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OD/MPH student Leanne Leung.

Leanne Leung OD/MPH ’19 Wins National Vision's Optometry Student Grant Program

  • Leanne Leung OD/MPH ’19 recently received exciting news: her entry in the 2018 National Vision Optometry Student Grant Program contest was awarded the grand prize, a $5,000 award.

    Leung’s artful and creative video, which used a scrapbooking narrative to explore her grandmother’s amblyopia, is a testament to the power of vision–and of family.

    First, thank you for talking with us! Let’s discuss the contest you won: what was the prompt or challenge?

    National Vision allowed us to submit either an essay or a video, so I immediately decided to make a stand out video. They told us to watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk, which is called “Start With Why,” which is all about “finding your why”– your motivation, both professionally and in life. Then, we were supposed to tell them our “why,” as applied to optometry. The vice president of National Vision remarked that he really liked the way I linked my own “why” back to the talk.

    Can you walk us through your thought process as you planned your entry?

    I love doing crafts and DIYs, so a video was the natural response. My video is a flat layout of a book on which I draw, craft, and add paper mementos that help tell the story. I wear glasses because my grandmother lost her vision due to amblyopia, a preventable and curable disease. She grew up in extreme poverty, and didn’t get treatment because of lack of access. Later in life she became a big advocate for my healthcare. In the contest prompt, I saw an opportunity to tell her story; it was a story that I had wanted to tell for a very long time. The finished video touched my family deeply. I knew that even if I failed to win, this was a story worth telling.

    Stepping back from the contest for a moment, can you tell us about any role models you have in optometry?

    I didn’t really have any role models in the profession before attending optometry school. Now that I have attended numerous conferences and talks, I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to optometry than just glasses and disease diagnosis. Many MCPHS professors teach and conduct research. Dr. Thomas Freddo, for example, served as dean of the University of Waterloo School of Optometry before retiring and coming here to work as an adjunct professor. He has about a million degrees, and delivers the keynote address at many professional conferences. We get to have him lecture here! It’s surprising, and a little surreal, to realize your professor is famous. He has really helped me branch out and uncover many different paths that I can take with my optometry degree. Our profession exists at a fascinating intersection of research, retail, and medicine.

    What excites you the most about your future career in optometry?

    I chose MCPHS because of the dual Doctor of Optometry / Master of Public Health program. I want to go into private practice, while using my MPH to advocate for my community’s health and for the optometry profession. Dentists have done a terrific job publicizing the important public health aspects of their profession; everyone knows that he or she needs periodic teeth cleanings! Why can’t our profession do the same? It should be standard protocol to have your eyes checked annually.

    If you could clear up one major public misconception about optometry, what would you choose? What do people need to know?

    Many people don’t visit an optometrist because they think, “I don’t need glasses.” But so many systemic diseases can be detected in the eye! Take, for example, colon cancer, which leaves a very distinctive “bear tracks” pattern on the back layer of the eye. Many optometrists have cards displayed on their desks, from patients, thanking them for saving their lives because of early colon cancer detection. I share that fact with everyone, even my Uber drivers, because that kind of early detection is prevention. It literally saves lives! So many people fail to realize that eye exams aren’t just about vision and glasses; they are an important component of overall health. People need to know that.

    Finally, a fun question: what do you plan to do with your prize money?

    Most of it is going straight in the bank, but I did just complete my board licensing exams last week, so we all went out for a fancy dinner as a reward. We ordered every appetizer on the menu.

    The Doctor of Optometry program at MCPHS–Worcester is a four-year, full-time program designed to prepare students with the requisite skills, experience, and confidence to practice and advance as professional optometrists in a wide variety of clinical settings.