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Alumni profile: Jessica Carr ‑ The perfect profession

Posted by Kathy MacFarlane on September 27, 2021 in Alumni & Friends
Jessica Carr has been working at Boston Children’s Hospital from July 2020, through multiple waves of the pandemic.
Jessica Carr has been working at Boston Children’s Hospital from July 2020, through multiple waves of the pandemic.

Originally from Moncton, NB, Jessica Carr (MScCVS’20) moved to Kingston at a young age when her Dad started his PhD at Queen’s University. Although completing her schooling and undergrad at Queen’s, she always knew she wanted to move back east again and started looking into graduate programs at Dalhousie.

In her undergrad, she studied Life Sciences and specialized in Neuroscience.  “I took many anatomy and neuroscience courses that had modules about the visual system pathways and physiology. I loved these course sections and knew I wanted to pursue further studies in the eye care field,” she says. When she was looking through Dalhousie’s programs online and came across the Clinical Vision Science program, she was excited.

“I remember sitting in a café on campus reading through the website from front to back and thinking, this is the perfect program and profession for me. It is a health care position in eye care, orthoptists primarily work with kids (which I have loved doing in the past), the program has the ability to continue on to do a master’s project after certifying as an orthoptist and was out east! It was perfect.”

The Clinical Vision Science (CVS) Program is an innovative graduate program developed through a unique partnership of the IWK Health Centre and Dalhousie University. The program has long been internationally respected for the calibre of its orthoptic education and is the largest orthoptic education centre in Canada.

It is the only training program that offers graduates the opportunity to gain certification in orthoptics and ophthalmic medical technology. “It is an amazing, small, tightknit community that supports your learning as a student with a balance of both academic courses and hands-on clinical experience. The professors go above and beyond to ensure that you are succeeding, thriving, and become a well-prepared, confident orthoptist,” she says.

Being able to complete a master’s was another reason she was drawn to this program. “I had research experience from my undergrad and knew I wanted to do the MSc project. Additionally, I adore teaching and having a MSc would allow for teaching opportunities in the future. My goal when I went into the program was to keep all my doors open for the future.”

Graduating during a pandemic

“When I defended my MSc thesis, it was in June 2020 right smack in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Because of this, I defended over Zoom with my panel of examiners, CVS teachers, and with the students in the years below me tuning in to listen. It was very different compared to all the defenses I had seen previously. It went so well and I’m very thankful for the CVS team and my supervisor, Dr. Bill Baldridge, for finding a solution that worked and allowed me to complete my degree during COVID.”

In September, Dalhousie mailed her degree package to her parents’ house as Jessica had already moved to Boston for her new job. “Dal made it so cute and had confetti, noise makers, congratulation card and my degree all in the package. My parents and I Facetimed, and they opened everything with such excitement! As disappointing as it was not being able to have convocation in-person because of COVID, Dal still made the experience fun!”

Amazing opportunity

Jessica accepted a position as an orthoptist with Boston Children's Hospital and moved there - during a pandemic. She admits it was tough. “I managed this with a lot of support and help (both physically for moving and emotionally) from my family, boyfriend, and future co-workers at Boston Children’s. I was so nervous moving to a new city, a new country, and all during a pandemic. However, I knew that I would greatly regret this amazing opportunity to work at Boston Children’s Hospital if I decided to not go. Huge thanks to everyone that helped and supported me in my goals.”

She has been working at Boston Children’s Hospital from July 2020, through multiple waves of the pandemic. “We have a great system here where patient appointments were spaced out to allow for the lane to be ‘theirs’ for their entire appointment slot. I’m thankful I got to work (for the most-part as normal) during the pandemic; playing with kids during the tests, interacting with the families, and helping them navigate their diagnoses all while upholding the safety precautions. I still got to bring some fun for the kids, it just meant I had to wear a face mask, eye protection, and a whole lot of cleaning between patients.”

“I love being able to play games and be silly with the kids, all while gathering the important information needed for their treatment/management. I have fun daily when I’m at work. The profession is very rewarding and there are many different diagnoses that keep things interesting. My favourite clinics to work on are the neuro-ophthalmology clinics as the pathology and different cases that present are so cool. I love being able to help these kids.”

Jessica has been enjoying Boston and as the restrictions have been lifting, she has been exploring the beautiful city. “It’s very walkable and easy to get around, I like to think of it as a bigger Halifax,” she says.  She is also aware of the strong connection between Halifax and Boston, because of the Halifax Explosion. “I talked about this with my co-workers and we went to see the tree all lit up. I loved it and watched updates on the news as the tree was shipped from Halifax to Boston. Before it shipped, I joked with my family and boyfriend in Halifax that they should hop on and travel with it to Boston to see me. This was at a time when the international borders were closed and routine travel was very challenging because of COVID.”

Advice for health students

“I would recommend trying to keep all your doors open as best you can and saying yes to exciting opportunities when they come up. When I started in my program my goal was to completely immerse myself in the program/eye care world as much as I could. This helped me to become the best orthoptist I could be when I graduated – it’s going to benefit you greatly in your career if you put the hard work in now.”

Keeping her doors open, she applied for a summer internship at LASIK MD after her first year (a field in eye care that is quite different than orthoptics). She was able to stay on there as a part time employee throughout her studies. This led to a full-time maternity leave coverage which she took while finishing up writing her theses during my MSc. She is so thankful for that position and loved working at LASIK MD.

Her MSc research was with Dr. Baldridge in the Retina and Optic Nerve Research Laboratory. Here she found another amazing and brilliant community to be a part of.  These two opportunities in addition to the strong family-like nature of the CVS program were what made her time in Halifax unforgettable. "I remember feeling, as busy as I was, that I was so happy and supported with so many different communities I was a part of. Now I have many great connections throughout Halifax and am so thankful for all of the opportunities I had.”

Missing Halifax

As much as Jessica loves Boston, she misses Halifax – the people, her family, friends, boyfriend, and her kitten. “I’m here in Boston and learning as much as I can, making amazing connections, gaining valuable teaching experience, and becoming as great as I can be as an orthoptist. I hope that I’ll be back working in Halifax again one day.”