UAB student takes nontraditional path to optometry school
Demetric Jones took a nontraditional path to optometry school. After earning his undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University, he established a career at Unilever-Covington in Memphis, Tenn., to reduce the financial hardship of his single-parent home. Improved circumstances signaled that he could finally pursue his goal of becoming an eye doctor.
With encouragement from his wife, he applied to multiple optometry schools, interviewed at three schools, and became an officer in the newly formed Black Eyecare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club to begin building a professional network in the field. Jones will attend the UAB School of Optometry’s OD/MBA dual degree program as a member of the 2025 class. Here is Jones’ story in his own words.
Where did you attend undergrad and what degree did you earn? I graduated, with honors, from Middle Tennessee State University in 2012 earning a Bachelor of Science degree. I majored in biology (concentrated in physiology) and I minored in chemistry. I’ve had a lifetime love of science which prepared the foundation for my optometric aspirations.
Where? How long have you been in the workforce and what was your title? Describe your responsibilities. Unilever is a global company meeting everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene, and personal care. For the past eight years (2013-2021), I was employed by Unilever-Covington which is responsible for producing several ice cream products including Bryer’s, Klondike, Good Humor, and Popsicles. I’ve moved up the ranks within the Mix department from Process Technician to HTST Technician and finally becoming a Lead Operator in 2016. In that time, I’ve built self-confidence as a leader and improved my communication skills. My responsibilities included (but weren’t limited to) coordinating staffing, delegating tasks, and supervising timely completion of finished mix goods to support daily attainments for 18 production lines. I’m an agile learner and I pride myself on integrity, my ability to boost morale, and leading by example.
Why did you decide to work before applying to optometry school? I come from a small, single-parent household that instilled values in me like self-discipline, patience, and resiliency. I’ve always desired the best for my family and after graduating, I began working to reduce financial hardship. Although our financial situation is not ideal, I don’t regret my decision; I’ve grown tremendously and now I’m more than ready to achieve my childhood dreams of becoming an optometrist.
Why did you choose to attend UAB? How many other offers did you have? During my search for optometry programs, I applied to schools that met my criteria for becoming a well-prepared clinician. Curriculum, national board passage rates, diversity and inclusion, cost of living and attendance, class size, and clinical exposure are the main reasons why I applied to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. I seek to network with professionals that are leaders in the field and develop strong peer relationships in a healthy learning environment. I applied to five programs, interviewed with three, declining my fourth interview since my decision was made. Now, I plan to use my talents forged by UABSO to become a pillar of my community.
Why have you chosen optometry as a second career? I’ve had to visit the optometrist since I was seven years old (due to my progressive myopia), so optometry has been a major part of my life. Over the years, I’ve had great encounters with optometrists; I want to be an inspiration to future generations like those doctors of my past were for me. My nearsightedness has become severe, and at times, I fear losing my vision completely. This motivates me to help others preserve their sight. Also, I’m driven to fill the need for more African American representation in the field.
Why will you pursue an MBA as well? What are your career goals? My decision to apply to this institution was strengthened after learning about the dual OD/MBA program. Although I’ve completed a personal finance course and made strides in management and business ethics with my past employer, I know there’s much more to learn. In my early years as a clinician, I plan to work in retail or an OD-MD partnership; but ultimately, I desire to own a private practice. I want to be confident in my marketability in all entrepreneurial aspirations I choose to endeavor. I believe an MBA will provide the proper blueprint for starting and maintaining a successful private practice. It is also my belief that while completing the MBA program at UAB, I’ll acquire transferable skills to catalyze my career and benefit from an increased network of business professionals. The eye care industry is constantly advancing and being prepared for the challenges of business is vital to my success as an optometrist.
How did you learn about the Black Eyecare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club? I was searching for optometry programs to apply to, and I stumbled onto the University of Houston College of Optometry homepage. There, I found a post advertising an event called Impact HBCU which was tailored to Black students interested in optometry. I was not a product of a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) nor was I currently a student, but I was Black and very interested in the field. So, I applied to the event (and UHCO) and the rest, as they say, is history. I connected with Drs. Essence Johnson and Jacobi Cleaver who became mentors that provided OAT resources and greatly encouraged my matriculation into optometry school.
What is the purpose and what have you learned from your involvement? I’m the current Vice President of the Black Eyecare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club (BEPPOC) where I initially joined to network with other students pursuing careers in optometry. I learned that less than three percent of all optometrists identify as Black. This is an alarming statistic! The primary initiative of this organization is called The 13% Promise to raise awareness and create equity in Black representation in eye care companies, colleges of optometry, and optometry boards. In recent months, BEPPOC has more than doubled in members due to increased exposure via social media platforms and by word of mouth through our student ambassadors. As BEPPOC continues to gain recognition, optometry schools around the country are heavily considering or have already committed to The 13% Promise and in the next few years, we anticipate having thirteen percent of all optometry students represented as Black or African American. This will be a great accomplishment; however, our initiative is for equity across the entire eye care arena.
Talk about the support your wife has provided. My wife is a career-driven woman with a passion rooted in caring for others. For eight years, Kierra has worked as a Registered Nurse for Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. However, she’s currently earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. I’m so proud of her diligence and likewise, she’s very proud of me. She has always supported my career goals, even during the times I couldn’t find my way. As I transitioned, Kierra helped me weigh my program options, searched for scholarships, read my essays, and was always there for a vote of confidence. God has truly blessed me with a supportive, kindhearted spouse to spend a lifetime with. She’s learned to be patient with me, and our love grows brighter every day.