Alumni Focus on Joan Nerderman (OD'86)



Ft. Recovery, Ohio

Were you the first optometrist in your family?

Yes, my parents didn’t even have the chance to graduate high school.

Which degree(s), related to optometry, did you earn at Ohio State?

I have an RN degree from Mt. Carmel College of Nursing – when I graduated high school the guidance counselor asked if I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. It was a different time in the 70s. After being a nurse for about five years, I decided I missed a little on my career choice and started taking the undergrad courses to get accepted into Ohio State Optometry. I didn’t consider anywhere else.

Who were your mentors at the College of Optometry? Who had a positive effect on your education?

I enjoyed Dr. Arol Augsberger, who taught a class on applying the knowledge we had, not just spitting our memorized facts - I hated it then but definitely see its worth now.

Dr. Mike Polasky taught us our clinical skills, so we realized we really could do this (in a time when we didn’t have to do gonio or even BIO for boards)

Dr. Kevin Alexander, since he was just so smart and knew everything about everything. He showed us where optometry was going in the future.


Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.

The Ohio State University College of Optometry- Clinical Associate Faculty for 15 years

MedWest Eyecare (Drs. Mike Weber, Christine Kesslar) in Westerville- where I work some Saturdays to remember what private practice and seeing families is all about

Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.

Depends on the day: Two days a week I get to work with senior Ohio State externs providing eye care to the homeless and uninsured of the community at Faith Mission with their associated advanced vision problems from lack of health care, domestic abuse and street drug use. The students are exposed to a lot more than just ocular issues.

Two days at Primary Vision Care Clinic at OSU where the 3rd year students get to apply their knowledge and you can see their happiness when they connect the dots from book knowledge to clinical application.

One day with an OSU senior providing home care to residents of nursing homes or those who cannot get out and otherwise access care. We get to see their home situation and make sure their visual aid devices will do the job in their home.

Tell us a special story that relates to your career now.

We saw a patient who was at the shelter and had been to three ERs in the past month for pulsating headaches. Each one thought she was just “drug seeking” and dismissed her complaints. She came to us since her vision was now failing. It was very easy to see the papilledema had spread all the way to the macula with hemes everywhere. It was a quick observation and referral back to the ER with a note so they could do an MRI and spinal tap to reach the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Which optometric issues concern you the most?

Health disparity - even with Obamacare there are many uninsured in our community. Many glaucoma patients who do not return for care to their previous OD because they cannot afford it or -6.00 drivers who are driving around our city without glasses.

Why did you choose a career in optometry?

Being a RN was close but I hated the fact I could not treat or diagnose- only carry out orders and draw a doctor’s attention to signs/symptoms of a patient. I like the ability to take that to the next level, which has come so much further than I would have anticipated in my lifetime- heck, we only got permission for dilating drops when I was in optometry school.

Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?

To be honest, I’ll have all my children out of college by then (at least undergrad) but I still can’t see retiring. There will always be health disparity and I’d love to be at Faith Mission meeting the needs of the underserved every day of the week! I can’t imagine not working with students and seeing their joy when they connect the dots from something they saw in a book to something they are seeing in a patient’s eyes. I find it ironic that I didn’t want to be a teacher but I guess that’s what I am now!

I would like to invent a way to make glaucoma hurt. I know that sounds like a masochist but think of the vision we would save!!

What is one piece of advice you can give OPT IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?

Can’t stop with one piece of advice:

You never know where your career may take you but keep your options open. Life is what happens while you are making plans for something else. Where you land may be better than you ever thought. Bloom where you are planted!!

When I graduated, glaucoma was elevated pressure and family history- maybe the nerve appearance a little. Boy were we wrong. We were also taught heat disinfection was the best for contact lens disinfection-wrong again. Keep current on new developments in our profession.

Give back to your communities wherever you are. The need is universal and you’ll feel repaid 100 fold.


Why did you choose to attend Ohio State?

Where else?! I burnt myself out on the oncology floor as an RN with experimental chemo of the 80’s and just worked at Ohio State and went to optometry school (and oh yeah- had a son- we had summers off then)

What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?

The talent shows- we were like the Weird Al of the school- took a song and changed the lyrics to suit our current classes. Like the theme song from M*A*S*H (Try to find a way to make- all the optics rays relate so h and h prime conjugate, those focal rays do nauseate) and We Are the World (We are Opt. IV- we’re almost ODs). Thanks Randy Harpring!

What lesson did you learn at Ohio State that has affected you the most so far in your career?

You have to be able to adapt an exam to your patient and think on your feet.

I also went to Ohio State when we didn’t have to worry about winning the football games- time and change

What does Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?

I may be the only Ohio State faculty member who is 3/3 for their children going to Ohio State!! No optometrists, but a great education getting them off on great careers. Brad (that I had during optometry school) is a lawyer and 32! Grant 26 and animal science grad working at Battelle and Brooke in undergrad, pre-vet.

How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry as an alumna?

As the class of 1986 secretary and being in Columbus most of the years, I have tried to organize our reunions. Our 30 year reunion is coming up and I’ve tried to contact everyone with email and snail mail but am missing many. Please help me try to get everyone together on Sept. 30-Oct. 1


What are your current hobbies, volunteer work, interests?

Animals- I have 2 rescued dogs and 2 cats.

I have hand raised 9 litters of kittens for Pets Without Parents- a no kill shelter in Columbus –until they were old enough to be adopted.

Volunteer at the Columbus Zoo with lorikeets and giraffe feedings

SCUBA- recently certified- no small feat for a not skilled swimmer

The last 5 years have taken the undergrad group I advise called Eyes on Health to medical missions in Appalachia through Remote Area Medical. Also taking some FCO optometry students. Patients line up days in advance to get routine eye care- that’s health disparity

If not an optometrist, I would be ...

Probably a vet by my hobbies- or if not a nurse practitioner (although that profession was in its infancy at that time)