Feature Stories 2015: Samantha Smith: Biology major planning a career in opthalmology

Samantha Smith, 2015
Feature Stories 2015: Samantha Smith: Biology major planning a career in opthalmology
Samantha Smith: Biology major planning a career in opthalmology

For her Endeavor Scholar service project, Samantha Smith spent a week in Ghana working with Unite for Sight.

‌Biology major Samantha Smith ’15 is aiming for a career in ophthalmology. The Barnstable resident is an Endeavor Scholar and minoring in both Women's & Gender Studies and Leadership & Civic Engagement.

For her Endeavor Scholar service project, she spent a week in Ghana working with Unite for Sight, a global health organization, to provide free eye care. Samantha also spent last summer interning at two optometry offices.

This year, Samantha started the Students Helping Students food pantry for UMass Dartmouth students feeling food insecurity.

Following graduation, Samantha will work as an Ophthalmic Technician at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston before applying to medical school.

Tell us about your service project with Unite for Sight.

Unite for Sight provides critical eye care to impoverished people in Ghana, Honduras, and India. I participated in a weeklong overnight outreach in Nzema, Ghana, a rural region seven hours outside the capital city of Accra, to bring comprehensive eye care to patients who are otherwise unable to access or afford care.

I spent each day doing something different, either helping with data collection, testing visual acuity, or distributing eye glasses and medication. Some of the conditions we treated were conjunctivitis, glaucoma, macular degeneration, river blindness, and trachoma. Many patients were referred for sight-restoring cataract surgery and diabetic retinopathy. 

The outreach gave me the rare opportunity to learn about local attitudes toward health care; work to earn the trust and confidence of locals; and demonstrate dedication, commitment to hard work, and empathy toward community members. My eyes were opened to how many people live with preventable blindness, and how much people in the U.S. take quality eye care for granted. My time in Ghana was both challenging and incredibly rewarding, and has inspired my passion for global health.

How did you benefit from your internships in optometry? 

My internships gave me a lot of hands-on experience interacting directly with patients, which I really enjoyed and is what made me realize a career in healthcare, specifically eye care, is something I can see myself doing.

I worked primarily as a technician: taking patient information, performing preliminary and visual field testing, taking retinal photos, training new contact lens wearers, and occasionally transcribing during exams. 

I also had the chance to practice using a biomicroscope slit lamp and to view retinal photos of patients with a wide variety of eye conditions who had undergone surgeries.

Why did you decide to major in biology?

I chose biology because of my desire to help others through a career in healthcare, as well as my love of science. I love my major, not only as a stepping-stone to a future career, but because understanding the science behind life has given me an increased appreciation for the unique world we live in.

It’s a very exciting time to be in the field of biology. Every day, important advances are made in knowledge and technology that can be applied to curing illness, feeding the world, protecting the environment, finding alternative fuel sources, and more.

What are your plans following graduation?

I accepted a position as an Ophthalmic Technician at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston. I plan on working there for two years to get some experience before applying to medical school, with the ultimate goal of becoming an ophthalmologist. I also plan to continue to work with global health organizations to help those who do not have access to healthcare.