Alumni Focus on Sara Hitchman (OD’17) and AJ Peiffer (OD’16, MS’18)
THE STORY OF DR. SARA HITCHMAN AND DR. AJ PEIFFER
Dr. Hitchman: Butler, Ohio
Dr. Peiffer: Fostoria, Ohio
Which institution did you attend for your undergraduate degree? What was your major?
Dr. Hitchman: Mount Vernon Nazarene University - Biology
Dr. Peiffer: University of Toledo - Biology/Biochemistry
Which degree(s), related to optometry, did you earn at Ohio State?
Dr. Hitchman: OD’17
Dr. Peiffer: OD’16, MS’18
Who were your mentors at the College of Optometry? Who had a positive effect on your education?
Dr. Hitchman: Dr. Don Mutti, Dr. Jacqueline Davis and Dr. Aaron Zimmerman. Dr. Mutti helped me understand the importance of evidence-based medicine. Dr. Davis was a fabulous example of women in medicine. She really helped build my confidence in my third-year AOC rotation. She taught me so much about how to speak effectively with patients. Dr. Zimmerman was my student health preceptor. He taught me a great deal about contact lenses and ocular disease. He was great about answering my questions and helped prepare me for residency.
Dr. Peiffer: Dr. Cayti McDaniel and Dr. Andy Hartwick. Dr. McDaniel encouraged me to pursue the APF program in BV/Peds and continues to mentor me in my pediatric practice. Both served on my thesis committee and helped to develop, execute and publish my graduate research.
CAREER IN OPTOMETRY
Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.
Dr. Hitchman: University Hospitals Medical Group/Case Western Reserve University. Associate Professor of Ophthalmology. Cleveland, Ohio
Dr. Peiffer: University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s/Case Western Reserve University, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology. Cleveland, Ohio
Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.
Dr. Hitchman: I see between 20-28 patients, providing primary eye care, managing advanced ocular disease and fitting specialty contact lenses.
Dr. Peiffer: My typical day consists of seeing between 28-32 pediatric patients ranging from infants through adolescents, providing comprehensive exams, medical management of acute and chronic ocular conditions, post-surgical co-management, and contact lens fittings and trainings for patients and parents.
Both: We both see patients at 3-4 different locations around the greater Cleveland area. Most days consist of direct patient care as well as precepting for optometry externs from up to five school/colleges of optometry. We also participate in ophthalmology resident education and medical student observation.
Which optometric issues concern you the most?
Dr. Hitchman: One concerning issue is the way that insurance dictates what care patients can receive.
Dr. Peiffer: Compliance with treatment and management of ocular disease/conditions in pediatric patients, especially in under-served and lower socioeconomic populations.
Why did you choose a career in optometry?
Dr. Hitchman: I chose a career in optometry after I was diagnosed with convergence insufficiency as the cause of my worsening headaches in college. The optometrists I saw (Drs. Chip and Theresa Cooperrider) were kind enough to let me return and shadow them. They were fantastic mentors, and I was hooked!
Dr. Peiffer: I was always interested in a career in the medical field but was undecided on a path to pursue after graduating from UT. My cousin, Nick Peiffer, graduated from Ohio State Optometry while I was in undergrad. I had visited him several times at Ohio State, experienced the EYE house, and spoke to him and several of his classmates (in particular, Katie Greiner) about their experiences with optometry school/career. They all seemed to really enjoy the career path they had chosen and spoke so highly of the college and the career opportunities within optometry. My family often said, “We already have an eye doctor in the family, you should do something else.” But after spending time in Nick’s practice, I decided this was also the right choice for me. I was impressed by the complexity of issues he was treating, the unique solutions to several patients’ visual challenges, and the gratitude his patients expressed toward him. I wanted those same things out of a career, so I chose optometry.
Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?
Dr. Hitchman: In five years I hope to have expanded the current externship program and University Hospitals into a hybrid ocular disease/specialty contact lens residency.
Dr. Peiffer: Ideally, I’ll continue to have a thriving pediatric practice at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s but have a greater involvement in administration/leadership within the department to help expand the number of offices and providers to deliver specialized pediatric eye care that is desperately needed in the greater Cleveland area. I also hope to continue training future pediatric optometrists through our residency program.
What is one piece of advice you can give OPT-IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?
Both: The mentors/preceptors you had in school are still a resource for you after you graduate. You can always reach out with questions on complex cases. We keep in touch with preceptors from fourth year as well as residency/APF directors. Also, be involved in your state and national optometric organizations. They are great resources for networking, education, and job opportunities.
What does eye health, and eye care, mean for you?
Dr. Hitchman: To me it means opportunity. Whether its successfully treating dry eye to allow someone to get back out on the ski slopes, fitting a scleral contact lens so that someone can feel comfortable driving at night, or maximizing remaining vision to help someone with AMD continue to read, I think that through eye care we are able to provide our patients with opportunities to get more of what they want out of life.
Dr. Peiffer: I also believe eye care provides opportunity. From a pediatric standpoint, addressing eye health and eye care gives children the opportunity develop critical visual skills, learn to read, and enjoy the beauty of the world around them.
OHIO STATE EXPERIENCE
What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?
Dr. Hitchman: Winning the first CFP National championship, EYE tailgates/events, Lions Club fundraisers, Pelotonia, playing with the Band Keratopathy, having a great group of friends to spend four years with, and meeting my husband.
Dr. Peiffer: CFP NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! Epsilon Psi Epsilon events, Mirror Lake jump during TTUN week, awkward photos with the best friends, and meeting my wife.
What do Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?
Dr. Hitchman: Ohio State means a lot to my family, growing up watching the Buckeyes play football was a regular fall activity. But during my senior year of undergrad and the first two years of optometry school, my father received treatment for soft tissue sarcoma at The James, and Ohio came to mean so much more. In fact, one day during second year, my friend Kirsti Roehm got our entire class and Dr. Davis to wear yellow as a sign of support on a day my father was having surgery. The words ‘how firm thy friendship’ are perfectly fitting for the camaraderie I experienced during my years at Ohio State.
Dr. Peiffer: Sara and I met at Ohio State and that will always be special to us. We truly believe “how firm thy friendship” as we have some the of best friends we met at Ohio State. Shout out to the DARKNESS. I also believe every opportunity that I’ve been presented with in my career is a result of my affiliation with this great college and colleagues. OSU is family.
How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry?
Both: We both stay connected through the externship program. Our clinic site is proud to welcome fourth year students as they gain clinical experience and prepare for their next steps. We have also lectured at various CE events for OSUCO, attended EYE tailgates, and are regular attendants at the OSUCO alumni mixer at AAO.
What are your current hobbies, volunteer work and interests?
Both: Most of our free time is now spent with our daughter, Maren, whom we welcomed in June 2023. We also enjoy spending time on Lake Erie, exploring Cleveland, and traveling with a group of friends.
What is your nickname? (Or another fun, random fact about you)
Dr. Hitchman: My family operated a haunted house from when I was in high school through my last year of optometry school. This fun fact is something that Dr. Mutti was so interested in during my interview - he even came to the haunted house during my fourth year!
Dr. Peiffer: I’m related to the inventor of the piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori, but I cannot play the piano.
If not an optometrist, I would be …
Dr. Hitchman: A primary care doctor
Dr. Peiffer: Maybe a carpenter - I like building and finishing projects.