Allison Guindon, OD ‘19, LVR ‘19, never has a dull moment. Her datebook, if she has one, is most likely always double-booked, yet she somehow makes it to every appointment. Playing dual roles is what Dr. Guindon does best.
Dr. Guindon recently graduated Salus with a Doctor of Optometry
from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) and Low Vision Rehabilitation (LVR) from the College of Education and Rehabilitation.
Her interest in optometry started when she had a career day project in third-grade. For research, she asked her own optometrist, Dr. Doug Beemer, about the profession. “He was so passionate and so excited about my interest that his passion kind of transferred to me,” Dr. Guindon said. Every career project after that, she reflected on optometry.
“The steps that the eye and the brain have to go through to form a picture and interpret the things we see are truly amazing and I have only learned more and more amazing things that optometrists can do,” she said.
Born and raised in Pierre, S.D., she attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., where she majored in Biological Sciences and minored in both Chemistry and Microbiology.
During her senior year, she finished a semester early and completed half of her last semester working for the South Dakota State Legislature as a legislative intern. But, what about the other half? She spent it working for a local outreach clinic in Ghana. While there, she travelled across the country with a team of Ghanaian clinicians to provide care to patients in villages that didn’t have access to eye care services.
As Dr. Guindon entered PCO, her grandmother was diagnosed with macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision loss and affects the center of the field of vision.
“I started looking at options for her and realized that there were very few people in the state of South Dakota that practice low vision and they weren't in very close proximity to her,” Dr. Guindon said. “This was very frustrating for me because I knew that my grandma could benefit from these services but would have so much difficulty just getting to someone who could provide them.”
It was then that she took matters into her own hands. She found the opportunity to do Low Vision Rehabilitation (LVR) at Salus by way of a grant program which would pay part of the tuition for the degree if she agreed to work in low vision profession.
“I had a doctor tell me once that I should keep my options open and say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come up,” she said. “It was right around the time that I was frustrated with my grandma's situation, so I said yes.”
That sealed the deal. She now was a student both in Optometry and Low Vision Rehabilitation.
“It was not easy, and there were definitely times that the work in both programs probably suffered because of the other,” she said.
Not only did she aspire for dual degrees, but she was also heavily involved in extracurricular activities during her time here as a member of the National American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) Board of Trustees and other student organizations on campus, in addition to working several jobs.
“All of my professors from the LVR program were very understanding of my situation and helped me through every step of the way,” she said. The University’s LVR program is a “blended” curriculum, which combines community-based, on campus and online learning classes. She took all of the LVR on-campus classes that she needed to during the summer between her first and second year on what would have typically been her break.
The rest of her LVR classes were online so she spread them out over her remaining three and a half years at Salus/PCO so she would graduate with both degrees at the same time.
How did she handle it all? She did her best when she got into a rhythm. “A lot of the LVR program materials were posted ahead of time so I tried to get ahead in those classes while I had a smaller test schedule in the Optometry program. That way, when midterms and finals came around I would be able to focus on my Optometry classes,” she said. She acknowledges the system wasn’t perfect, but she was passionate enough to make it work.
Just because she has graduated doesn’t mean that Dr. Guindon is finished with her dual roles. In fact, she will continue on to complete dual residencies in Chicago, Ill., splitting her time between the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and the Edward
Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. “While I am at the Jesse Brown VA, I will be getting amazing experience in the treatment and management of ocular disease and while I am at the Hines VA, I will be doing low vision evaluations in the blind rehabilitation center there,” she said. “I am very excited to expand my knowledge in both ocular disease and low vision.”
After her residencies, she hopes to work in a practice that will afford her not only the opportunity to practice low vision but to also make it a more accessible, well-known service.