Karen Rosen: Alumna was among university’s first optometry graduates

UMSL alumna Karen Rosen, OD 1984

(Photo by August Jennewein)

Optometry awards line the hallway leading to Dr. Karen Rosen’s office. She was one of Vision Monday magazine’s 50 most influential women in optical, the 2006 St. Louis Optometrist of the Year and one of the St. Louis Business Journal’s most influential business women.

“Optometry has been my life,” Rosen (pictured) explains.

But before 1980, that wasn’t the case. Rosen had worked a few jobs, including teaching. It’s not that she hadn’t considered optometry as a career. After all, her husband was an optometrist, and she had the perfect background for the profession with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Indiana University Bloomington. Rosen simply had yet to choose the optometry path.

So with some encouragement from her peers, she applied to the budding optometry program at UMSL. Dr. Jerry Christiansen, the first dean of what was the School of Optometry at UMSL, recruited her over the telephone, and her answer was yes.

In fall 1980, Rosen started classes in Marillac Hall, a former convent turned optometry school. She says she remembers the long days in a single classroom where professors rotated teaching the first cohort of 32 students.

“We were a tight-knit class,” Rosen says.

And they had to be with a more intensive curriculum, 23 hours a semester, pre-clinics and limited rotation opportunities. All of this was complicated by the lack of optometry teaching materials and tools. She joked about what became a common phrase for her professors.

“We often heard, ‘If we had this tool, then you would do it like this,’” Rosen says. “Back then the school was feeling its way.”

Her fourth and final year wrapped up in spring 1984. By then, she was teaching pre-clinic to students in their third year of coursework, and she completed an optometry degree as a member of the College of Optometry’s first graduating class.

“The education I got from UMSL was terrific,” Rosen says. “Absolutely top-notch.”

She spent the first 25 years of her career working at LensCrafters as an independent contractor. She and her husband now run Rosen Optometry, their private practice in south St. Louis County.

Besides her work in the states, Rosen has gone on 19 international missions to developing countries, where she conducted examinations for people in need. She helped bring new and recycled eyeglasses to people in India, Ecuador, Mexico, Tunisia, Chile and Thailand.

“I like taking care of patients,” Rosen says. “You only get one set of eyes and you have to take care of them. I want to make sure that patients can see for as long as possible and hopefully the rest of their lives.”


This story was originally published in the spring 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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