Where Are They Now: Tracy Matchinski, OD, Resident ‘96, FAAO
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Where Are They Now: Tracy Matchinski, OD, Resident ‘96, FAAO

Tracy Matchinski headshotWhen Tracy Matchinski, OD, Resident ‘96, FAAO, was a fourth-year optometry student at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), she had her first experience with a visually impaired patient in clinic and realized she needed to know more about vision rehabilitation.

And then, she got lucky.

“I was looking into what residencies were available for low vision, and at the time, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University had one of the only residencies in the mid-1990s concentrating on vision rehabilitation,” said Dr. Matchinski. “I applied, had the interview, and I feel very fortunate to have been selected for the residency at the William Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center housed at The Eye Institute (TEI).”

Dr. Matchinski distinctly recalls how inspiring — a common theme for her during her residency — TEI, its people and patients were during her residency year at the Feinbloom Center. She also distinctly remembers how it prepared her to advance her career.

"They created an environment for helping people with vision impairments to really do the best that they were able to do,” she said. “They helped people with vision loss to drive and to work and to feel better and to excel at work or school. It was an amazing year.”

Dr. Matchinski cited four doctors — Sarah Appel, OD ‘79, Resident ‘81; Richard Brilliant, OD ‘76, FAAO; Roger Cummings, OD ‘76, FAAO; and John Ray, OD ‘87 — who influenced during her time at the Feinbloom Center.

“It was so inspiring to see these people come in and be so dedicated about knowing what to do for their patients,” she said. “But also, the legacy of the place is really inspiring for the residents and students to go on in their careers and do this kind of work.”

Another thing that’s stuck with Dr. Matchinski over the years was how friendly the team at PCO/Salus was to her during that residency year.

“They welcomed me into their homes, to meet their families. We would go out to dinner as a group from the office,” she said. “They were very kind and liked to support their residents, not just in the clinic but in the community as well.”

After completing her residency, Dr. Matchinski returned to Chicago to be closer to family and to work with those who were visually impaired, first at the Chicago Lighthouse and then in the low vision clinic at the Illinois Eye Institute of the Illinois College of Optometry.Dr. Matchinski with patients  

Eventually, ICO reached out and asked Dr. Matchinski if she wanted to teach the low vision class there. At that point in her career, she hadn’t thought about teaching, but she agreed to take on the challenge. Once again, she was inspired to pursue academia because of her experience at the Feinbloom Center, specifically under the tutelage of Dr. Appel.

“The thing about Dr. Appel is that she has so much passion about pediatric vision care and the field of vision rehabilitation,” said Matchinski, who remains close friends with Dr. Appel to this day. “As my career evolved, I didn’t start teaching right away, but she was really a mentor as I started to take on the class and over the years, she helped me grow not only as a low vision doctor but also as a low vision educator.”

Dr. Matchinski now teaches in the clinic and lab and is the low vision coordinator of the low vision clinic at ICO and also still works at Chicago Lighthouse. In 2021, she received the Vision Excellence Award from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness for her commitment to low vision education and the development of eye health resources in the U.S. and around the world.

“I could not be more satisfied and more happy to come to work every day to do what I do,” she said. “Part of it is providing the low vision care to patients but also it’s the teaching of the young doctors and student optometrists to go on and incorporate low vision some way in their careers. That really came from Dr. Sarah Appel. We’ve been good friends over the years and worked together in different groups in terms of education of students in optometry schools on how to do low vision.”