An alumna of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO), the University’s founding College, recently received good news.  

Caroline Beesley Pate, OD ‘04, FAAO, now associate professor and director of residency programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry (UABSO), was at home in the first week of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March when she received a call from Dr. Sam Pierce, former president of the American Optometric Association (AOA) and a local Birmingham optometrist. 

Caroline Pate“I thought, this is strange that he’s giving me a call,” said Dr. Pate. 

But Dr. Pierce was actually delivering the news that she was named the 2020 Educator of the Year by the AOA.

“I was completely caught off guard,” said Dr. Pate. “It’s a national award so it’s a huge honor. The AOA is an organization that I really respect. I’ve been a member since I left PCO. When you volunteer and help organizations, you don’t do it for the recognition, but I appreciate the AOA recognizing educators.”

When she was at PCO, Dr. Pate didn’t envision herself going into education. She was in a class called Clinical Diagnostic Procedures (CDP), then taught by Charles Wormington, PhD, OD, FAAO, Resident ‘85, now professor emeritus at Salus PCO. And, she did her clinic with Module 1 chief Andrew Gurwood, OD ‘89, FAAO, Resident ‘90, now a Salus PCO professor and co-chief of Suite 3 at The Eye Institute.

The CDP course proved to be beneficial because that was the course she would eventually be given when she was hired to teach at UABSO.

After graduating from PCO in 2004, Dr. Pate was involved in what was then called a “contract seat” program for her home state of Maryland to practice optometry for four years. 

And, she had all intentions of doing that. But then it was time to look for a residency. She looked for one in Maryland and for one at PCO, but eventually decided she wanted to try something different.

That landed her at UAB School of Optometry, a teaching institution. That’s what opened her eyes to be an educator. Toward the end of her residency, she decided she wanted to do both — be in private practice and teach, so she split time between the two, staying on campus two days a week after her residency.

“I did that for a little while and then a position opened up to teach the methods and procedures course at UAB and I decided to go all in. I’ve been there ever since,” she said.

Dr. Pate began her tenure with the UABSO in 2005 as a clinical assistant professor and since 2013, she has been an associate professor. She served as the supervisor for the Family Practice Optometry Residency Program from 2008-2014. In 2014, she was named the director of Residency Programs for UABSO.

Dr. Pate currently serves as the course director for Diseases of the Anterior Segment. She also runs a year-long residency conference seminar series for UABSO residents. She teaches in the classroom and laboratory in the clinical methods course series at UABSO, Clinical Evaluation of the Visual System, where she previously served as a co-course director for more than 10 years. Dr. Pate sees patients as a clinical faculty member in Ocular Disease and Primary Care clinical services at UAB Eye Care and is a member of the University Optometric Group, the UAB School of Optometry faculty private practice where she provides direct care one day per week to patients of all ages.

She said that educators dealing with the pandemic have had to ramp up to meet the needs of their students.

“A lot of people get this COVID-19 time to slow down the pace a little bit, take time away from their practice, and spend time with their families. But educators have had to turn on a dime and restructure our curriculum and find innovative ways to replace patient encounters for our clinical students,” said Dr. Pate.

It’s also caused healthcare educators to take a look at their clinic policies and what’s in the best interest of the patients for their health and safety.

“Moving forward, I don’t think clinic is going to look the same when we do reopen. We’ve also ramped up our telemedicine game. We haven’t been players in that and now we are,” she said.

As far as the AOA and its advocacy efforts, Dr. Pate said that at the time she finished her residency, part of the reason she chose to stay in Alabama was because the state’s laws were far superior to those of her home state.

“I was trained at the highest level — just finishing a residency in really advanced competencies — and I really didn’t want to go backwards,” she said. “So that kind of sparked my involvement with the state AOA association and the local societies. I was picked up right out of my residency by the optometrists here in the community to volunteer and help and be a part of the state association. So even though I’m not a grad of UAB, I really feel like I belong in the Alabama optometry community.”