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Knocking on, opening doors


Dr. Lorraine Voorhees was the only woman in the graduating class of 1971 from the Los Angeles College of Optometry, the previous name of the Southern California College of Optometry.

Influenced by a “wonderful optometrist,” Dr. Voorhees initially pursued an optometry career with the goal of becoming a practitioner, which was rare during a time when women were encouraged to become teachers or nurses if they were interested in science.

n 2016, Dr. Voorhees will open another door in her life — retirement — and celebrate a 43-year career serving and supporting students pursuing careers in optometry.

Knocking on education’s door

After graduating from LACO, Dr. Voorhees moved to New Haven, Connecticut and spent a year participating in a fellowship in Children’s Vision at the Gesell Institute of Child Development. Although she entered optometry school fully intending to practice in a private practice setting, during her time as a student, faculty mentors encouraged her to pursue education and teaching opportunities and she returned to the college in 1972.

“I didn’t think I would go into education,” said Dr. Voorhees. “But as I like to tell students, you never know what door will open for you, and you need to know yourself well enough to know whether you should go through that door.”

Dr. Voorhees found the one-on-one connections with the students as what she enjoyed the most when she was teaching. Dr. Voorhees had a unique opportunity to work in the office of Admissions and Records while the director was on leave, and she found that she enjoyed the work. “I liked getting to know each student when they applied and were accepted,” said Dr. Voorhees. “As a result, I was able to know every student on campus.” After the director returned, Voorhees took a position as director of the optometric technician program, though her heart was still in admissions and records. One year later, the director vacated the position, and the president — who knew Dr. Voorhees was interested in returning to admissions and records — approached her to fill the position.

“No one goes to optometry school expecting to do what I do, but I like the one on one with students and the analysis of data,” said Dr. Voorhees. “Now here I am, 43 years later, and it’s been a good ride.” 

Opening the door to women

Having graduated as the only woman in a class of 52 students in 1971, Dr. Voorhees shared that the evolution of the optometric profession and opportunities for women has changed this dynamic greatly; now the student body at SCCO is 70% women. “The biggest change I have seen in health professions over the past 43 years is the increase in the number of women in the professions and as presidents in organizations.” As a result, she contributed to the research regarding the influence of gender on career decisions and practices among optometry students and among optometric practitioners.

Opening leadership doors

In 2005, Dr. Voorhees became MBKU’s first vice president for student affairs. For the past 11 years, she has been the university’s expert in matters pertaining to admissions, recruitment, student financial aid, student government and organizations, student academic records and student services; she also acted as a student advocate and liaison between the students and the administration.

“For more than 40 years, Lorraine has dedicated herself to the Southern California College of Optometry,” said University President Kevin Alexander, OD, PhD. “Today, SCCO is one of the nation’s leading optometry schools, and MBKU is its home. Under Dr. Voorhees’ leadership, Student Affairs effectively serves optometry students and now, PA and pharmacy students.”

Dr. Voorhees has held numerous volunteer positions in the American Optometric Association, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry and the American Academy of Optometry. She also chaired a national conference on optometric students which was part of the Summit on Optometric Education series. Her areas of research interests are predictors of academic success in the curriculum and on the national board exams and the influence of gender on career decisions and practices among optometry students and among optometric practitioners.

As a result of her leadership accomplishments, in 2015, Vision Monday recognized Dr. Voorhees among the Most Influential Women in Optical. 

Opening the retirement door

For Dr. Voorhees, the time is right to open the door to retirement. “I have been through a lot of changes at MBKU, including the growth to four degree programs. This summer we will get to enroll our pharmacy students and I got to be involved in interviewing the students for the program,” she said.

Dr. Voorhees shared that she enjoyed her roles helping the university to become a well-recognized and respected institution through her leadership, building and admitting a high-quality applicant pool, involvement in national organizations and service to the profession.

Her biggest motivation over the years, though, was always the students. “The students come in with dreams and passions; the students’ passions keep you going in a job like this. You look at them as the future — where our profession is going,” she reflected. Not surprisingly, Dr. Voorhees will miss the students and the people she works with after she retires, noting, “We have a wonderful team in Student Affairs with whom I will miss the day-to-day interactions.”

Sharing her retirement with Drs. Berman and Brookman, she remarked, “I respect both of them and what they contributed to the profession and the university and I’ve enjoyed knowing their families.” She added that the offices of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs shared a wonderful teamwork, and she will miss her regular talks with Dr. Berman.

After knocking on and opening doors for more than 43 years, Dr. Voorhees looks forward to “doing anything I want and not waking up to an alarm clock” and having more time to pursue her hobbies, such as quilting, which she has enjoyed for 40 years, volunteering and traveling, and staying connected to the university as a consultant. “I feel like I can leave the university in a good place.”