From classroom to career: Latest wave of optometry graduates enter work force

UMSL College of Optometry Class of 2014

All 39 member of the UMSL College of Optometry Class of 2014 have entered the work force.

Emily Pike worked in the public health field for 12 years but felt something was missing. She found a fit after shadowing an optometrist and enrolled in the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

After four years, Pike finds herself among 39 students who graduated from the program in May, all of them with jobs already lined up in the optometry field. She will help open a private practice and retail optical shop in downtown Webster Groves, Mo.

UMSL alumna Emily Pike, OD 2014

UMSL alumna Emily Pike, OD 2014, will help open a private practice and retail optical shop in downtown Webster Groves, Mo.

“It’s a new venture that I’m happy and excited to take on,” Pike said. “The practice will emphasize customer service and the impact that great quality of care has on someone’s life.”

Pike and this year’s graduating class are not an anomaly for the College of Optometry, according to Nick Palisch, program director of student services for the college. A 100 percent job placement rate has been concurrent for the last five years. Palisch estimated about half of the graduates enter private practice, 20 percent enter a residency, 5 percent enter the military and the remaining graduates go on to work in a corporate setting, like Costco or LensCrafters.

Two students, Brad Engelbarts and Rachel Bierman Engelbarts, will move to the South Carolina coast to begin employment as optometrists for the Navy and Palmetto Eye Specialists, respectively.

Brad joined the Army right after high school, and fell in love with the optometry profession while stationed in Seoul, South Korea, and working in an eye clinic. He later fell in love with his classmate, Rachel, who he met on his first day of class at UMSL. But as Rachel pointed out, it took a year before they began hanging out for study sessions.

“Once we started spending those first evenings studying together in a coffee shop, it didn’t take long to realize we didn’t want to spend a day apart,” she said.

While Brad literally added a UMSL classmate as a family member, he also said he gained a new unofficial family in his other fellow students and faculty members.

“The atmosphere at the college was awesome,” he said. “Students truly wanted to help other students. We got to know the faculty on a personal level, and you could sense that they deeply cared for each other.”

UMSL alumni Rachel Bierman Engelbarts and Brad Engelbarts

UMSL alumni Rachel Bierman Engelbarts and Brad Engelbarts examine patients during a mission trip to Haiti.

“UMSL trains excellent doctors,” Rachel added. “They don’t just provide a top-notch faculty and staff for daily learning, they bring in world-class educators for guest lectures whenever possible to get us up to speed on the business side of optometry.”

For Emily Pike, the College of Optometry didn’t just prepare her to be an optometrist. It led to networking opportunities through her involvement in numerous organizations including the Missouri Optometric Association, American Optometric Association and Society for Advancement of Independent Optometry, UMSL’s private practice club. The native St. Louisan and mother of young children packed a lot into her day by treating her education like a full-time job.

“When I was at school, I was a student, and I often stayed and used the time to study if we ended a bit earlier than the typical workday,” Pike said. “Once I arrived home, I was Mom. We had dinner, did homework and got everyone ready for bed. Once my kids went to bed, I went back to being a student, and I studied for a few more hours before starting the process all over again the next day.”

Pike and the Engelbarts are looking forward to beginning their optometry careers, but they will all also miss their classmates.

“With such a small program, we have become family,” Pike said. “My classmates are going to be a great group of doctors, and I am proud to have shared this experience with them.”

“We had Thanksgiving dinner potluck style every year as a class,” Rachel Bierman Engelbarts recalled. “We have been in each other’s weddings. We studied together, took exams and boards together and then celebrated together afterward. They will forever be my ‘optometry family,’ and I will miss them dearly as we all head onto our careers all over the country.”

The UMSL Experience


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