There are applicants who you are thrilled to see accept your offer of admission, and then there is that applicant that you are ecstatic about because you realize that this individual has qualities that set them apart from the others; in other words, a difference maker.  Meet Lulette Fermil, OD (’19).

What is a difference maker? Someone who has a smile that elevates the spirit of everyone around her.  Someone who is a very caring, empathetic, and competent health care provider.  Someone who has served their country with dignity and honor and will continue to do so in the future.  That is Dr. Lulette Fermil.

Dr. Fermil was a gift to the United States from the Philippines.  She had majored in Philosophy and planned on attending law school.  That all changed when her family immigrated to the United States.  Law school was cost prohibitive here. So after living one year in San Jose, California, she made a big decision: to enlist in the United States Army.  The decision turned out to be a life-changing one which ultimately allowed her to find her passion in life. “They offered me a job as a Health Care Specialist which is the official job title of a soldier medic. During training, I realized I did not want to be a medic. Fortunately, they were looking for volunteers for a specialized course, the Eye Specialist, which is the job title for an optometry/ophthalmology technician. While learning about the eyes and vision, I fell in love with the field (who wouldn’t it was all so interesting to me).”

As an Eye Specialist, she was inspired by those she served under, and – although it was a long road to optometry school – she was determined to be successful:  “I was a medic that specialized as an eye technician. I was assigned to both optometry and ophthalmology clinics for six years. My responsibilities include screening patients and performing auxiliary tests (OCT, HVF, etc.). When I worked with ophthalmology, I would scrub in and assist in cataract extractions, blepharoplasties, and LASER refractive surgeries. I also had responsibilities within the hospital as part of the HAZMAT team and an Equal Opportunity Leader, which entails me training other soldiers by leading workshops and classes. When I was promoted as a Sergeant, I was in charge of lower enlisted soldiers, ensuring their health and physical fitness, dependents/family, academics, safety, personal growth, career, etc. were taken care of through my role. During the last two years of active duty service, I was in charge of a whole optometry clinic. I was responsible for everyday operations and staff.

Additionally. I would go to evening classes every day, and I would take care of my husband at home. It was hard work and very challenging being a soldier and being in charge of other soldiers; however, it was advantageous. Every day at the clinic, when I give patient care, and the patients leave happy, I feel my best. My supervisors and the doctors I’ve worked with were role models to me. I wanted to be like them, and they encouraged and supported me to pursue optometry and stay in the military. One of our class instructors was a military optometrist and talked to us about his military career. He also started as an enlisted soldier and was accepted into the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). From then on, I finally figured out what I wanted to. It took me six years to complete all the required prerequisite courses because I worked in the clinic during the day and went to college classes at night while still being a soldier 24/7.”

With a plan in mind, it merely came down to gaining acceptance into optometry school but at the same time hoping to be accepted in the Health Professions Scholarship Program.  UMSL was the beneficiary; it was a decision she was pleased she made, and everything else proceeded as planned: “When my active duty contract expired, I applied to UMSL and was accepted. After my first year, I applied for the HPSP and was also accepted. Everything fell into place. The best thing about UMSL is the small class size. I cannot imagine being in a class of 80 students, let alone 200. It gave me the chance to not only befriend all of my classmates but also to get to know most of our professors. Having a good relationship with everyone helped me a lot in the last four years. Without everyone supporting each other, it would have been unbearable to study and learn in a very demanding curriculum. I felt comfortable in class. I wanted to do well not only for myself but also so I can help out my classmates (and even underclassmen) if the need arises. There were also many opportunities as a student to promote and contribute to the optometry profession as a whole (somethings that come to mind: being a student ambassador and leader for NOSA and UOA, going on a mission trip to El Salvador, representing the school and optometry in magazine articles and in a radio interview). I made a lot of amazing lifelong friends, students, and professors alike. In my small ways, I felt like I was able to contribute to UMSL pride and our profession.”

Dr. Fermil contributed very much to the College of Optometry, and her legacy will be those contributions that she made.  Her future, of course, includes continuing to serve her adopted country. She will attend Basic Officer Leadership Training at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. She will also be promoted to the rank of Captain within the next few months. She plans on staying with the Army and working as a military optometrist for the foreseeable future.

It is only appropriate that we celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Lulette Fermil at the same time that our country is celebrating its independence. Looking into the crystal ball that is her future will show someone who will be a role model for others while bringing pride to UMSL as a leader in her profession as well as serving her country with pride and dignity. It is that latter service that has impacted her life and will continue to influence her future: “Being a soldier instilled in me essential values that I live by for my future. Being in optometry gave me purpose and joy in life. I would not be where I am today if not for all the experience and people I met in the Army.”