Social life, academic success, and enough sleep: pick 2! As future optometrists, we’ve all enjoyed a laugh at this funny-but-true dilemma every busy student faces. PUCO Optometry 3rd-year student Sheila Morrison understands this better than most! A native of Red Deer, Alberta, Sheila has found a way to integrate her passion for research and her fascination with eye care into her everyday life at Pacific – and all while finding the time to enjoy all that the Pacific Northwest region has to offer. This impressive juggling act has earned her a nomination from a classmate as this month’s “Student in Focus,” and after chatting with her a bit about her average day at Pacific, I couldn’t agree more!
OS: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you interested in a career as an optometrist? How did you wind up at Pacific?
Sheila: I am a 3rd year student, and very proud to be part of the Pacific Optometry family. I have always had an interest in health professions, and in particular drawn to the eye. Born and raised in Red Deer AB, Canada, I worked full time as an Optometric Assistant/Optician for four years between high school and college. The Optometrists I worked for were excellent and I was motivated by their warmth and passion for the profession. In 2011, I graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology. My primary undergraduate extra-curricular activities were playing varsity soccer for the University of Calgary, and working in several research labs. I would say that I ended up at Pacific based on 3 things:
- Excellent academic standards
- Amazing faculty/alumni
- Located in the great Northwest!
OS: One of your classmates nominated you for “Student in Focus” because of your “inspiring ability to juggle 100 different things and still find time to be a great friend and colleague.” What a glowing review! Not to mention, you were voted PUCO/AOSA Student of the Year last year. Can you tell us a little bit about all of these time-consuming activities?
Sheila: I appreciate the nomination for Student in Focus very much. There are so many of my classmates who do incredible things at Pacific, and within the community. I do like to keep busy! Since first year at PUCO I have worked as a research assistant in a few different labs. At present I have settled into a nice fit with the contact lens research group, working on a Masters in Vision Science degree and collaborating on other projects. I am also a student ambassador and serve to provide support and resources to prospective optometry students. I enjoy is being a teaching assistant for first and second year procedures classes. Clinic and clinical procedures are my favorite parts of optometry school and I love passing on knowledge to help other students be more successful. I like attending conferences and recently completed my AOA student fellowship. In the past I have been involved with various clubs, such as Sports Vision club and our Student Optometric Association. I am definitely an advocate for student involvement in school programs, continuing education opportunities, and student networking events.
OS: Sounds like a busy schedule! What tips would you give an incoming first-year student about how to manage their time while still maintaining balance?
Sheila: I am an extrovert with a tendency to extend myself. To incoming first years, I would say it would be best to take extra-curricular activities slow at first until you have a chance to adjust to optometry school. Make time for yourself every week to exercise or do other activities you like for balance. Eating and sleeping properly is also important. Make schedules ahead of time and try your best to stick to them.
OS: Great advice! How is your Master’s in Vision Science going? Can you tell us a bit about your research?
Sheila: My Master’s in Vision Science has been going amazing. There is great leadership within the program from our faculty. The master’s student group meets for weekly seminars to discuss peer-reviewed articles on advanced topics in Vision Science. It is a pleasure to get to know the research community at Pacific and I have found that the faculty here has extensive expertise in different research areas. There are many different projects that we have going on at any given time in the contact lens group, and my interest has been focused primarily on studying clinical use of scleral contact lenses. Specifically, I am looking to characterize tear exchange beneath scleral lenses and also to assess the efficacy of the current solution modality being used universally with the lenses. My motivation for doing this research is to contribute to developing better clinical protocols, lens designs, and solutions to be used for patients who wear scleral lenses.
OS: That is so cool! It sounds like your research will help influence the lives of patients in a big way. Where do you see yourself going professionally after graduation? Do you plan to continue your involvement with research once you finish optometry school?
Sheila: I absolutely plan to continue involvement with research following the completion of my optometry degree. Research is one of my passions and I believe that the progression of our profession through evidence-based science is a very important part of providing the highest standard of care for our patients.
My professional goals are as follows
- Work in private practice optometry with 3-4 partners
- Continue my academic career through clinical research and/or a PhD program
- Support Canadian Vision Care through international outreach programs and missions
- To be a positive, active, and visible member of the community in which I practice
OS: Sounds like a great set of goals! With your plate being so full, I’m sure you have found some ways to unwind on your off-time. What are some of your favorite things about living in the Pacific Northwest? Any hidden gems you’d recommend to our readers if they find themselves in the Portland area?
Sheila: There are so many hidden gems in the Pacific NW – far too many to share in this interview! So, I will hit my top 3 for you:
- The wineries in the area are breathtaking and plentiful. Regardless of whether you are a wine connoisseur or not, visiting them is an excuse to explore the beautiful countryside of Oregon.
- The West Coast is on the top of my list, pretty much any time of the year. In the summer/warmer months there are river spots located on the drive to the coast for picnics, cliff jumping, and swimming. And the coast is pretty much self-explanatory. Surfing, walking, relaxing; I love it so much!
- Portland is full of food and music culture. I would definitely recommend visiting one of the food truck blocks, and checking out live music at Mississippi Studios or the Doug Fir Lounge.
OS: Time to nerd out! What is your favorite structure of the eye or visual system?
Sheila: My favorite part of the eye is the anterior segment. The iris is beautiful and each person has their own individual color and design. The cornea and limbus are near and dear to my heart because of the relationship these structures have with contact lenses.
OS: With NBEO Part 1, 4th year externships, and a degree of optometry on the not-too-distant horizon, there is no doubt that Sheila will be a great addition to the optometric community wherever she decides to practice. Have any questions or comments for Sheila or the OS team? Leave them in the comments! It might take Sheila a few days to respond though – she’s just getting settled back in after attending Global Specialty Lens Symposium in Las Vegas!