An “Eye” for Talent
Shane Foster (OD’08) Exemplifies How Alumni Play a Vital Role in Recruiting the Best and Brightest Optometry Students
Year after year, Ohio State Optometry’s incoming class statistics reveal a clear theme: excellence. A prospective student pipeline composed of well-positioned, respected alumni who recognize high-caliber talent is vitally important to the recruitment process. It’s no stretch to say that Shane Foster (OD’08) is one of Ohio State Optometry’s top talent spotters. Although Dr. Foster owns a busy, thriving private practice in Athens, Ohio, he always makes time to lead promising prospective students in the right direction – straight to Ohio State Optometry. Here, he explains his thoughts on the process.
Q – Generally speaking, which attributes indicate potential success – in terms of applying to Ohio State, being a great student, and eventually becoming an outstanding optometrist?
Dr. Foster – Obviously, academic performance and grade point average are important, but I have found that passion for the profession and a genuine, innate interest in caring for others are what really make a great optometrist. In my office, we usually make hiring decisions based on the person and the personality, and we train the skills. I think the same could be said for optometry students. There are plenty of bright, talented, academically successful individuals who would not thrive in optometry if they do not have an interest in physiology or optics. Conversely, there are students I have worked with over the years who have struggled a bit academically but went on to become amazing and talented clinicians because they had the necessary drive and ambition.
Q – When you chat with prospective students, what highlights about optometry do you share?
Dr. Foster – One of the greatest things about optometry is the vast diversity of career opportunities despite all of us sharing a common education and the same degree. You can pursue private practice, corporate practice, research, academia, or an industry role. You can even mix and match them all. For instance, I own and work in a private practice, and I do clinical research in my practice and educate optometry students as an externship preceptor. You can practice optometry literally anywhere in the country, as there will always be people who need our services, whether they are living in a large metropolis or a small, rural town.
I also share that you can do as much or as little as you would like to do in our profession. You can work part time and still pursue other interests or dedicate more time to family. You can work 60 hours one week and take the next week off. You can commit a lot of time to the “extracurricular activities” of our profession, like volunteering in the American Optometric Association and state associations. Optometry truly has so many avenues that you can pursue, aside from the “Better with 1 or 2?”
Q – How do you guide prospective students through the process of exploring optometry, choosing Ohio State, and becoming an optometry student? Post-graduation, how does mentoring continue?
Dr. Foster – My practice is unique in that it is in a small town with a large university (Ohio University [OU]), so there are many opportunities to interact with potential optometry students. I have spoken with the OU pre-optometry club several times, and we have hosted the club for shadowing days in the office. We try to have at least one pre-optometry or pre-professional student on staff at all times. It is a great learning experience for them, and they are an asset to the flow of the office. They are quick learners and motivated to do well because it is more than just a part time job - it is real world experience. In my 13 years in practice, we have helped mentor and guide at least six Ohio University graduates to Ohio State Optometry [Matt Howell (OD’13), Mike Smith (OD’16), Alex Lamorgese (’21), Kinsley Gossard (’23), Nancy Hooper (’24), and Tik Wong (’25)] by employing them in our office part time. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch them grow and succeed and become colleagues. I love catching up with the new graduates at conferences and interacting with the current students at various college and AOA/Ohio Optometric Association functions. Each one is so talented, and they have and will continue to do amazing things for our profession.
Being an extern site for fourth-year students also has been very helpful to our local pre-optometry students. The curriculum and enrollment process has changed so much since I graduated, so the current fourth-year students are able to provide recent first-hand accounts of the application and interview processes, which helps the undergraduate students feel better prepared and more at ease. The externs have certainly had a positive impact on those high school and undergraduate students who were thinking about optometry as a career.
Q – Can you provide a specific example of a student you’ve guided to a career in optometry?
Dr. Foster – Nancy Hooper (’24) was a patient in my practice most of her childhood. As a teenager she developed an interest in optometry and shadowed the doctors in our office. While she was attending Ohio University, she was a subject in some of our contact lens studies and met with us to learn more about the profession. After she graduated from Ohio University, she decided to take a couple of years off prior to applying for optometry school. I hired her as a technician. She developed an interest in the optical as well and soon earned her optician’s license. Nancy was also inspired by the externs from Ohio State who rotated through my practice at the time. She was able to get up-to-date, real world information about optometry school that encouraged her to keep pursuing optometry as a career.
When Nancy decided to apply, it was late in the admissions process and Ohio State’s class was full, but she was accepted to another school. She struggled greatly with the decision. Knowing that Ohio State was her first choice and knowing that she possessed the skills and the talent to get accepted at Ohio State, I encouraged her to wait and re-apply during the next phase. She did, she was accepted, and she is now finishing up her second year! I am so proud of her accomplishments, and I have been able to watch her grow and flourish. She is so passionate about optometry, and she is already an advocate for the success of her chosen profession and for the health and safety of our patients.
Q – How does the advice you offer differ depending on the age of the potential student? For example, what advice would you give an enthusiastic eight-year-old who excels in STEM subjects, versus a high school junior who aced biology and chemistry?
Dr. Foster – For younger patients who express an interest in optometry or the medical field, I like to share fun facts about the eye and the visual system, and they really enjoy seeing high definition photos of their retina. Participating in the Ohio Optometric Association’s RealEyes program allowed me to share that information with local elementary school students as well. At that age, I usually keep it general and encourage them to explore the options available to them and to continue working hard in school. With younger kids it’s about showing them how fascinating the eye can be and how fun it is to work with people all day.
For high school-aged patients who show an interest in optometry, I always invite them to shadow me in clinic for a day or two so they can see the profession from a different angle. I talk to them about the unique features of optometry and how it combines medical care, refractive care, fashion, and retail sales, which really sets it apart from other medical professions. I encourage them to explore other similar professions as well, so they can get an idea of what is most interesting to them. Above all else, I encourage students to keep an open mind. I remind them that they don’t have to have a concrete career plan in high school or even early in their undergraduate studies. I remind them that I started college as a Spanish major but ultimately became an optometrist. I think it is important for students at any point in their education to be open to new areas, different viewpoints, and possible changes, because optometry and other medical professions are such diverse fields and have so much to offer.
Q – What/who guided you to optometry? Did you have an optometrist who mentored you?
Dr. Foster – As a child, I was a patient of Drs. Tom (OD’79, MS’81) and Susan Quinn (OD’82). I developed an interest in optometry because it was the one doctor visit that I actually enjoyed and felt like the instant improvement they could provide to my vision was fascinating. My parents asked Drs. Quinn how I could learn more about the profession, and they invited me to work in their office one afternoon a week while I was in high school. Being exposed to the office flow and doing a little shadowing kept me interested. When I was attending Ohio University (majoring in Spanish but trying to take the prerequisites for optometry school as well), they reached out to me again and asked if I would like to work part time in their office as a technician. I also ended up working in the front office and optical. That hands-on experience with patient care made me realize for certain that I wanted to pursue optometry as a career. I ended up shifting around my coursework and double majored in Biology and Spanish. The Quinns, of course, strongly encouraged me to attend Ohio State and wrote my letters of recommendation.
Since I joined their practice right after graduating from Ohio State, Tom and Susan continued to influence my optometric career and helped mentor me along the way as I explored my own professional path. We worked together as partners for several years, and we helped each other through the business aspects of optometry. Now that they have retired, I have taken the practice they opened cold, and I have molded it into my own, while continuing to grow and expand to meet the needs of my community. Just as Tom and Susan mentored me and guided me through the formative parts of my career, I am honored to have the opportunity to influence the next generation of BuckEYE optometrists.