Home Newsmakers AOA Educator of the Year: Mentor Guided Her Toward Career in Education

AOA Educator of the Year: Mentor Guided Her Toward Career in Education

American Optometric Association Award-winning Women

caroline pate
Dr. Pate

Newly awarded Optometric Educator of the Year Caroline Beesley Pate, OD, FAAO, found her calling in academia, not long after she matched into a residency program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry to train under her mentor Tammy Than, MS, OD, FAAO, a previous winner of this award. After graduating from Pennsylvania College of Optometry, now at Salus University, Dr. Pate knew she wanted to train under Dr. Than. Early on, Dr. Pate was on the fence, thinking she would return to her home state of Maryland after her residency. But a two-day-a-week academic role soon turned into a full time job—one she has been in since 2005.

“Academia is the right fit for me because of the variety it gives me,” she says, “Every day is different,” with seeing patients, teaching and having an administrative role running the residency program.


“The award was quite a surprise,” Dr. Pate laughs, “It’s an honor, not only to be recognized by Alabama in 2019 for Alabama Optometric Educator of the Year but nationally.” She acknowledges her fellow award winners, saying, “I’m in great company…it’s hard to believe I’m on the same list!”

caroline pate than
Dr. Pate (left) and Dr. Than (right) at the Hamptons Half Marathon in New York.

Dr. Pate experiences the joy felt by many ODs from being able to serve her community. “What we do is not out of obligation, it’s because we care; we are not looking for recognition,” she says. “It’s wonderful when people see that, but it’s not why we do what we do.”


Dr. Pate’s schedule has not slowed down because of COVID-19. “I’m probably working more,” she notes. UAB has long offered some online platforms to complement in-person courses, so that technology has come in handy while trying to maintain her student’s education. “It’s been a way for me to post my lectures and do weekly quizzes; we were already testing electronically.”

But her home life has become a little more frenetic. Like many ODs, Dr. Pate is now also in charge of her children’s schooling, so a typical 9-5 day is not possible. “My life has been rescheduled,” she says. “I prerecord my lectures when my kids go to bed, and use my class time now to meet with students virtually to talk about patients and cases.” Knowing that many of her students may be in similar situations with their families, Dr. Pate wanted to make lectures accessible for students to watch on their own schedules.

Residents have been able to go into the office for emergency medical procedures and patients and have used telemedicine to coordinate and assist in patient care. “The patients send photos and the residents are able to decide if they should go in. The residents, supervisors and I collaborate on all of the cases, which actually have been great scenarios to discuss with the students during our class time,” she says.


The pandemic has accelerated adaption of technology. “It has forced people who weren’t as tech-savvy to become more so, in terms of academia.” She’s been finding ways to make her lectures and content equally meaningful, jump into modern technology and step up everyone’s game in terms of clinic cleanliness. The long-term impact on campuses and professional meetings remains to be seen. “It’s different,” she says, “but we are looking for more opportunity.”

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