Alumni Focus: Brigette Colley, OD (’13)
We all know the difference one person can make in our life and in the life of others. At the UMSL College of Optometry, we are always looking for well-engaged leaders who can make a difference in our family. This begins long before they step foot in Marillac Hall as a first-year student. Students admitted into the program often meet these criteria, and many have progressed into leadership roles within the college, national student organizations, and ultimately in optometric organizations. In over 35 years of teaching at UMSL I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with many students who made a lasting impact during their tenure here: in particular, several within the Class of 2013 . . . most notably Dr. Brigette Colley.
Her interest in optometry began in high school, as she relates: “I had to do a career speech in high school. My high school choir director had retinitis pigmentosa and suggested I interview our local ophthalmologist. After speaking with her, I did a little more research and found that optometry rather than surgery seemed to line up more with my long-term goals of balancing family and career. Later that semester, our Anatomy & Physiology teacher had us dissect a cow eye. It was the coolest thing I’d ever done. I never really waivered after that.”
The College of Optometry has benefitted so much from the close relationship with an exceptional health sciences program-based institution, Truman State University. This has especially been the case in the case in the last eight-to-nine years when – with the exception of UMSL – no institution has had more students attend the College of Optometry than Truman State. For being such a prestigious health sciences university, Truman State did not have a Pre-Optometry Club. As a freshman, Dr. Colley helped to create what has become an outstanding organization. “Part of the reason I chose Truman State was that they specifically offered a pre-optometry track. When I arrived and discussed this with my advisor, there weren’t a lot of resources or connections between optometry schools and Truman. I met my wonderful colleague, Dr. Amber Mayberry, and we decided to form our own organization to help bridge the gap between undergraduate students and colleges of optometry within our region. It was really nice to be able to talk to other students interested specifically in optometry and not just general medicine.”
At UMSL, Dr. Colley was a high-achieving and dedicated student leader. She served as Academic Chair, where her PowerPoints and accompanying notes and resources benefitted the entire class. She was active (and a leader) in many organizations, often working behind the scenes to improve the quality of life of those around her. She was an excellent student ambassador and was one of several class members who had an important role in both UMSL winning the coveted Spirit Award at Optometry’s Meeting, as well as participating in the Rules video. She won numerous awards at graduation and was elected Student Marshal. She also valued her educational experience and her class. “UMSL College of Optometry is an extension of my family. My class was very close. We just meshed well together. Our common goal of graduating and passing boards allowed us to work in a more compassionate rather than competitive environment. Professional school is stressful enough, but I always felt like I had the resources I needed from friends, faculty, and staff to work through the tough moments.”
Dr. Colley feels her experience at UMSL prepared her for private practice: “The clinical experience I had at UMSL and the two practice management weeks were probably the key factors that helped me feel most comfortable entering into practice. The coursework provided the foundational knowledge and tools I needed, but those two experiences in particular helped reinforce the classroom knowledge I gained and made it applicable to the real world. . . I’m glad to be in a place where I feel comfortable in what I am doing, but I learn new ways to better serve my patients clinically and in practice management on a daily basis.”
The place Dr. Colley speaks of is Professional Eyecare Center in Macomb, Illinois, started by UMSL alumnus Dr. Tim Bengston (’86). Dr. Bengston’s daughter Hannah (Bengston) Bear will graduate from the College of Optometry in May 2018. Dr. Colley feels this practice has been perfect for her. “It is a small-town, primary care private practice. We are a more medically-oriented practice that tries to stay current with new technology. The rural setting appeals to me, not only because I am serving in the community I grew up in, but also because I truly get to practice full scope optometry. I provide services from on-site nursing home care to specialty contact lens fitting to pediatrics and a small amount of vision therapy. No two days are ever alike. It keeps it really interesting.”
Private practice is not the only thing that keeps Dr. Colley busy. She is the mother of two daughters: Olivia (4) and Finnley (2) with a third child, a boy, due in December. Her husband, Brandon, is a senior server administrator at Western Illinois University. And she sums it up very well: “Our hands and hearts are very full, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Dr. Heidi Q. T. Pham-Murphy (’00) was featured in the September issue of Women in Optometry.