Seeing the impact of a career in optometry and providing for its future
By Rick Lewis
Adam Gordon, OD, MPH, FAAO, attributes his nearly four-decades-long career as an optometrist and professor in the UAB School of Optometry (UABSO) to his failing to find fame as a musician. As a fresh biology major graduate out of Washington University in St. Louis, Gordon had a guitar and his sights on the stage, but when “it became obvious [he] wasn’t going to pay rent,” he moved back to Baltimore and landed an entry-level job at The Johns Hopkins Hospital instead.
It was soon after he arrived at the hospital, getting his bearings, that he got to shadow an optometrist in the department of ophthalmology and was almost immediately intrigued by his work, treating elderly patients with specialized contact lenses to give them back the ability to live independently.
“I really liked what he was doing…restoring vision and function and life to so many patients,” explains Gordon. “He had such an impact on the people he treated, and I could see myself doing the same.”
The promise of a career that had such a tangible impact on people, allowing them to live full, rich lives, spurred Gordon to apply to doctor of optometry programs, including UAB’s. In fact, it was his admissions interview in Birmingham that brought the Baltimore native to the South for the first time.
“I wasn’t even sure where Alabama was on the map,” Gordon says, “but I fell in love with Birmingham and UAB and was thankfully accepted into the program.” He would go on to be the first student to graduate from UABSO’s combined OD/MPH program in 1982.
Since then, Gordon has been an integral figure in UAB’s School of Optometry, having served as director of cornea and contact lens services, residency supervisor, director of student affairs and current chairman of the department of optometry and vision science. Over his tenure, Gordon has managed to know or work for every dean since the School of Optometry’s inception in the early 1970s.
“UABSO is a small school. So, I get to wear a lot of hats,” he explains. “I teach courses, supervise interns in clinic and provide patient care in the faculty practice. I’m never bored.”
Naturally, over his career, Gordon has seen the practice of optometry change and evolve with advances in technology and vision research. But, even still, he sees the field of optometry as similar to the Dr Pepper commercial: “so misunderstood.” Many times, optometrists are the first health professionals to detect systemic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, as they can impact the eye. And, because eye exams are “relatively innocuous,” optometrists might be the first medical professional patients visit in their community. This is both a great opportunity and a great responsibility.
It’s this importance, as an entry point into the health care system, that Gordon sees as so important and as a key lesson to impress upon his students.
“My first love is being a clinician and sharing my experience with students and residents,” he says. “I get to witness their evolution from young student to graduating optometrist. I teach them in their first semester when they’re still wet-behind-the-ears, and I see them again in clinic in their fourth year as they approach graduation. It’s incredibly gratifying to see this evolution.”
To Gordon, it is this commitment to students—people like himself all those years ago looking to make an impact—that inspired his recent gift to the UABSO, establishing the Adam A. Gordon Endowed Scholarship. “UAB has had a huge impact on my life. I’ve spent almost 40 years here, and at this stage in my life and career, I wanted to give back.”
He chose to give through designating the school as a beneficiary of an IRA, an easy way to give that involves minimal paperwork and no legal fees.
Funds from the scholarship will be used to support optometry students through academic scholarships, making their paths to graduation easier and allowing them to borrow less.
“The debt burden upon graduation is so high compared to when I was a student,” says Gordon. “It is amazing and inspiring to see students committed to going into this field” even after taking out large loans. His gift will ensure students have a greater chance at success, especially students who are traditionally disenfranchised, increasing diverse representation in a key healthcare field.
“As a graduate of our optometry program, professor and current department chair, Dr. Gordon’s commitment to the School is long-lasting,” shares Kelly Nichols, OD, PhD, MPH, dean of the UABSO. “Dr. Gordon is respected by faculty colleagues, staff and students alike; so, it comes as no surprise to those around him that the Gordon family would want to give back through student scholarship support that just might encourage a student to follow in Dr. Gordon’s footsteps of academic optometry.”
Gordon echoes others’ appreciation for him and his leadership in his own appreciation for his academic and professional home. “I’m grateful for everything UAB and UABSO have given me: a tremendous career, mentoring over 1,000 students and treating tens of thousands of patients.”
But for now, he’s still hard at work, bringing fullness to lives each and every day.
QUESTIONS? I CAN HELP.
Kimberley S. Coppock, J.D.
Sr. Director of Development
Office of Planned Giving
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