In the Stiles household, there’s a chance you will always see double. The Stiles family has not one, but two sets of fraternal twins: Jenae ’17OD and Jenessa ’17AUD, and the six-years-younger Jake and Alania. The first set of Stiles twins has always followed similar patterns in their lives – but just somewhat differently.
Both attended Penn State for their undergraduate degrees – Jenae’s in food science and Jenessa’s in communications sciences and disorders. This May, they will both earn their graduate degrees from Salus – one in Optometry and one in Audiology, fields the sisters were quite familiar with because of their own childhood eye and ear ailments.
“I have worn glasses for as long as I can remember and Jenessa has had multiple sets of tubes in her ears from a very young age,” Jenae said. “It almost seemed natural in a way for us to go into each of our fields after how much experience we have had at each type of specialty.”
Consciously, they did not know exactly what aspect of healthcare they wanted to pursue when attending college, but the foundation for their future careers was unconsciously on their minds beginning in high school.
“For our senior essays in high school, Jenae wrote hers about optometry and mine was about the ear,” Jenessa said. “At the time, I was still in the mind set of being a speech pathologist. I guess I was more interested in audiology than speech pathology and really didn’t know it yet.”
In college, Jenae’s food science studies schooled her in beer making, dairy products, and meat processing. While she is not using these skills daily as a Doctor of Optometry student, they did provide her with the practical understanding of scientific principles important in the optometric field such as microbiology, chemistry and anatomy. After shadowing an optometrist and learning about ocular anatomy in one of these courses, Jenae decided to put her focus on optometry. Similarly, Jenessa originally chose the speech-language pathology path in her undergraduate education, but after taking “Intro to Audiology,” she knew audiology was the profession for her instead.
Choosing the same graduate school was never the intended goal for Jenae and Jenessa. Each wanted to find the right institution where they could develop their clinical skills. Salus just happened to offer extensive opportunities in both chosen professions and has a hands-on approach to patient care.
“Salus was always my number one choice due to its prestigious reputation and longstanding tradition of providing an excellent clinical education,” Jenae said. “I applied to a few other schools, but once my acceptance from Salus was official, I did not go on any other interviews.”
Jenessa was in agreement with her sister – albeit for a different program. “Salus was more clinically based than the other schools I looked at, which I liked the most,” Jenessa said. “I'm a very hands-on learner so being in clinic sooner than every other program was easily the best option for me.”
Not only did the sisters have the comfort of a relative – and built-in roommate – but they also found another perk of attending Salus together – having a readily available patient in each other. Whether or not the patient was cooperative was a different story.
“I would sit for Jenessa so she could practice her vestibular testing, and she would let me test her vision over and over again,” Jenae said. “I think she has the vision chart as memorized as I do at this point. Contact lenses definitely are not her thing though, no matter how many times I tried.”
“I can’t stand when people touch my eyes,” Jenessa said. “Jenae would always want to practice on me, and I would let her get to a certain point, but I would not let her put contacts in or numb my eye to put a magnifying glass on it. I would literally run in the other direction. We would both end up laughing so hard that I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.”
Another reason Salus was the perfect choice for the twins was the close proximity to their home in Curwensville, Pa. According to Jenae, the addition of a second stoplight and a Subway restaurant made headlines in the small town, which sits just outside of State College. But, as she enters the professional world, home will be much further away.
After completing her current clinical rotation at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu, and upon graduation, Jenae will serve three years as an active duty optometrist in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Her tenure is a component of the Army-provided scholarship she used to attend Salus. Jenessa is applying for jobs throughout the US from Pennsylvania to as far as Hawaii. As commencement approaches, separation may be immediate for the sisters, but they will remember their time at Salus fondly.
“While optometry and audiology school were definitely challenging and hectic at times, it was comforting knowing I had someone so much like me – but also very different – there for support,” Jenae said.
Jenessa agrees. She said their opposite personalities helped each of them manage the daily stresses of classes, clinical rotations and externships.
“Even though we are twins, Jenae and I are very different,” she said. “Jenae is more math and science minded. She does things in a very efficient and thought out way. I, on the other hand, am very laid back. I’m the crafty and artsy twin. I kind of go with the flow, and if it’s meant to be it will happen. We balance each other. If I needed someone to tell me to get moving and get things done, Jenae was there to do that. If she needed to be told to relax and not to stress over the little things, I was there to do that.”
Jenae and Jenessa know they will stay close no matter where they end up living. There is still hope that one day the sisters will remain close professionally too, at least in their mom’s opinion.
“Our little sister, who is a sophomore at Penn State, wants to go to dental school,” Jenae said. “It is my mom's ultimate dream that we all open a practice together called Sight, Sound, and Smiles with the Stiles. I'm not sure where my engineer brother would fit into the equation – maybe he could design the place.”