Kandace Alfred earns 2017 Memorable Conversations Scholarship

by | Apr 26, 2017

The third-year College of Optometry student used jello as a means for delivering a memorable and patient-friendly explanation of floaters, a common vision issue.
Kandace Alfred, Memorable Conversations Scholarship

Kandace Alfred is in the third year of the Doctor of Optometry program at UMSL, which she says she chose in part because of the family feel that she picked up on during her application and interview process. (Design by Wendy Allison. Images courtesy of Kandace Alfred)

Developing a passion for optometry wasn’t something Kandace Alfred ever planned on when she was growing up in Slidell, Louisiana – roughly 33 miles outside New Orleans.

Instead, it was something she discovered largely by chance.

“I needed a job during college, and through an odd series of events I ended up as an optical associate at Sears Optical,” says Alfred, who is now a student in the Doctor of Optometry program at the University of Missouri­–St. Louis. “During my time there, I fell in love with the patients and the profession. I worked at Sears Optical for three and a half years before starting optometry school. Happenstance is the motif of my life.”

Kandace Alfred, UMSL

Alfred’s video starts off with an homage to her hometown of Slidell, Louisiana.

Now that she’s three years into having swapped Slidell for St. Louis because of the student ambassadors, small class size and intimate, family feeling she felt at UMSL, Alfred says that happenstance has been at play again.

This time, it’s pointed her towards funds for study.

Alfred found the Memorable Conversations Scholarship – a joint effort between the group ODs on Facebook and patient education software developer Rendia – while browsing social media.

“ODs on Facebook is a private group of approximately 30,000 optometrists, optometry students, opticians and anyone working in the optometric profession,” explains Alfred. “Tough and interesting clinical cases are shared as well as funny patient stories, equipment and practices for sale, et cetera.

“The scholarship was posted sometime in December during our winter finals. I saw the post, then completely forgot about the scholarship until another candidate posted his submission in February. That day, I called my friend and fellow Class of 2018 classmate, Candis Clark. I bribed her with dinner and a break from studying for our national boards examination if she would help me with the video.”

That video, one of the contest’s two requirements, needed to capture Alfred explaining an eye condition to a patient in the most creative, nontraditional way she could – without the use of any typical, standard-practice optometric tools.

Alfred chose to focus on floaters – a common vision issue many individuals experience as they age.

To do so, she turned to jello.

Kandace Alfred explains floaters

Alfred uses jello to explain the naturally changing state of the eye’s vitreous that occurs throughout the human aging process.

As Alfred explains in her lighthearted submission which features a baby doll, some creative costuming and the acting talents of Clark, “When we are born, the vitreous has a texture that is similar to jello. Throughout our lives, this jello-like substance plays an important role in helping us maintain clear vision. As we age, most of the jello-like substance begins to liquefy and becomes more like water. However, some of the jello clumps together and causes those annoying floaters.”

The humorous yet still thoroughly scientific approach worked for the folks from Rendia and ODs on Facebook. In March, they chose Alfred as one of two winners for their inaugural competition and awarded her $5,000 in scholarship funds.

Rendia created a mashup compilation that blends Alfred’s explanation and some footage from her video with patient-educating imagery from their software.

Her video wasn’t the only thing that likely pushed Alfred to the top of the heap of submissions, however. She also had to craft an essay addressing the question of how – once she becomes a practicing OD – she will engage in memorable and impactful conversations with her patients.

Alfred’s essay reads like an impassioned promise to those future patients as she offers to listen, inform, reassure, reiterate and fully participate in their care. She also identifies why the study of optometry became so important to her all those years ago when happenstance showed her the way.

“Vision is the most exquisite and the most endangered of all of the senses,” she writes. “I pursued this profession to help people preserve this fragile sense. I never want to lose my passion for people or this profession. Through powerful, memorable conversations, I will encourage all of my future patients to do everything in their capacity to preserve this magnificent, irreplaceable gift.”

To view Alfred’s original video submission or read her essay in its entirety, visit Rendia’s website.

The UMSL Experience

Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch