When the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University’s Class of 2024 weren’t able to enjoy an in-person white coat ceremony in the middle of the pandemic, Ariella Erin Poon ‘24OD
and her classmates were bummed, and understandably so. Sure, they were able to participate in a virtual white coat ceremony, but it obviously wasn’t the same.
“It was the beginning of a whole new chapter and we competed with so many other people to get to this stage of life and to this school,” said Poon. “Then the day of our white coat ceremony happened and it was a Zoom that lasted maybe six minutes. It’s normally this whole grand ceremony where we take an oath and then all walk on stage and shake hands with the dean. I thought, ‘Is that it?’”
She didn’t want that to be all there was to it. So instead of dwelling on something that was beyond anyone’s control, Poon made the most of it. She decided to draw a portrait of herself in her white coat, which she shared with her classmates. Many of them were so taken with the artwork that they requested she draw them in their white coats as well.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s special to the Class of 2024 because we were the first class to attend Zoom University of optometry school,” she said.
That led to what Poon calls the “Virtual White Coat Ceremony Series,” portraits she drew for about 15 of her classmates. “I don't have a lot of time, so I can only do them once or twice a month,” she said.
To those who know Poon, that the white coat ceremony evolved into some artwork comes as no surprise. When she was younger, she wanted to become a novelist or a comic artist.
“It’s kind of one of my signatures when I introduce myself to people, I’m the person who draws a lot,” she said. “I knew I wanted to incorporate art into healthcare so that I kind of felt like I had some control over how I pursued my career in the future. My original plan was to use my art to help educate the community about certain eye conditions or how to take care of your eyes — in a fun way with cute comics and such.”
Her career track started in Poon’s sophomore year in high school in Jacksonville, Florida. She knew then she wanted to pursue something in healthcare, and when she took a physics class that included a lesson in optics, she was hooked.
“I just thought the physics behind eyesight was pretty interesting. I wear glasses, so it’s more relatable, too,” she said.
Deciding to remain in Florida for college, Poon attended Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and graduated with a degree in biology and a minor in studio art.
How she got to PCO/Salus for graduate school is also a story in itself.
“Growing up in Florida, I’d never seen snow before and I wanted to try to go to school somewhere in the north,” she said. “I know it’s a very silly reason, but it’s actually what I said during my interviews. I came here for the snow and the weather. You always want what you don’t have.”
Although her profession will be optometry, the arts will always be a part of Poon’s life. She’s been working on a novel since her freshman year of high school — an “Alice in Wonderland” fantasy-type story that was inspired by “Inkheart,” a young adult fantasy novel trilogy by Cornelia Funke about delving into different worlds by reading books.
Poon is also a cat lover and has two cats — KimKay and Georgie — at her parents’ home in Florida. Because she’s far away from her cats and only sees them when she’s home on break, that led to another outside interest.
“My parents were worried that having my cats here with me would be too stressful,” said Poon. “I was missing my cats one day and thought, OK, I’ll just go to the nearest PetSmart and stare at the cats through the windows. I needed cat therapy.”
It just so happened that the store was looking for volunteers, so Poon signed up and has been volunteering two hours a week at the store since August 2020, as well as covering a shift now and then when nobody else is available.
“The last time I saw my cats was back in May after finals. I think they knew I was seeing other cats,” she said.