Skip to main content

Student stories: Winter 2016


MBKU attracts some of the best optometry and PA students in the nation. We are proud to bring their stories to you here.

Optometry student Erin Tomiyama, SCCO '17, eyes a new, inclusive student association

When the Southern California College of Optometry, well-established in Fullerton, set out to add the School of Physician Assistant Studies and College of Pharmacy, more had to change than the structure of the university. The student body at the new Marshall B. Ketchum University, which used to consist solely of optometry students, now includes PA students, with pharmacy students soon to come. Leading the charge to reorganize the student association to represent all MBKU students, President Erin Tomiyama — herself a third-year optometry student — is looking for ways to make events applicable to everyone. “We want to be welcoming to the new programs at our university and want to show that we’re working toward being interprofessional together,” she says. The MBKU Student Association, as it’s now named, is a combined student body that encompasses each program. Tomiyama says she hadn’t realized how important it would be to communicate with other health care professionals before the PA students showed up during her second year. “Prior to coming to MBKU, I didn’t really know what a PA was, so it’s definitely been one of those eye-opening experiences as far as learning about a new profession,” she says. Tomiyama, who grew up not far from campus, enjoys showing prospective students what MBKU has to offer, with the new Ketchum Health clinic sure to be a point of pride. “It’s great to see that MBKU is trying to address the changing needs of health care. Instead of putting ourselves in a bubble and saying we’ve done optometry for 111 years so that’s all we’re going to focus on, we’re open to change here,” she says. “I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

OD student Phil Seitz, SCCO '16, creates smartphone app to assist eye exams

Canadian Phil Seitz, Class of 2016, says he became interested in optometry after contracting conjunctivitis while on a mission in South Africa. He needed a doctor but couldn’t find one until he ran into a group of traveling optometrists. “They fixed me right up,” says Seitz, who thereafter accompanied the group for a time to serve as their translator in Zulu. Later, his sister’s struggle with diabetic retinopathy also helped seal his interest in the profession. Seitz says friends and colleagues prompted him to investigate the Southern California College of Optometry for his training instead of a Canadian school. “The reputation of the school definitely precedes it,” he says. “Once I got to meet the staff and the faculty I just felt right at home.” Once involved in the optometry program, Seitz — an admitted “technical nerd” — found it would be much easier to study and apply what they were learning if the information were digitized and easily searchable. His study group joined him in developing an app for smart phones that would help optometry students in the exam room. “It’s really helped a lot of people,” says Seitz, who drew on his experience as a developer for Apple to create the clinical guide app that’s now being used by about 350 of his classmates. “The goal is to — with a couple of taps — be able to get the information you need to be able to help the patient,” he explains. Seitz reckons it has taken three years to compile and organize information in various commonly used areas of optometry — primary care, contact lenses, disease, pediatrics and vision therapy — and make it available without infringing on copyright or intellectual property rights. He’s hoping to eventually make the app available to optometry students outside MBKU. “I think technology is driving the world,” Seitz says. “The more ways we can use technology to learn, the better.”

Honor student Emily Stephey, SCCO '17, makes leadership her specialty

Emily Stephey is what you might  call an overachiever, serving on the boards of her local honor society, Beta Sigma Kappa and Private Practice Club, on top of her studies as a third-year optometry student. Then, for work-school-life balance, she meets up with students from both professions currently represented at MBKU for a weekly soccer scrimmage. “It’s kind of fun to get to know different classes and also the other professions we have on campus through playing soccer,” she says. Stephey’s interest in soccer comes naturally, as her father was her coach growing up. Optometry, too, runs in the family, and both parents are in the profession. But Stephey didn’t decide until her junior year as an undergrad, when she worked at the University Eye Center at Fullerton, that she wanted to be an optometrist. “I wanted to go into health care because science and biology were always the most interesting to me when I was in school,” she says. “I considered research for a little while but then decided against it because you don’t have as much human interaction.” Her work with the honor society and Private Practice Club are proving to be great experiences in organization and leadership. In the latter, optometrists in private practice and other industry rep­resentatives are invited in to speak to students about the business aspects of the profession. “It’s really beneficial for any of the members because you get to network with optometrists who are established,” she says. “Private Practice Club, even if you’re a member and not a board member, is a great experience.” The Interprofessional Indoor Soccer Team, while not technically a club, has been another good opportunity for optometry and PA students to network in a more relaxed environment. “It’s nice to just set aside a few hours a week to just relax and play soccer and talk to the PAs and the other optometry classes,“ she says. “It’s good to not think about school all day every day.”

Student advocate Jennifer DeMoss, SPAS '16, shares her love of the PA profession from coast to coast

PAs enjoy a unique role in the medical field. Created in the mid-1960s to help improve and expand health care, the PA profession is gaining recognition and acceptance as a boon to patient care. Yet the existence of these licensed health care professionals, who work as part of a team supporting a supervising physician, is not on everyone’s radar. The Physician Assistant Education Association recently sponsored a Student Health Policy Fellowship in Washington, D.C., to help train PA students as advocates for their profession. One of 14 students from across the country came from Marshall B. Ketchum University. Jennifer DeMoss, a PA student in the Class of 2016, spent four days in the nation’s capital in the fall of 2015 to meet with advocates, congressional staff and repre­sentatives. She returned to MBKU with a plan to inform first-year PA students of ways they can advocate for their new profession. “I’m also going to a local community town hall meeting to educate the town hall board members,” DeMoss says, and she plans to meet with her local congressio­nal representative. What PAs do, DeMoss will tell you, is make sure patients understand their condition and how to manage their health. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “I love educating patients about their illnesses and helping them as much as I can.” In just its second year, the PA program at Ketchum Uni­versity is growing strong. And the addition of a pharmacy program and the opening of the new Ketchum Health clinic in the spring is fueling further enthusiasm for MBKU. “We have a lot more people interested in our program compared to when I first started,” says DeMoss. “We’re growing like wildfire.”

Compassionate care for all drives PA student Anthony Okafor, SPAS '16

Anthony Okafor’s desire to provide good patient care is driving his journey from emergency medical technician to paramedic to PA and may soon take him all the way back to Nigeria. As an EMT, he says, “What we’d do is pick up the patients from their home or on the street somewhere and then trans­port them to the hospital. Then I didn’t know what happened post-care.” So Okafor applied to work in the emergency room and began to experience the satisfaction of helping a patient through a crisis. “You can sleep well at night knowing you did what you could,” he says. Yet, the limitations of his role as an ER technician were frustrating. “That’s what led me to be a physician assistant,” he explains, “knowing you can do more as a provider than just to save a life on the street.” By enrolling in the PA program at Ketchum, Okafor is following what has become a family tradition. An older brother is a PA in Dallas, and another brother and a sister are licensed vocational nurses. The desire to provide compassionate care will drive the next phase of Okafor’s medical career, too. After graduating in 2016 and get­ting established in his career in the U.S., he eventually plans to join his brother in opening a clinic in their homeland of Nigeria. “In Nigeria, when you get sick and go to the hospital, you have to have a down payment to be seen,” he explains. “Most people don’t have that money.” Therefore, small conditions like a cough that could be easily treated end up progressing into life-threatening illnesses. Too many die because they cannot afford treatment. Others are misdiagnosed because of a lack of equipment, or sadly, for profit to keep them coming back. Okafor’s vision of a one-stop community hospital would provide medical diagnosis and treatment for those who need it, whether they have the means to pay or not. Studying in the interprofessional environment at MBKU has opened his eyes, so to speak, about the optometry profession, Okafor says. “I can say I’m glad I went to this school because there are a lot of things that I’m learning and seeing that I didn’t expect to learn in a regular PA school.”

Want to nominate a student for a student story? Submit suggestions using our Contact Form, or hit us up on one of our social media channels.