Original Source : The Interview Portal
Aparna Raghuram is an Optometrist at The Boston Children’s Hospital. Today we speak to her about her career and how she ended up being an Optometrist.
Hi Aparna, can you tell us about your background?
Sure, Iam a Pediatric Optometrist at The Boston Children’s Hospital. I also hold an Instructor and track towards Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School
I grew up in India and spent most of my childhood in Madras/Chennai. I studied at Hindu Senior Secondary School. I used to love art work as a child and even now. Craft classes indulged me during my teenage years. My parents were both college graduates and dad had a Masters in Geology. My mom should have become a doctor but education policies and reservations hindered her career unfortunately. We are three siblings all girls and I am the middle one. Parents were very supportive of education and never discounted our interest and nurtured us very positively.
Can you tell us about your field of study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Optometrist career path was something I ran into accidentally. I was in a CBSE track during high school. Ended up scoring 100 in Biology. I was in general interested in science. Though I was always in the top 5% of my class all through school , i did not realise my potential until 12th grade. It was too late to pursue medical school but i was looking for areas that were medically related. Optometry was an upcoming field at that time. My dad had seen a flyer in the newspaper and a neighbour gave some more information. I had actually taken up zoology at Stella Maris and though was doing well, it did not instill any interest. So i was glad when the Optometry program opened up. There were only 20 seats for which i had to take an exam and an interview to get the seat. It ended up being what I wanted to do, something in the field of medicine.
I did my Under Graduation in B.S. Optometry from The Elite School of Optometry affiliated to BITS Pilani, Hospital – Sankara Nethralaya. I did my Phd in Physiological Optics from University of Missouri, St Louis in the United States
In order to practice in the United States , i had to get a degree in Optometry, which i did from New England College of Optometry . I also got my residency at New England College of Optometry.
Who were your key influencers in your career?
My family and extended family were very supportive and would have been very encouraging whichever direction I chose. My elder sister was someone I looked up to a lot. She was a valedictorian and ended up going to grad school in the US before me. She was very influential indirectly. I had no one particular individual influence on my career , rather a very nurturing family and husband for pushing to go for my dreams and passion.
What was your career path after graduation?
I came to US to do research. Things were not rosy. Due to many reasons ,out of the 3 colleges I got admission from, I chose a school with a lower ranking because the professor called me and impressed upon me that it was the place to be. Graduate school experience was mixed – good and bad. My PhD advisor was tough – I had lot of self-doubt. Was not sure if I can survive in the area of research – applying for grant and being able to make a career out of it.
So i pursued a clinical route to make myself more marketable. My husband was also a research scientist – and both looking for academic positions in the same place was becoming tough. So I ended up going to school back again to be able to practice as an Optometrist in the US.
I wanted my career to be a combination of being in the clinic and doing clinical research. Hence, I moulded my career in that direction. Being in the right place at the right time, establishing the right contacts while I was doing my residency, all paved the way to where I am now.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenges were many – funds to support the OD program. For nearly 5 years my husband and me lived in different states. So it was hard work emotionally and monetarily, all compensated by good caring family and friends around me.
What do you love about your current career?
I am a Pediatric Optometrist. I see children who have difficulties with their vision. I specialize in the area of concussion and learning difficulties and that’s my area of research focus as well. You need a clinical degree to practice as an Optometrist. Residency helps. In my case, my PhD helps with my research work and also to apply for grants.
What’s a typical day like?
I am in clinic 4 days/week. I see patients at different locations in Boston. My schedule can take anywhere from 12 – 14 patients a day. They can range from failed vision screening at school or other screening, routine eye exam, to exams for children having vision symptoms post concussion, to learning issues, contact lenses, low vision evaluation, functional evaluation of vision for children who have developmental issues.
How is career growth in this field?
Tough progress – being in the Harvard Medical System. Rules are much more stringent. In any other college, I would be an associate professor by now – but here it is harder – but the pathway exists – all depends on your passion and how you want to approach your career.
How are the working hours and weekends?
It is a long day – partly due to commute and partly due to how I work. I am a clinician-doing research – the research part comes from my own interest, so until I am able to get a big funding, clinic time is what pays my salary and I need to do research on my own time.
What is it you love about this job?
Helping children see, and to help with other issues affecting how they process vision is very gratifying. I love the nurturing environment where I work, and collaborating with my colleagues and peers, and with the best in the field, as well as doing research projects with other departments and peers.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Follow your passion. Explore options. Don’t settle and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Life has so much to offer – perseverance takes you far.