis at the University of Waterloo. She plans to continue working in academia after she is finished with her next degree, impacting many students along the way and their future patients. She recalls a particularly meaningful patient interaction after fitting a patient with severe exposure keratopathy into scleral lenses as a last resort before corneal transplant. “With scleral lenses, he was able to meet Ontario driving requirements and return to work again,” Dr. Qiu says. “He cried in my chair at the first dispensing appointment and told me that coming to our clinic is the best thing that has happened to him in a very long time.”

She says that she is grateful to her family and friends for their support as she pursues her dream of becoming an OD/PhD. “It’s taking a road less traveled,” she says, “but the learning is invaluable, and the connections that you make can open doors for you in the future.”

CLASS OF 2020: 4 YEARS LATER

Kelly Deering, OD, FAAO, University of Missouri-St Louis College of Optometry

Dr. Deering in orange turtleneck outside. She's a recent top grad
Dr. Deering

Kelly Deering, OD, FAAO, got her first pair of eyeglasses in first grade and has had an interest in eye care ever since. Dr. Deering gained attention as a top grad and has continued to expand her portfolio.

Dr. Deering spent her first summer before starting optometry school at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, studying glaucoma in mice. She spent her second summer working at Washington University Medical School studying a mouse model of Leber’s congenital amaurosis. During her time at UMSL, she won the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship, the UMSL College of Optometry & Valley Contax Clinical Excellence in Contact Lens Patient Care Award and a Silver Medal Academic Award.

JUMPING INTO ADVOCACY

The Buckner, Missouri, native now works as a full-time associate and partial owner at Premier Eyecare Associates (PEA) in Chillicothe, Missouri. She is the local society president of the Northwest region of the Missouri Optometric Association (MOA) and became a trustee on the MOA board of directors in 2021. She championed the MOA rebrand and is active on the MOA Scope Committee, a group dedicated to modernizing optometry in Missouri. She’s provided eye care to rural parts of Kenya and Haiti. Dr. Deering is the Young OD of the Year by the American Optometric Association for 2024.

Dr. Deering's photo from her 2020 graduation
Dr. Deering as a recent top graduate in 2020

She’s also involved in her community outside of work. Dr. Deering serves as Rotary Assistant District 6040 Governor for Area 6 and is the Interact Chair of the Rotary Club of Chillicothe. She also sits on the boards of the Grand River Area Family YMCA and the Power Up North Missouri Center for Youth and Families.

In her free time, Dr. Deering enjoys reading, exercising, baking, hiking, spending time with friends and family, playing tennis with her husband and volunteering in the community.

 

CLASS OF 2019: 5 YEARS LATER

Andreas Zacharopoulos, OD, FAAO, Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry

Andreas Zacharopoulos portrait against orange background. He's a recent top grad from 2019
Dr. Zacharopoulos

Andreas Zacharopoulos, OD, FAAO, was set on practice ownership when he graduated as the class of 2019 valedictorian from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry and completed an ocular disease residency at the Orlando VA. He joined a solo OD private practice with the plan to buy-in, but after 2.5 years, he decided to switch gears to work in a OD/MD practice instead. He currently works four days a week at St. Luke’s Cataract and Laser Institute, and he says this position has been a great match for the past 1.5 years.

Dr. Zacharopoulos also works for KMK Educational Services on the side, which he says has been integral in his professional career. For KMK, he’s taught 12-hour boards reviews for optometry schools about 5-6 weekends a year since he graduated. He also has offered private coaching and helped more than 15 students pass NBEO Part 1 after they had previously failed. In September 2023, he launched a billing and coding video course for KMK, which includes an e-book that he co-authored. That led to an opportunity this year to host a two-hour virtual CE on billing and coding with ODs on Finance.

DON’T STRESS

He recalls being stressed about securing a place with the perfect practice by graduation. “I didn’t want to graduate and not have a practice ‘lined up,’ which would mean I would miss out on income needed to pay off my loans,” he says. COVID lockdowns a few months later added to his worries. However, he says, he encourages others not to stress. With a high demand for fill-in work, he’s found that there are so many places to work that you don’t have to rush to commit to a practice that may not be the right one. “You can simply work PRN at surrounding offices and still make money until the right opportunity comes along.”

Dr. Zacharopoulos as a recent top graduate in 2019
Dr. Zacharopoulos as a recent top graduate in 2019

Dr. Zacharopoulos says that with a lot of hard work and extra hours, he was fortunate to pay off more than $180,000 of student loans in less than three years, and he’s found a place to practice that fits just right. “Whether they are significant eye problems that I directly solve on a daily basis, or if they are simply referrals to other providers from problems that I identified, the gratefulness that patients express to me is worth it all.”

 

Are you one of the recent top graduates? Give us an update!

VIEW THE TOP GRADS IN ALL THE REGIONS HERE

 

Featured photo: WO archives

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Scaling Dry Eye Services Into a Standalone Specialty

Janelle Davison, OD, of Smyrna, Georgia, had a dilemma. She had begun offering more dry eye services in her practice, Brilliant Eyes Vision...

Hats Off to Optometry School Leadership

Updated July 2024 Educating future optometrists is a passion shared by these great optometry leaders at the nation's schools and colleges of optometry. While this...

Two New Optometry School Deans Announced

Two optometry schools announced the selection of new deans this month. Sharon A. Bentley, BScOptom, MOptom, PhD, MPH, FAAO, FACO, will become dean of the...

Vitality NutraSmoothie Delivers the Nutrients Healthy Eyes Require

Vitality NutraSmoothie Fruits and vegetables that are naturally colorful not only add flavor and texture to your smoothies, they also deliver nutrients and vitamins that...