After she completed her undergraduate studies at Michigan State University, Nicole Jensen, OD, says that she was faced with a tough decision of where her career would lead her. She submitted applications to a medical school in the United Kingdom and the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO). As a figure skater who worked closely with her sports medicine doctor, she was keenly interested in that specialty. Yet her interest in the eyes was sparked after her own treatment for amblyopia as a preschooler. “I almost needed surgery, but we were able to fix it with vision therapy and patching for nearly 5 years.”
Ultimately, Dr. Jensen found that optometry offered many avenues of opportunity and would be the right fit. At ICO, it became even clearer how she could merge her love of the medical side as she pursued optometry through areas such as disease treatment and management. She also adopted a passion for the professional networking and legislative side of the profession, crediting her ICO mentor Vince Brandys, OD, for introducing her to many industry leaders. “I went to the big local and state meetings as a student just to meet people, and I found that I wanted to become more and more involved,” she recalls. Shortly after she graduated, she took on the role of editor for the Illinois Optometric Association’s quarterly publication, IOA Journal, a position that keeps her connected with many inspiring ODs in her state. In 2016, the IOA honored her as its Young Optometrist of the Year. “That recognition has inspired me to become more involved than I am now.”
Networking took on an even greater meaning in her career when Dr. Jensen became associate director of professional relations for Bard Optical in 2016. She joined Bard Optical, which has more than 20 office locations in Central Illinois, right after her ICO graduation in 2011. She sees patients in its Peoria offices. The company was a good match due to its shared vision to go beyond refractions to care for patients’ medical ocular needs and the flexibility it gives for family with the chance to have time off a few Saturdays per month.
Dr. Jensen says that she enjoys working with other doctors in the company and meeting new doctors and potential employees in her leadership role. She’s been focused on increasing the camaraderie between Bard Optical doctors through dinners and meetings with an emphasis on personal connections as the company grows. Through job fairs and networking events at the schools and colleges of optometry, “we’re always looking to find doctors who go to school for more than a degree in vision, contact lenses and eyeglasses,” she says.
She also encourages new grads to get involved with local, state and national associations, as she has found this to be invaluable and well worth the investment of membership fees. “The future of the profession is unclear as online ordering and kiosks doing eye exams pop up to lure patients away from our practices,” she says. “I don’t know where we would be without these associations advocating for us as we push forward to be more medically involved.”
Dr. Nicole Jensen and her husband, Steven Jensen, OD, live in Washington, Illinois, and are expecting their first child this March.