SJC instructor offers eye-care students her vision
Debra Clarke has taken her experience as a speech educator and her 30-year career in eye care technology to teach her students the importance of deriving professional gratification from what is given back to the patient.
"Being able to give someone back their independence — there's no better feeling in the world," said Clarke, who is eye care technology program director at San Jacinto College. "I tell this to my students; service to your community automatically comes with working in the medical field."
Clarke's career began at an ophthalmologist's office, where she started in the early 1980s to save money. Her role there changed the focus of her career, putting her on a path toward eye care technology education.
"I remember walking in the first day and thinking I was done with college and ready for work, but then one of the physicians escorted me into a conference room and pulled out a stack of books from his old medical school," she said. "Since then, I've never looked back."
Influencing new generations to serve in the gift of sight was a lesson she learned from her mentor and first ophthalmologist trainer, Dr. R. Larry Brenner. Clarke said Brenner's professionalism with patients and his ready-for-work attitude set the standard for her career. In August 2001, Clarke began teaching at San Jacinto College. Prior to that, she worked at ophthalmology clinics.
Clarke has served as a clinical trial technician for the Food and Drug Administration; has studied under Dr. Theo Seiler, one of the first physicians to use an excimer laser on a human eye; has lectured at the American Academy of Ophthalmology; and has taught for the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology.
"This field is constantly changing and always rewarding," said Clarke, adding that the rewards come after witnessing patients treated and finally able to see. "I'm partial to my geriatric patients. Think about the normal aging process. At some part, you give up some independence. Being able to be a part of identifying someone's vision problem and help them see to drive again, to read a book or read their prescription medication, that lets me know that I’m where I need to be, in the health care industry. It's truly a wonderful feeling."
As projections show a significant future growth in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, work force, Clarke believes in teaching her students that a successful career in the field is best paired with community service.
"Community service is extremely important in the medical field," said Clarke, whose community service projects include volunteering with animal rescue shelters throughout Houston. "Giving back is part of choosing health care as a profession because the relationships you make with the community will support you in your career."
“She is a role model for everyone around her,” said SJC student Liz Morris. “She takes care of her students, while also teaching them to stand on their own in this field, be professional, participate in the community and above all, love what you do.”
Through her role as program director, Clarke schedules regular service opportunities for students through Eye-Cons, the eye care department's student club. Each semester, the program is part of the See to Succeed initiative, during which students visit the Good Neighbor Healthcare Clinic in the Heights and conduct free screenings and exams. Other service projects include visiting long-term care facilities, health fairs, Relay for Life, and the Pasadena Rodeo and Livestock event.
"Nothing stops Debra," said Mary Jane Caddell, administrator of the Eye Clinic of Texas. "She's completely immersed with eye care technology and health care in general. There couldn't be a better role model for our eye care technicians today. Whatever Debra does, she certainly embraces it, lives and breathes it."
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