The College of Optometry continues to benefit from the work of our graduates. Many UMSL ODs are distinguishing themselves in private practice, serving as leaders in their community, and serving as mentors, inspiring young people to pursue the optometric profession. The personification of this definition is Dr. Heather Weber Webster (’06).
Dr. Webster, a Missouri resident, always desired to be in the medical profession. She was not sure what specific career was her calling until she accepted a position as an optician. “Working at In Vision, the office I later purchased, I was able to work with Dr. Marti Waigandt who acted as a mentor to me. I got to see her working with patients while still being able to spend time with her family as well. It combined everything I wanted out of a profession, so I began pursuing optometry in earnest,” she said.
Once that decision was made she decided to apply only to UMSL. The location was important, as it allowed her to stay close to her parents and her future husband. The small class size was an essential factor as well: “I grew up in a rural town of 2,000 people and attended a school where you knew all of your classmates and your teachers. After going to a large college like MU, I very much wanted to get back to the small, intimate class size. [My career choice] has proven to be a great decision because I made lifelong friends who graduated with me and still consult my professors about difficult patients.”
And, from the very beginning, she has been very active and successful in private practice. Upon graduation, she purchased In Vision Eye Care in Columbia. Three years later she opened a practice in Gladstone, Missouri, which she recently sold. At this time, she still owns the Columbia practice – recently joined by Dr. Kristine (Anderson) Linville (’17), and her husband Dr. Cord Linville (’18) – but has also partnered with an optician in owning an optometry office in her hometown of Kahoka, MO. She has developed a specialty that is very timely and important in her profession: working with patients who have a traumatic brain injury. Dr. Webster said, “As a practicing optometrist, my proudest moments have come in the last five years after I started working with traumatic brain injury patients. I was contacted by a local occupational therapist who had heard that I worked with some patients who needed prism in the past. We discussed things at length and began a symbiotic relationship in which we would both work together to help TBI patients conquer their visual difficulties and try to get them back to a more normal lifestyle. These patients often struggle with photophobia, vergence, and accommodative issues, and visual field loss. Helping them function again is one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. I have had several patients cry in my chair after we were able to get them back to a more normal routine, many of whom have been told by other medical professionals that there was nothing that could be done for them. Sometimes being able to drive once again, get groceries, take care of yourself, work, read, remain in school, or have a doctor listen and understand your problems can change your life. I have worked with patients who have suffered concussions, brain tumors, strokes, etc., some as young as 12 years old. In many ways, it is very correlative to low vision with regards to the impact you can have on their lives. It is time-consuming, difficult optometry but with amazing outcomes.”
She has also been very active and a leader in her profession. She served as both vice-president and president of the Central Missouri Optometric Society and has become a member of the Johnson & Johnson Vision Professional Affairs Consultant Team. This allows her to travel around the country speaking to various groups of staff, optometrists, and optometry students. In her spare time, she obtained her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Missouri and has used this expertise in the past as an instructor in the College of Optometry’s Practice Management course.
However, one of her most significant accomplishments has been the mentoring of young adults, inspiring them to attend UMSL. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have made some wonderful friends and even see some go to (and graduate) from optometry school. Currently, I have one previous employee who is a practicing optometrist, one previous employee who is in her 1st year of optometry school, one current employee who will be starting in the fall, and two more who are looking to go to optometry school after graduating. Of course, I am partial to UMSL, and so far everyone has come to the same conclusions that I did and chose UMSL as their school. Hopefully, that streak continues!”
Dr. Webster resides in her hometown of Kahoka with her husband, Eric, and her two sons Breckin (10), and Rhys (8). And she is greatly appreciative of what her profession has meant to her. “Optometry has given me the flexibility to travel, return to school, spend time with family, and even pursue other business ventures. All of these things keep my life insanely busy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”