Talk about baptism by fire. After graduating from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University, Jenae Stiles, OD ‘17, FAAO
, started a three-year active duty tour with the U.S. Army at a military base in the Midwest.
The rural hospital where she worked did not have an ophthalmologist on staff, so she had the opportunity to handle some complex cases right at the start of her professional career as an optometrist.
“I learned so much at that location. I had to because I had to manage a lot of things at the very top of our scope,” said Dr. Stiles. “I was expected to manage so much but I was surrounded by great people and they really took me under their wings. They showed me some tough love, but the right way to do things.”
Dr. Stiles believes she was able to manage a big workload and complex cases at the start of her career because of her PCO education.
“PCO/Salus is known for producing clinically strong optometrists that really have a handle on patient care,” said Dr. Stiles. “That, paired with my excellent rotation sites I had as a third-and fourth-year student really set me up to practice independently my first couple of years out of school.”
From the beginning of the pandemic in March through June 2020, Dr. Stiles was reassigned to the base’s COVID-screening area, where she was screening new soldiers coming in from across the country.
“I lived and breathed COVID for three months. It definitely changed the way I practiced,” said Dr. Stiles. Upon completion of her first three-year Army commitment in September, she was relocated to complete her fellowship where she practices primary eye care at a larger hospital with more resources. When this assignment is complete, she has two more years committed to the Army, and is concentrating on that before deciding what direction her career will take.
“Military medicine is kind of undergoing a transformation right now and I’m going to wait and see how that shakes out before making any decisions about my future,” she said. “I would like to travel a bit, duty-station-wise, maybe even go to some overseas locations. There are a lot of great opportunities there. But I like where I’m at and what I’m doing now.”
One big change for her since she left PCO/Salus is for the first time, Dr. Stiles is away from her twin sister, Jenessa Stiles, AuD ‘17
The two, from Curwensville, Pennsylvania, both attended Penn State for their undergraduate degrees — Jenae’s in food science and Jenessa’s in communications science and disorders — and then both went through Salus, albeit in different programs. Jenessa is an audiologist at Roscoe Hearing Care Center in DuBois, Pennsylvania, but the sisters still keep in touch despite the geographic distance.
“It’s weird being apart, but we still see each other pretty frequently,” said Dr. Stiles.
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