Most people may tell you that they have an interesting story or say they do not feel they have one.  For sure, everyone has a story, and sometimes it depends on how that story is told. Dr. Brianne Hobbs, a 2010 graduate of UMSL College of Optometry, felt that her story was absent of inspiration, but one can often overlook what life looks like once they start talking.

She was growing up in West Plains, a small community in central southern Missouri.  In 2010, the population was 11,986, and the home of the West Plains Zizzers.  The history of West Plains dates back to 1832, which you can get to while driving down U.S. Routes 63 and 160.  West Plains is about a three-hour drive to St. Louis, which would eventually become home to Brianne after completing her undergraduate degree, but that is getting ahead of the story.

After high school, Brianne decided to attend Harding University in Arkansas, where she majored in Biology. She had an idea that she wanted to do medicine, but nothing pinned down, mostly since she was not into gross “stuff” or blood.  Her path to optometry began after merely walking through the hallway after her organic chemistry, and she passed a bulletin board that featured optometry as a profession. 

Something clicked.

She decided to look more into the profession by going back to West Plains and talking with Dr. Anne Ream, a 1984 graduate of the College of Optometry.  She shadowed her and found that the interest in optometry was something she could see herself doing.  The role Dr. Ream played was instrumental for Brianne.  Dr. Ream took Brianne under her wing and created an opportunity in her practice.  She was able to observe the way Dr. Ream interacted with patients and how much she truly valued those interactions. This brought Brianne inspiration. 

Throughout her time working with Dr. Ream, she was always showing her new and unusual findings and was always open for questions.  She tolerated Brianne’s small handwriting on the charges and was a teacher who inspired her to love and have a strong passion for the profession. The impact Dr. Ream had on her is immeasurable.  Dr. Ream hired Brianne after she graduated from Harding University in December 2005.  Applications to optometry school landed her at UMSL in August 2006, a place she would call home for four years.

Most students in her class were very active and involved in leadership and social interactions. That was not the case for Brianne—instead, she found herself focused on the course material. She became a tutor and teaching assistant for many classes. She realized that teaching was her calling. Throughout optometry school at UMSL, she found many of her professors were not only teaching, but helping her find passion in teaching.  Brianne’s experience at UMSL was a positive experience; she loved that the program was close knit and like an extension of her own family. 

Through her experience as a student at UMSL, she knew one day that she wanted to be the one caring for students. While in optometry school, she would write practice test questions for a couple of her classmates because she loved everything about academia so much. She looked forward to the day when she would actually get to write her own tests for students.

 UMSL Optometry made her feel truly felt at home, and the lasting relationships that she made with classmates and her professors remain strong today. 

After completing four successful years in optometry school (and now Dr. Brianne Hobbs), she went off to do a residency at the Kansas City, Missouri, Veteran’s Hospital, where she focused on ocular disease and low vision.  Dr. Tim Harkins, her KCVA supervisor talked to her about two types of people—builders and maintainers—and she knew that she was definitely a builder. It is where her source of joy and fulfillment comes from. 

The residency was a year of transformative change for her. 

She loved school and everything about it, so she wasn’t the typical graduate who went into private practice. Instead, her resume was going out to optometry schools across the country.  Then it happened.  She got a call to be a part of a new optometry school opening in Arizona—a unique opportunity for Brianne.

She packed her bags and off to the next chapter in her life.  Walking into the doors of Arizona College of Optometry, many new challenges met her. But she was ready and excited to develop a curriculum, be the first to teach the courses at the new school, and take time to discover further who she was as a person. 

She was a professor, who found the “perfect job” for her, where she felt she made a profound impact for years to follow. During her time at school, she was happy.

She was content. 

In 2014, she packed her bags and moved to North Carolina to be closer to her significant other.  She also entered private practice that was affiliated with Wake Forest University and the local hospital.  She missed teaching.  She missed the classroom.  So, she and her partner moved back to Arizona, where Brianne returned to her job at Arizona College of Optometry.

Between 2015 and 2019 she married and had two children, and they decided to move back to North Carolina. They bought a house near the mountains with six acres of land, and started growing nuts and berries that they would sell at the local farmer’s market. 

In March 2019, a newly-created position with the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. This role would allow her to give back, make a difference on a national level for optometry students.  With excitement, she accepted the job of Director of Exam Innovation. It was a position that was brand new, but Brianne thrives for fresh, unchartered waters.  Brianne found herself in a fascinating place in her life and career.

In her new role, Brianne is working on creating and developing board exams for optometry students. This new role allows her the opportunity to make a difference across the entire United States for optometry students.  Her task is to create a new direction for Part III.  The most rewarding part of this new journey is building something from scratch and serving the greater good of the public and optometry students. 

As a builder, she decided to return to school herself to pursue a PhD, so she could develop news tools to help her continue to diversify her skill set.  Looking back on her career and her family, she realized that one of her biggest supporters was her older sister, Beth.  She considers Beth her hero and one of the best people she knows.  Throughout optometry school Beth helped keep her more balanced and was not afraid to call her out when her perfectionism was in overdrive.  She was not only her sister, but also an example of who Brianne wanted to be like. 

Looking back at her career, Brianne is a builder.  She strives to improve and loves and thrives on the challenges to do more, to be more, and to never stop working hard.  Throughout her career, she has helped build an optometry school, a residency program, a national licensure exam, a family, and a farm. 

She is determined to make a difference and to continue to build a better future for the optometric profession. That difference began the day she saw the poster on the bulletin board as she walked out of her organic chemistry class.

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