Student Focus on Insam Alsanai
Name: Insam Alsanai
Hometown: Dearborn, Michigan
High School: Riverside Academy
Undergraduate Institution: University of Michigan-Dearborn
Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Biological Sciences
Anticipated #OSUopt Graduation Year: 2026
How old were you when you received your first eye exam? What was the experience like for you?
I was 11 years old when I had my first eye exam. I remember all of my friends in school telling me that I must be needing eyeglasses if I am going to be visiting an eye doctor. I remember walking into the optometrist's office, anxious about being told that my vision was deteriorating and that I will need to wear glasses. I had the fear of being singled out as the “kid with four eyes” in school. When I voiced those concerns to my doctor, he was very fast in reassuring me that regular dilated eye exams are looking for more than just refractive error. That was the first time I was introduced to the misconception that eye health was purely a refractive error problem. My optometrist was very thorough when he explained to my 11-year-old self that our eyes can be a reflection of our overall health. Ever since then, I have gained a curiosity in wanting to understand more about vision health and why such a misconception existed in the community I lived in.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in optometry?
Ever since my first eye exam and my interaction with my optometrist, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the field of eye health. However, the moment when I knew that optometry was the path for me was during the unfortunate time when my grandfather lost vision due to chronic untreated angle closure glaucoma. That was the moment when I knew that the high prevalence of visual impairments in my community was caused by a misconception that is overlooked by many. In the community, vision health is not actively sought. When conversations about visiting an optometrist are discussed, they always revolve around the topic of refractive error and rarely on the overall health of the eye. Therefore, throughout my undergraduate education, I tried to associate myself with underserved communities to truly understand their needs and to start raising awareness about the importance of regular dilated eye exams. From interning at a community health center to shadowing at an OD/MD practice, I realized that my community needed future care professionals that are aware of the misconceptions and physical barriers limiting their chance to better eye health.
Why did you choose Ohio State Optometry?
As I mentioned before, one thing that I really hope to achieve with my optometric education is increasing awareness among the underserved about the importance of regularly seeking eye care. To do this, I needed to be part of an institute that provides top-notch education and values interprofessional development. It was during interview day that I knew Ohio State Optometry is the perfect institute that will provide me with all the necessary skill sets to confidently serve the community. I remember when the program was introduced to us, interprofessional education and cultural competence were emphasized as important skills to have when working with underprivileged populations. I truly felt that Ohio State Optometry had all the features I was looking for in a graduate school. Additionally, the small class size and faculty-to-student ratio were part of the other appealing factors that stood out to me. Coming from a regional campus that is well known for its small class size, I have always found it helpful to interact more closely with instructors and classmates to ensure the best learning outcome. Transitioning into a more rigorous program, I knew I wanted to be part of a university that also has a small student-to-faculty ratio to ensure that I can seek help whenever I need it.
What was your first impression of Ohio State Optometry?
My first impression of Ohio State Optometry was during interview day when we were introduced to the program. I was completely amazed at how the program has been laid out to ensure the best education for its students. The idea of completing didactic work within the first year and then mastering clinical skills during the second year gives the students the time to truly absorb and grasp the information at a consistent level. I believe this will give the students the ability to focus on each skill set without having to juggle didactic courses with clinical courses. The way the program has been laid out made me believe that Ohio State Optometry is a strong institute that takes pride in graduating the best-skilled doctors every patient deserves to have!
What surprised you most about Ohio State and/or Columbus?
Coming from a small regional campus, I was really surprised at how big Ohio State is and I remember being worried about adjusting to the different environment. However, I was surprised at the close-knit community that the College of Optometry fosters. Everyone here is very supportive of the other and is always there to offer help when needed. I am so lucky to have ended up in such a supportive environment that encompasses the most amazing faculty and students. Also, the city of Columbus is such a diverse city that has so much to offer. Wherever you come from, you will be able to find your own community here!
Which clubs/organizations have you joined at Ohio State?
I am currently a member of the AOSA, NOSA, SVOSH, Lions Club, Low Vision’s Club, and Ocular Disease Club. There are so many amazing opportunities to get involved in any area that you are interested in. I look forward to expanding my membership at some of these clubs as elections start.
Who has most positively affected you during your time as an optometry student so far?
Transitioning into graduate school has been challenging, but I am so fortunate for having my support system, which consists of my family, faculty, and my classmates. I would say that my family's support has been the strongest positive influence that has gotten me to where I am today. They constantly remind me of their never-ending support, which has helped me through the challenging parts of this year. I am also grateful for having such supportive faculty members, especially Dr. VDN who has been there for me ever since day one. She has always listened to my worries and never failed to guide me through them. Dr. Earley has also been a positive influence on me. His way of teaching has encouraged me to want to be the best doctor by expanding my knowledge beyond what my profession entails to ensure the best delivery of care to my future patients. And last but definitely not least, my classmates who have gone through the struggle with me as we paved our way through the challenging times of first year. I am so lucky to have found an amazing friends group ever since day one. They have been very supportive and were always available when I needed them. It is very rewarding to find a supportive network that will ensure you are never alone through such a challenging journey.
What was your favorite part of optometry school so far and what are you looking forward to in future years of the program?
I have mentioned this before, but I like the idea that most of the didactic courses are completed within the first year of the program. It has been really insightful to learn about the different systemic diseases that can have early symptoms shown through visual manifestations allowing early detection of possible life-threatening events. I look forward to finally getting to apply what we have learned in the clinic. I am also super excited to start using my new equipment, which has just arrived!
What advice do you have for the Class of 2027 as they start optometry school this fall?
One important piece of advice I would like to give the incoming class is to not be afraid to be yourself! You do not have to change yourself to fit in. You are unique in your own way and what you bring to the table will help you and your peers develop the needed cultural competence when working with a diverse community of patients. We all have our biases, but it is important that we discover and work on resolving them early on to avoid unpleasant interactions with our future patients. Also when it comes to studying and succeeding in classes, try to develop your own way of studying and stick with it. Do not compare yourself to others, what works for them may not work for you. Remember you are learning all this new information for your future patients, not for the letter grade. You have made it into Ohio State, therefore, you are more intelligent than you know! Believe in yourself and do not let anything stand in the path of your education.