When it came time to retire from the U.S. Army, Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Camp, OD, chose to shift her career to work as an optometrist in a Sam’s Club. Dr. Camp retired on Oct. 31, 2018, after more than 20 years in the service.
Her choice in Sam’s Club is a way of giving back, much as her continued stay in the Army was. “I grew up in Oklahoma in a lower
middle-class family. We didn’t have much money, and what we had went for the necessities,” she says. She got into UCLA on a scholarship for performing in and teaching the drum and bugle corps. She also applied for a military scholarship, which covered her costs at Southern California College of Optometry.
Health administration role
She completed her residency at West Point, serving as the optometrist for military academy cadets. Her military career took her all over the world: Korea (pre 9/11); Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas; and the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where she became a residency director in a hospital that saw the return of wounded warriors. Along the way, she earned her master’s in health administration, which led her on a different career path, culminating with being the chief operating officer at an
Army hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.
As she began searching for her next career, she turned down COO roles at other hospitals because she and her family had become rooted in the Columbia area. Her son is entering high school, and making a big move at this point didn’t feel like a good idea, she says. “I was at SECO and I was talking with one of the Walmart/Sam’s Club recruiters,” when she recalled what a boost it was for her Oklahoma community when a Sam’s Club opened. “That was status for us. We loved our Sam’s Club. That segment of the
population that relies on Sam’s Club to help increase their standard of living is very loyal.”
“Stop By Sam’s”
She called her mother, who also lives in Columbia, and was heading to Sam’s Club to shop that day. “I said, Go ask the people at the Optical if they have an optometrist in that warehouse,” she says. When she returned, she went to look at it for herself. It was a new design, “just lovely,” she says.
She opened her practice and called it Vanguard Vision Associates—named as an homage to the Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps that helped her start her education. She began working in the practice one day a week as she was nearing her retirement, and after that, she bumped her time at the Sam’s Club location to two days a week. She’ll add a third or fourth if the patient load demands it. She’ll also invest in computers for the office, but otherwise, it’s well-set.
“I love this location. The optical manager and I felt like a team, right from the start,” she says. “It’s also refreshing to have a slower pace. I managed 300 people over 12 sections in a hospital. I was a residency director at a burn center for optometry. This shift allows me to enjoy a semiretired state without lying awake at night worrying about the patients I saw that day,” she says. In fact, the work she’s doing now is so often joyful: seeing a child get a first pair of eyeglasses or fitting women of a certain age with multifocal contact lenses so that they don’t need to wear reading glasses. “Those women are ecstatic. Their happiness is contagious,” she says. “It’s a happy place.”
But it also plays a vital role in the community’s health. “With the uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act or shifts in managed care plans that might minimize vision coverage, people are going to be looking for affordable eye care,” she says. The need for health care and vision care is going to continue to increase, and Sam’s Club and Walmart are well-positioned to appeal to a large segment of the population that wants convenient access, affordability and a high-quality exam.