Alumni Focus on Paul Grigsby (OD’21)
DR. GRIGSBY'S STORY
I grew up in a military family, so I moved around a lot as a child. However, I’d probably claim South Ogden, Utah or the greater Seattle area as my hometowns.
Which institution did you attend for your undergraduate degree? What was your major?
I was a non-traditional student before attending Ohio State. My first undergraduate degree was in computer science with minors in mathematics and English from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington. I went on to become a video game developer working on Star Wars and Marvel titles for the PC, XBOX 360, and PS3. Specifically, I was an artificial intelligence software engineer, which led to some awesome opportunities such as making Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Iron Man, Squirrel Girl, and Magneto to name a few. I worked in the video game industry for four years and decided I wanted a different job with a better work-life balance and job stability.
I decided to do a complete 180 and become an optometrist. None of my credits transferred into the pre-med track, so I had to start from scratch and finished a second undergraduate degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of Washington.
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?
Without a doubt my biggest mentors would be my fourth-year advanced practice preceptors (shout-out to Dr. Muckley, Dr. Rudy, Dr. Greiner, Dr. Beckett, and Dr. Zaczyk to name a few) at Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons. Ohio State offers many unique opportunities for rotations around the country, and I’m grateful to have had awesome ones during my fourth year. I also did rotations in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Columbus area that were amazing locations as well.
DR. GRIGSBY'S CAREER IN OPTOMETRY
Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.
I'm an officer and optometrist in the U.S. Navy. I currently work as a staff optometrist at Naval Hospital Guam. After being accepted into Ohio State, I applied for the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) through the Navy and was one of the lucky few to have been selected in the country. Fun fact for those applying, you can apply for the HPSP scholarship through the Navy, Air Force, and/or the Army. It’s a great opportunity to serve your country, explore the world, improve leadership skills, and graduate from optometry school debt free. They even pay you a stipend to go to school! In return for the scholarship, I owe four years of active duty service.
Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.
My day starts out driving up the coastline of Guam as the sun rises over the ocean horizon. Guam has breathtaking sunrises and sunsets nearly every day. I’ve never seen anything like it! There are lot of colors and cloud formations you don’t see in the states.
At work, there are three eye doctors: two optometrists and one ophthalmologist. In optometry, we have six corpsmen who work the front desk, help with patient care, and fabricate lenses. The corpsmen are trained to help screen patients until they ultimately end up in my care. Currently, our clinic provides care for military members and their dependents. We are also on-call at the hospital for emergency eye care.
On my way home from work I often see packs of boonie dogs and sometimes even carabao. Carabao are a type of water buffalo seen in Guam. Boonies are a type of dog here that is a mix of the breeds left on the island after World War II. It is estimated that there are over 30,000 strays on the island. Not long after coming to the island, my wife and I adopted two boonie puppies and named them Mango and Dragon after the tropical fruits of Guam. I like to catch the sunsets during their evening walks as well.
Which optometric issue concerns you the most?
Diabetic retinopathy. In the Western Pacific alone, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 131 million people living with diabetes. I see diabetic patients every day at work and what we do as optometrists really does help to preserve sight in these patients.
Why did you choose a career in optometry?
It was mainly due to the work-life balance and job stability. To work as a programmer, the vast majority of the jobs are on the East or West coast in big cities. However, optometry enables us to work just about anywhere (including Guam!). As a programmer I was working crazy hours in what we call “crunch periods.” There were milestones that needed to be met otherwise companies would “red light” projects and all your friends would lose their jobs. It was an immense pressure knowing that your colleagues and friends who just moved across the country/world with their family and bought a house would have their livelihood ripped out from underneath them if milestones weren’t met.
Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?
Great question, I’m in the process of figuring this out! The Navy offers some unique opportunities such as aerospace optometry that you don’t find anywhere else. I’ve also thought about going back to school for a PhD in vision science through the Navy’s Duty Under Instruction (DUINS) program, which would allow me to merge my programming and optometry backgrounds. I could also see myself working at a VA or private practice in the future.
What is one piece of advice you can give OPT-IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?
Studying for board exams can be terrible, but it gets so much better once it’s all done. There is so much knowledge to learn in your fourth year despite all the craziness going on, including passing classes, making your preceptors happy, passing boards, getting licensed through your selected state, and maintaining your family/relationships. Study hard, remember what you can, and someday you’ll reflect back on all of it with a sense of pride and accomplishment. You can do it!
DR. GRIGSBY'S OHIO STATE EXPERIENCE
What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?
Many of my favorite memories derive from being involved in the Epsilon Psi Epsilon (EYE) fraternity. I lived in the fraternity house for a little over two years and it was a great way to meet people, especially considering I was a non-traditional student from out of state. I highly recommend anyone to join the fraternity (it’s co-ed) whether you decide to live there or not. The occasional costume parties, tailgates, and camaraderie of going through the experience together were all very memorable experiences.
What do Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?
I ended up meeting my wife at the start of my second year, who was a physical therapist and faculty member at Ohio State. I’ll always remember the school as where my family began because of this. After 12 long years of higher education, Ohio State helped me accomplish my dreams of becoming an optometrist. It prepared me well to face the daily wave of patients and the many complex but interesting cases.
How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry?
I recently attended the Ohio State Alumni event at Academy in San Diego this year after earning my Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry (FAAO) credential. I still communicate with a number of the professors and/or preceptors from time to time about interesting cases.
What has the COVID-19 experience taught you about patient care?
The pandemic caused a disparity in health between the young and the old. So many of my patients that were elderly were scared to come in due to pre-exiting conditions. Because of this, their quality of life and their health suffered due to not being seen. To this day, I still get patients that are being seen for the first time in any mode of healthcare since the start of the pandemic and they are often out of medications with raging diabetes or hypertension.
DR. GRIGSBY'S FUN FACTS
What are your current hobbies, volunteer work and interests?
I spend a lot of time playing with our boonie dogs. I also enjoy trying the exotic produce that my wife likes to grow or cook that is local to the island. I still program fairly regularly. Most recently I created a reverse geocache box out of red oak for my wife. I have recently been trying to merge my programming experience with optometry to create software tools to make our jobs as doctors easier. I’ve volunteered about 150 hours over the last year at the United Services Organizations (USO) here at Naval base Guam.
What is a fun, random fact about you?
I once starred as Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a Halloween musical production. I’ve also had a vocal solo on the stage of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco!
What’s the best eye pun you’ve ever heard?
My coworker has a running joke with me that I went to Indiana University (IU) despite me repeatedly telling him I went to OSU.
If not an optometrist, I would be …
A programmer … but I already did that!