Alumni Focus on Heather Van Law (OD/MS’18)
DR. LAW'S STORY
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Which institution did you attend for your undergraduate degree? What was your major?
Hillsdale College, Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry
Which degree(s), related to optometry, did you earn at Ohio State?
Who were your mentors at the College of Optometry? Who had a positive effect on your education?
Where to start? There are so many to list. Dr. Lex and Dr. Nerderman in primary care clinic taught me to care for patients with compassion and empathy. I’ll never forget seeing a patient with Dr. Lex who was a previous prisoner of war in Iran; it was so emotional hearing his stories and all he needed was a new pair of glasses to replace his broken pair, so we were able to help him in a tangible way. That was one of the most impactful patients I had during my time at Ohio State. I also enjoyed serving with both of them on a Remote Area Medical trip during school.
Dr. Earley taught my favorite classes in our first year, which ignited my interest in neuro-optometry. I loved learning from his sharp wit and rambling stories in class, then had the pleasure of working with him in clinic during my fourth year. He showed me what an important role optometrists can play for patients healing from a brain injury.
Dr. Buckland and Dr. McDaniel were great mentors in BV/Peds and Vision Therapy clinic in my third and fourth year. They challenged me to be a good clinician and showed me how rewarding and fun it is to help both kids and adults improve their quality of life with VT. They also were instrumental in helping me choose a residency.
Dr. Goedde was another mentor who affirmed and encouraged me to complete a residency in neuro-optometry. Dr. Yuhas taught me to let evidence-based research inform your patient education. Dr. Tom Quinn showed me what it means to have a lifelong interest in your field and continue to learn and grow your entire career.
DR. LAW'S CAREER IN OPTOMETRY
Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.
I am a Neuro-Optometrist at Colorado Springs Neurological Associates in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.
I work in a multi-disciplinary clinic with neurology, neurosurgery and neuropsychology. My clinic is entirely referral-based and spans a wide variety. A significant number of my patients have oculomotor deficits post-TBI and post-stroke; I work closely with a local occupational therapist who does vision rehabilitation for these patients. I also get several referrals for patients with diplopia from a variety of different causes. I help co-manage a variety of neurologic conditions with visual or oculomotor involvement including: Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Pituitary Adenomas, and Myasthenia Gravis. I also consult on patients with visuospatial concerns, chronic dizziness or vertigo, optic neuropathies, or a variety of visual disturbances. There is certainly never a dull moment!
I am privileged to work in an interdisciplinary setting, where I can regularly co-manage these conditions with our specialists. I benefit from their expertise on a daily basis and am often discussing cases with my colleagues in between patients. I also love that I am the eye expert on our incredible team!
What does eye health, and eye care, mean for you?
As a neuro-optometrist, I want my patients and colleagues alike to understand how crucial their visual system is to their everyday life. Eye care is setting our patients up for success so they can live the quality of life they are aiming for.
Which optometric issues concern you the most?
I would like to see improved awareness and involvement for optometry as a crucial member of the health care team. In my clinic, I have seen firsthand how important optometric care can be in influencing a patient’s diagnosis or management plan. I’d like to see our scope of practice and involvement on medical insurance plans reflect this.
Why did you choose a career in optometry?
I’ve known I wanted to be an optometrist since high school and never looked back. I have always been fascinated by the visual system: the eyes are small yet beautifully complex, and I was drawn to a profession in which I could make a tangible impact in each patient’s quality of life. I chose to specialize in neuro-optometry because I was fascinated by all of the neurologic coursework in school and enjoyed seeing those patients during my clinic rotations. It is estimated that up to 70% of the brain’s sensory information comes from the visual system, and over half of its cortical area is dedicated to visual processing in some form. Call me biased, but you cannot overemphasize the importance of the visual system (both sensory and motor) in our daily neurologic function. I am so excited to see where the field of neuro-optometry is headed.
Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?
I hope to continue working in interdisciplinary care and growing my clinic here in the Springs. I would love to continue to be active in lecturing and educating fellow optometrists and health care providers both locally and nationally. I would also like to pursue clinical research opportunities for evidence-based practice in ABI patients, retinal biomarkers of neurodegenerative conditions, and the value of OCT in monitoring demyelinating diseases.
What is one piece of advice you can give OPT-IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?
Personally, I can’t recommend completing an optometric residency enough. I was able to set myself apart in my practice because I am residency-trained in my field: it speaks volumes of you as a clinician in the medical community. Along those lines, find an area of optometry that you have a passion for, then seek to do it really well. Take pride in what you do!
DR. LAW'S OHIO STATE EXPERIENCE
What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?
I loved getting to participate in a variety of short-term service trips, both with FCO and SVOSH. I had the pleasure of travelling to Jamaica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua during my time in school, and I plan to continue participating in these trips for the rest of my career. I also loved getting to attend football games in the ‘Shoe and seeing us win a National Championship in 2014 -- that made me a Buckeye fan for life! Skydiving with classmates in fourth year was another fun memory that I certainly won’t forget.
What do Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?
The term “Buckeye Nation” really rings true when you leave Ohio. It’s an instant connection; I’ve had patients that seek me out because I am a fellow Buckeye, which has been so fun. I’ve also been to the official Ohio State bar(s) for football games in Denver and Colorado Springs, which helps to not miss the ‘Shoe quite as much. The College of Optometry started as a group of classmates and professors that has grown into a network of trusted colleagues and friends. I am forever grateful for the training I received at Ohio State.
How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry?
A highlight of my year is attending the Academy meeting: it never fails that I’ll run into fellow Buckeyes all over the meeting and I love seeing everyone at the alumni reception.
DR. LAW'S FUN FACTS
What are your current hobbies, volunteer work and interests?
I love spending time outdoors during all seasons: whether that is running, hiking, or skiing. I started running more during residency and some of our cohort still meets up to run races together. Outside of work, you can also find me cooking or baking: I love to try new projects with a wide range of variety (which usually make a big mess in my kitchen!). I volunteer with my church at local service projects and I’ve also had the pleasure to go back to Jamaica with the FCO chapter from Ohio State. I hope to continue serving on short-term mission trips for years to come.
What is a random, fun fact about you?
I ran a 24-hour relay race where I got to run across the Golden Gate Bridge at twilight. It was a beautiful sight!
What’s the best eye pun you’ve ever heard?
Why do optometrists live longer? Because they di-late.
If not an optometrist, I would be …
My parents always said I should have been a lawyer because I love to argue. But that is way too much reading for me!