If you drew on a map the miles logged by Assistant Clinical Professor Jessica Tu, you’d see a lot of lines crisscrossing North America. Dr. Tu, newest faculty member in the College of Optometry, has taken quite the journey to get here.
At age 14, Jessica Tu went for an eye examination, and was taken by the image presented by her optometrist: a young, stylish woman who loved her work. She filed that idea away, along with her corrected vision, until after her first undergrad year. Jessica attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She knew she wanted to work in the medical field, and she put feelers out to a dentist, MD, and OD. The optometrist called back first, and she found herself not only with a job, but also her first mentor in the field. Dr. Russell Tong, originally from South Africa, hired her and taught her in many aspects of optometry. “He was like a second father to me. It was a small office, with one exam lane. I started as the receptionist, and then he brought me into the exam room.” Jessica worked for Dr. Tong from her 2ndthrough 4thundergraduate years. By the time Jessica entered optometry school, she could do an entire exam. While she was in the exam room with a patient, Dr. Tong was taking on Jessica’s role as the receptionist. “We would swap jobs!” Jessica worked there for a few years after graduation, sharpening her skills, and gathering more from Dr. Tong’s knowledge of specialty contact lenses.
Jessica interviewed at Salus University, but she wasn’t wild about Philadelphia. Dr. Tong suggested looking at IAUPR. “It’s 20 minutes from the beach,” he said. In addition, he knew that Jessica would get a lot of exposure to and practice with ocular disease. “The more you see, the more you’ll learn,” was Dr. Tong’s view. Jessica headed for Puerto Rico, without knowing much Spanish at all. She took Spanish class during her first year, as few of the patients she would encounter spoke English. During 4thyear, IAUPR students spend half of the year in rotations on the island, and the other half in rotations off the island. Jessica was off island first, to South Bend, Indiana. She spent 2.5 months at a fast-paced MD/OD practice that regularly saw 100 patients per day. Her second rotation was at the VA in Gainesville, Florida. Second semester of 4thyear was spent rotating through five clinics in Puerto Rico, gaining experience in ocular disease.
For her residency, Dr. Tu matched to Indiana University as the Cornea and Contact Lenses resident. She loved the school and found that she enjoyed precepting the students. Given her experience as a tutor in high school and college, it was a natural progression. Residents also took call, and since there was no ophthalmology at IU, they dealt with just about every type of eye emergency. “I had to think fast, even when I had just woken up five seconds earlier.” Dr. Tu feels that the residency experience strengthened her ability to connect with students. “I feel like we’re learning together. They ask questions in a way I wouldn’t think about. It’s like being tested every day, only you have no idea what you’ll be tested on. I learned from senior faculty that it’s ok not to know everything.”
As for her journey to UMSL: “My mentor at IU sent me the job posting and said I should apply.” And how has she found UMSL so far? “It’s even better than I expected! The students are most welcoming and made me feel comfortable. There is strong communication, and we take the time to go out and celebrate people’s birthdays!” Dr. Tu has certainly started off with a bang. She wrote a Jeopardy game to review with the students preparing for boards. “An adjunct faculty did one when I was a student, and I thought it was so fun. For me, I learned better when I was having fun.” She reports that the students were receptive and encouraging. “They played through the whole game!” This semester, you can find Dr. Tu in the Comprehensive Case Review and Analysis course with 3rdyears, and at the University Eye Center and the Lindell Eye Center. She presented two posters at the Global Specialty Lens Symposium in January and hopes to contribute in some way to the profession through clinical research.
So it seems that Dr. Tu has put down roots in the Midwest. She’s settling into her St. Charles neighborhood and exploring the Art Museum and other local sites. “I’m so glad I came here!” Welcome to UMSL, Dr. Tu!