I was interested in taking care of patients in the community that I was part of. From a very early stage [of my career], I was looking at demographics and communities. I landed at my current practice by working for a doctor nearby, and then moving over into a private practice.
On a day-to-day basis, I am taking care of patients. We're just not providers of eyeglasses or contact lenses; in California we prescribe medications that treat certain eye-health conditions. If there's an eye infection or an injury, we are doing minor surgical procedures, as well as prescribing medications to correct eye infections or eye inflammation.
Since I graduated in 1992, California has changed its laws and allowed optometrists to treat glaucoma. I've kept up with my licensure for the types of services that we're allowed to do in this state. You have to make a decision based on where you want to practice, how you want to practice, and what conditions you want to care for or treat.
Lam: Have you always wanted to be an optometrist?
Hawthorne: Yes. As an undergraduate, I was taking courses alongside other pre-med, pre-dental, pre-pharmacy students. You're taking the same courses, but then you have to determine where you would like to further your studies. Of the choices, I worked for a couple of providers who were pharmacists and looked at other health professions—and I just decided this was a good fit.
Basically, as an optometrist, you're seeing pretty healthy patients overall. Their concerns are conditions. There aren't as many emergencies in optometry, per se. It makes for a lifestyle where you're not working extended hours. It's a well-kept secret that we have a pretty steady schedule: Arriving at work usually the same time each day, and a typical day does not run into overtime.
Lam: Besides the regularity of the work schedule, what else drew you to optometry?
Hawthorne: The deciding factors came while I was working for a practitioner in an office observing the dynamics of what goes on on a day-to-day basis. You eventually ask yourself: Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life? Looking at the stress level, the administrative tasks, the staff requirements, and support systems that's involved, it was a good fit.
Lam: You mentioned that serving patients in your community was a deciding factor. What does that mean to you?
Hawthorne: It has to do with where health-care needs are: A lot of people graduate after spending a good period of time accumulating student loans, and you want to pay them off quickly by going into a practice that will be successful and thrive.
But you can't have every graduating student from all the health-profession schools all in the metropolitan areas working in the same four square-miles. California is a large state; it has rural environments. It has metropolitan areas that are densely populated, but there are underserved areas. It may be the lack of transportation. For areas of lower socioeconomic status, there's a need there. To provide expertise and skills for patients at this level, you're improving their quality of life. That was something that I wanted to do because patient care takes education, it takes patience, and you improve the outcome in the community. I think [what I do now] does more for our state than I could have done in a different profession.