Mission Work Fueled My Love for Optometry by Dr. Megan Kortum

Serving others has always been at the forefront of my “why” in choosing optometry.  In my application process to optometry school, SCO was a stand-out amongst other perspective schools in many including community outreach and mission programs. As an undergraduate, I had recently returned from a life-changing medical mission trip to Nicaragua and knew that was something important to me in my optometric education. At the time, SCO was one of the few optometry schools with a thriving Student Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity (SVOSH) program that allowed first-year students to participate in the mission trips—and I was sold.

As a student, I volunteered for Lion’s Club screenings, participated in several Remote Area Medical (RAM) missions, and served on three international mission trips to Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras. Being from rural Nebraska, I loved serving the local Memphis population, too.  It seems too cliché, but combining my love for eye care, travel, and service to others truly “opened my eyes” to new opportunities, cultures, and experiences.  

In my second year of optometry school, I accepted a scholarship to the military. One of the Air Force’s core values is “Service before self”. With that commitment came the ultimate service to our country and the opportunity to provide eye care for our service members and their families.

Upon completion of my Air Force commitment, I was fortunate enough to join a private practice that shares my same values on community service.  I’m proud to say that our office participates in local missions like Habitat for Humanity and Volunteers in Medicine. We serve our community through health fairs, family events in the park, and even by supporting our local semi-pro soccer team. I am currently counting down the days to my second trip to Honduras with my boss, who will be completing his 16th eye care mission to the remote mountainside villages.  

Community service and outreach is probably my favorite thing about optometry. I love that I’ve found a way to give back through my education and training. Everyone on our last Honduras mission agreed that sometimes it’s the eye care outside of the office exam room that serves as the best “reset” button for what we do.  

SCO was critical in fostering my commitment to serving others through eye care and beyond. Through the various clubs and programs, there was always an opportunity to get involved. I even joined current students this year at my five-year class reunion for the inaugural “Eye Serve Memphis”. These opportunities are especially important as a student with your nose in the books and as a practicing optometrist with the stress of the business—sometimes all we need is a fresh perspective to remind us of our “why”. 

Serving the community around you through eye care isn’t always about glasses and contact lenses; it’s about shaping the way we see the world.

Dr. Megan Kortum is a 2013 alumna of Southern College of Optometry. She currently practices in Chattanooga, TN where she enjoys hiking, being outdoors with her kids, and traveling.