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Passion, commitment, altruism mark careers of these health care heroes


Most people have at one point encountered a quiet hero — that person who on a daily basis gives back to her community with no expectation of special recognition. The person for whom the act of giving is reward enough.

Such heroes abound in the health care field, steadfastly practicing high-quality care and feeling honored to be given the opportunity to do so. Ketchum University is fortunate to have many of these quiet health care heroes in its fold. They are the backbone of the University and give students the seminal opportunity to tap into their passionate commitment and unique skill set.

Here’s a look at four such health care heroes who bring their quiet magic to the campus.

Susan Cotter, OD, MS, FAAO

At a young age, Dr. Susan Cotter became fascinated with the link between vision and learning. That fascination was a key driver in her decision to become an optometrist and ultimately resulted in her becoming an internationally renowned researcher in the pediatric eye care and binocular vision field.

Dr. Cotter, who was diagnosed with near-sightedness at a young age, was fitted with contact lenses early on. Her improved vision got her thinking.

“Wow, what if I didn’t have these?” she says. “What would happen if you didn’t have good vision and good visual function?”

That question and the fact that her uncle was an optometrist influenced Dr. Cotter to pursue optometry as a career. She received her doctor of optometry degree from the Illinois College of Optometry, did a residency in children’s vision at SCCO, and later completed a master’s degree in clinical and biomedical investigations at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

These days, in addition to her teaching, Dr. Cotter spends approximately 50 percent of her time involved in clinical research. She is the principal investigator for the Ketchum Health clinical site as well as the vice chair for the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial — Attention & Reading (CITT-ART) study. Funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute, the study is a multicenter randomized clinical trial designed to determine if vision therapy treatment for children with symptomatic convergence insufficiency results in improvements in reading comprehension.

The CITT-ART is the result of work that Dr. Cotter and her colleagues have been conducting since 1994. “This is a collaborative effort. Not only do we have nine clinical sites, but we have a totally awesome Ketchum Health study team consisting of Drs. Barnhardt, Borsting, Chen, Chu, Huang and Retnasothie, as well as study coordinators Sue Parker and Judith Wu.”

Dr. Cotter and a team of researchers also have submitted a grant to study convergence insufficiency secondary to concussion. If awarded, Ketchum Health would be one of five research sites for the five-year grant.

“Patients with concussion — both adults and children — often have severe visual symptoms,” says Cotter.

In fact, a recent study of adolescents with post-concussion syndrome reported that 49 percent of them had convergence insufficiency. Dr. Cotter says that she and other researchers want to learn whether the standard vision therapy treatment protocol that is used for children with convergence insufficiency without concussion is effective for those with concussion.

A particular point of pride for Dr. Cotter is her years of work with the Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group, or PEDIG, of which she is currently on the executive committee and is the incoming co-chair. The group is a clinical research network of pediatric eye care providers who perform clinical investigations related to pediatric eye conditions.

The research is funded by the National Eye Institute. Dr. Cotter says that the PEDIG network — made up of more than 300 investigators — includes both pediatric optometrists and pediatric ophthalmologists and is a “good example where both groups work together.”

She explains, “I am particularly lucky that we have a great group of PEDIG investigators here at Ketchum Health. It is only because of the dedication and collaborative efforts of Drs. Chen, Chu, Heyman, Han, Huang, Patel and Retnasothie, and coordinators Sue Parker and Judith Wu, that our clinical site is so successful. In fact, last year we received PEDIG’s “top performance” award. The research studies conducted by PEDIG over the years have changed clinical practice paradigms for the management of amblyopia and other pediatric eye conditions.

"For example, what we teach our students in regard to amblyopia treatment now is totally different from what we taught 10 or 15 years ago, and this is primarily because of PEDIG study results,” says Dr. Cotter. “There has been a shift to less intense treatments that has been widely implemented for thousands of children in clinical practices in the U.S. and abroad, decreasing the treatment burden for families and resulting in fewer clinical care visits and lower health care costs,” she adds.

In addition to her research, Dr. Cotter, in her role as professor, teaches courses to third-year students, works with the pediatric optometry residents, and supervises fourth-year students in the Studt Center for Vision Therapy at Ketchum Health. “It’s rewarding to watch our students develop their clinical skills and critical thinking ability,” she says.

“I went into this profession thinking I might be able to help children by providing good vision care,” says Cotter. “If I can teach 100 students per year to go out there and deliver quality eye care to children, then I can have an even bigger impact. It’s sort of like paying it forward. When you have had great SCCO mentors like I had — Drs. Mike Rouse, Betty Caloroso and Lou Hoffman — it makes you want to help to develop the next generation of optometrists.”

Carol Alexander, OD, FAAO

After 20 years of owning and operating her own optometry practice in Sylvania, Ohio, Dr. Carol Alexander’s career headed in an unexpected — yet equally rewarding — direction. Dr. Alexander is the director of professional communications at Johnson & Johnson Vision. In that role she is responsible for assuring eye care professionals understand the benefits of ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses for their patients through development and coordination of the speakers’ bureaus at JJV. She also represents JJV at both state and federal levels in advocating for the contact lens industry on legislative and regulatory issues that affect patient health and safety with contact lenses.

“As I find myself in the halls of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., I think — ‘Who’d have thought?’” says Alexander, who can frequently be seen on the Ketchum campus with her husband, Ketchum University President, Kevin Alexander, OD, PhD.

Dr. Carol Alexander’s path to advocacy work and faculty development for Johnson & Johnson is founded in her deep commitment to her profession. A graduate of The Ohio State University, Dr. Alexander prioritized volunteerism early in her career and ultimately became the first woman to serve as president of the Ohio Optometric Association. Her experience there — working on policy and in various leadership positions — led to an opportunity with Johnson & Johnson Vision.

Her primary responsibility is managing a speaker’s team to conduct promotional programs sharing best practices on behalf of JJV “because optometrists confirm they find the most credible information comes from the experience of other doctors,” she says. She oversees more than 200 promotional programs per year that are facilitated by practicing optometrists.

She is also proud of her role in advocacy as it allows her to continue to champion issues that are important to optometrists and protect patient health. An issue she has been working on at the federal level is the Federal Trade Commission’s 10-year review of the Contact Lens Rule, which includes the guidelines that enforce the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act. On the state level, Alexander has worked on legislative proposals extending or eliminating the one-year contact lens expiration date to potentially allowing patients to receive a contact lens prescription by simply filling out an online questionnaire.

Dr. Alexander’s work on behalf of Johnson & Johnson Vision in these areas has helped raise awareness with her colleagues and through promoting grassroots efforts, played a role in generating thousands of letters to federal and state officials promoting patient safety.

Another space to watch, says Dr. Alexander, is telemedicine, and how that will impact doctors and patients. For instance, new innovation in refractive technology can unwittingly promote vision assessment without health assessment. That’s a change Alexander and others are concerned about because it potentially distances patients from their doctors and could result in patient harm if systemic and ocular conditions are missed.

“To always put patient health first is what Johnson & Johnson is about,” says Dr. Alexander. “We are very much in favor of technological advancement, but we also want to make sure it meets current standards of care.”

Alexander views her advocacy work as a way to strengthen the profession and therefore ensure high quality of care for patients. She also views philanthropy as an important part of giving back to the profession. She and her husband President Dr. Kevin Alexander attend numerous fundraisers for Ketchum University, and support all three programs: SCCO, The School of PA Studies and College of Pharmacy. She says they are committed to “leading by example.”

“If we envision a future for our profession that is better than what we see today, it is our responsibility to contribute to that future … and we can do that through both advocacy and philanthropy.”

When asked to look back and share one piece of advice on creating a career of purpose, Dr. Alexander says, “give your heart and soul … making sure you are fully present, say yes and give 100 percent and then find the next thing to give your time to.”

“Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” she says.

Sandra Fineman, PA-C

Sandra Fineman, PA-C, director of clinical education at Ketchum’s School of PA Studies, says she can trace her desire to enter the health care field to her stay in the hospital when she was 12 years old after having an appendectomy. She shared a room with a Spanish-speaking new mother. Since Fineman is fluent in Spanish, the mother asked her to translate during a conversation with the attending nurse.

The mother wanted to know when the baby had last eaten because the child was crying and the nurse wanted to know when the mother had last fed the baby. There had been critical miscommunication because of the language barrier that could have carried significant consequences.

The incident left a lasting impression, driving home the importance of culturally competent patient care and effective communication. Fineman started considering a career in health care.

“My mom made it a point to say — ‘With your love of science and bilingual skills, you would be a great asset to patients who need help the most,’” says Fineman. When Fineman first learned of the PA profession and the type of care performed, she found her calling.

Sandra graduated from the Stanford Physician Assistant program after earning her bachelor’s degree in child development from California State University at Fullerton. She has practiced as a PA in family medicine, women’s health and pediatrics in Santa Ana, La Habra and Whitter. She has worked as a clinical site evaluator for Stanford University’s Southern California PA students and has been a clinical preceptor for PA, nursing and medical assistant students. She is also the committee chair for education for the California Academy of PAs.

Sandra Fineman, PA-C, was tapped by Ketchum in 2014 to help develop its physician assistant program.

“I was working as a PA and was perfectly happy, but then one day I brought one of my sons to Ketchum for vision care and saw that the University was developing a PA program,” says Fineman.

She contacted the school and said she had an interest in being a part of the developing program. She started off volunteering doing student interviews for the inaugural class, then was offered a position teaching clinical skills. Now she is director of clinical education. She has also earned her national certification for bilingual health care providers and is passionate about sharing the Spanish language with Ketchum University students.

PA Fineman views purposeful placement of students with preceptors in the field as one of the core missions of her job. She says she tries to spend time with students before placing them with preceptors so she can make a strong match.

“We get to know the students personally and what kind of personalities they have,” says PA Fineman.

“Are they timid or are they trail blazers? Which preceptor and rotation site is the best fit?”

Fineman says she is able to learn those specific details about students because Ketchum is a smaller school, enrollment speaking, allowing for more personal contact.

“We really want to get to know our preceptors and get to know our students,” she says. “It makes us unique.”

Fineman says the proliferation of PA schools will make it more difficult to find quality preceptors, but she remains undaunted, given the success of her approach.

“The quality that we look for in our preceptors is that they all have a commitment to giving back. They have a sense of commitment to the students,” she says. “We don’t just want a warm body … here’s a hole, let’s fill it.”

PA Fineman says that the core value in the School of PA Studies at Marshall B. Ketchum University is highquality standards of patient care.

“Everything that the student does here starts with patient care,” says Fineman. “They are going to be practitioners in our community and we really want them to be the best at what they do.”

Fineman says the school seeks to develop compassionate, competent PAs. “Underserved communities are especially in need of talented PAs,” she says. And as the field blossoms and more schools come online, she hopes they too continue to adhere to strict standards.

“I hope that all of the other schools have that high bar, because we don’t want the profession to suffer if they don’t,” she says. And when she considers what makes Ketchum stand above the other schools, the notion of service comes to mind.

“I think that what makes us special — it’s not me or the facilities — it’s about serving our community for the greater good,” says Sandra Fineman, PA-C.

Eva Y. Wong, PharmD

Dr. Eva Wong was drawn to the health care field in her home state of Hawaii. During her hospital volunteer experience, she encountered firsthand many people who struggled with chronic illnesses, especially diabetes.

“I’ve been interested in chronic diseases since early on,” says Dr. Wong, who volunteered at an ambulatory care clinic in Hawaii. “It was inspiring and eyeopening to see that a pharmacist could do more than dispensing and use their pharmacotherapy knowledge to work closely with patients to help them achieve their blood glucose and blood pressure goals.”

Dr. Wong pursued her interest in disease management at the University of the Pacific where she earned her doctorate of pharmacy. Diabetes is one of the chronic diseases upon which Dr. Wong hopes to have an impact.

“Diabetes is a chronic disease that pharmacists can play a big role in,” she says. “We can help patients manage the disease early on.”

Dr. Wong is board certified in pharmacotherapy, ambulatory care and diabetes education. She has worked at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Medical Center as an ambulatory care clinical pharmacist and at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Transitions of Care clinical pharmacy.

Dr. Wong’s clinical practice also highlights another need in the health care community — that of working in interprofessional teams. Since illnesses — especially chronic ones — often cascade into an array of symptoms that creates a need for treatment and monitoring by a group of health care professionals.

In her work as clinical faculty at the College of Pharmacy at Ketchum, Wong has been instrumental in building the school’s interprofessional coursework to prepare students for a collaborative practice workforce. The IPE courses allow pharmacy students to work alongside optometry and PA students in treating patients. The students learn the importance of holistic health care and a team approach. This approach is especially helpful with patients who are non-compliant with their medications.

“They can see how the different health care professionals work with each other,” says Wong. “The students are engaged and enjoy learning from and amongst each other.” Dr. Wong says it has been particularly rewarding to come onboard at the inception of the program at Ketchum University. She believes it allows her to be more creative in her curriculum development. “Being able to start from the very beginning has been incredibly rewarding,” says Wong. “You are able to have a lot of input to bring your ideas to fruition.”

Dr. Wong believes her interest in interprofessional care was furthered during her time working at the VA. She says the VA was very forward thinking and the institution gave clinical pharmacists the ability to provide comprehensive patient-centered care in pharmacist-managed clinics with prescribing authority in collaboration with providers. At Scripps, she worked alongside health care providers in interprofessional teams, working together on patient care to prevent hospital readmissions due to new or uncontrolled chronic disease conditions. She says her work at the VA and Scripps were invaluable and greatly enhanced the skill set she brings to Ketchum.

“Some folks go into academia straight out of residency,” she says. “I wanted to develop a strong clinical foundation before going into academia.”

Dr. Wong continues to keep abreast of advancements in the pharmacy field by reading the latest research.

“I like to keep up to date,” she says. “Academia allows us to serve our pharmacy profession, mentor our future pharmacist practitioners and remain lifelong learners at the same time.”

And one of the unique aspects of Ketchum’s College of Pharmacy is its modern, integrated curriculum and relatively small size.

“With the small class sizes, we are able to provide more personalized education and active learning,” says Dr. Wong. “It is rewarding to know each and every one of our amazing students, learn about their individual interests and career goals, and encourage them to be actively involved in our pharmacy community.”