Debra Clarke often tells people that teaching and ophthalmology are her two passions. In 2001, she merged them both when she became the program director for San Jacinto College's eye care technology program. Since then, in addition to learning the technical and professional aspects of the field, Clarke teaches about the importance of paying it forward and giving back to the community.
Q: What experience did you have in the eye care industry before becoming the eye care technology program director?
A: I worked in ophthalmology for 20 years as an ophthalmic technician, clinical trial coordinator, ophthalmic biometrist, and surgical scrub.
Q: What eye care degree and certificate options do students have?
A: We offer three degree/certificate pathways for students in eye care technology:
Our program is internationally accredited by the International Council of Accreditation.
Only those students who have been officially admitted to the College, have met the eye care technology admission criteria, and had a formal interview with the program director will be considered for admission to the program.
Once accepted into the program, all new students are required to pass a criminal background check and drug screening test. Students must also provide an immunization record and pass a health physical. In addition, they must provide proof of health insurance and have a valid CPR certification. Once these documents are provided to the department, they will attend a mandatory new student eye care technology program orientation.
Q: The program participates in the annual See To Succeed event. What is this event, how did it start, and how do students participate?
A: See to Succeed is a partnership with the Houston Health Department, University of Houston College of Optometry, Essilor Vision Foundation, and Berkeley Eye Centers. As one of the founding collaborative partners, the College's eye care technology program has participated in this event since 2011, and 2020's event next spring will be our seventh year to serve as the host for the event.
Each year in the Houston metroplex, there are more than 20,000 children in K-12 who are identified by the local independent school districts to have vision issues. The families are made aware of the problems. However, for many reasons these children return the following school year with the issues unresolved. The partners of this initiative knew this was unacceptable in our community.
The annual event recruits an average of 25 doctors to volunteer alongside opticians, health department staff, and San Jacinto College eye care technology students and volunteers to deliver eye exams and tests, fit students for eyeglasses, and make emergency medical referrals. Aside from implementing the skills they are learning in the program, especially the community health learning objectives, I always want them to understand that individually this issue seems insurmountable, yet together we can do so much to help others in need.
Q: How have you seen the eye care industry evolve? Where do you see the College's program going in the next 10 years?
A: Our field is one of the fastest growing health care fields. From elective surgeries like LASIK and cataract surgery to medically necessary surgeries for glaucoma and macular degeneration, our industry has made great advancements just in the last five years. The technological advances in our instrumentation and pharmaceuticals are unprecedented. One of the exciting projects that our department is currently developing is continuing education seminars for the International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, which we will facilitate for certified ophthalmic medical personnel. In addition, we hope to offer our eye care technology degree and certificate programs to dual credit students.
Q: What advice do you have for students who want to apply to the program?
A: Do it! You will have a career for life. Eye care is a vastly diverse medical field. There are many subspecialties that you can pursue. There are no prerequisite courses and no waiting list for enrollment in our program. Whether you are an applicant or are thinking about a career in eye care and would like to see our state-of-the-art, 5,000-square-foot eye care teaching center, call 281-478-3612 for an appointment, and we'll be happy to show you around!
For more information on the San Jacinto College eye care technology program, visit sanjac.edu/programs/areas-of-study/health/eye-care-tech/.