Perseverance makes Matthew Moerdick’s graduation extra sweet

by | May 10, 2019

The optometry student got into UMSL on his third round of applications. He’s set to graduate this month on the dean’s list and with a job.
Matthew Moerdick

Optometry student Matthew Moerdick graduates this May with a job lined up at Pritchett Eye Care Associates in Reno, Nevada. (Photo by Janice White)

When he got the email, Matthew Moerdick had just left his interview at the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Optometry and was on the MetroLink heading to Ballpark Village for some lunch and tourism.

He opened it: “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted…”

He started crying.

For anyone else, being almost 2,000 miles away from home and alone would have made the acceptance extra poignant. For Moerdick, the circumstances didn’t need any elevation. Everything he’d done for the past three years had been about this moment.

That’s because Moerdick hadn’t gotten into optometry school the first time he applied – nor the second. There were some schools he’d been denied by three times. Someone else might have quit trying. But Moerdick buckled down and worked harder.

“I remember very vividly,” he said. “I cried like a little baby, and I was calling my mom and my dad because this was just something that I had worked really hard for three or so years and facing not getting in to some schools two, even three times. This huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It was very emotional. It was a great experience that I’ll never forget.”

But Moerdick’s story isn’t that of someone who worked hard and then got everything he wanted – queue up the happily ever after music. Instead, it’s about someone who worked hard, got something he wanted, then worked harder. He doesn’t intend to stop now. Graduating from the College of Optometry this month on the dean’s list and with a job lined up at Pritchett Eye Care Associates in Reno, Nevada, Moerdick hopes to be a positive light for optometry.

Moerdick’s passion for optometry came on slowly but surely. First, there was the revelation of corrected vision, which came at age 10. That had a huge impact on one of Moerdick’s other devotions – sports – and he’s never forgotten the feeling of instantly going from blurred to clear slight.

A friend’s father, a local optometrist, got Moerdick thinking optometry might be the career for him and shadowing while in school at the University of Nevada, Reno reinforced that impression. Then there was Moerdick’s summer working for the family asphalt business, which his father started the same year Moerdick was born. Though Moerdick praises the business as a blessing for the family, he knew that wasn’t what he wanted in his future.

“It’s 60-plus-hour weeks,” he said. “We were pouring 350-degree asphalt when it’s 90 to 100 degrees in Reno, so it made me appreciate what my dad and my brother do but definitely got me focused on getting back into the classroom.”

Not getting into optometry school straight out of college was disappointing, but Moerdick didn’t allow himself to become dissuaded. Instead, he got a job as an optometric technician at Pritchett Eye Care and focused on improving himself.

“I knew that getting right into the profession firsthand and learning would be my best way to make myself more competitive and to reinforce my passion for optometry,” he said. “Working there did exactly that for me. I met a lot of great doctors, great staff and employees, and they’ve all been very, very helpful in my journey. They were truly a blessing.”

He kept applying until UMSL granted him that interview, which Moerdick believes was his key to entry.

“I think my patient communication, my personal skills, are definitely some of my strengths,” he said. “I feel there are a lot of candidates who want to be optometrists, like myself, that slip through the cracks or don’t get their opportunity to get into school, become an eye doctor and thrive helping their community. I know how hard I had to work to get into school, and I worked 10 times as hard to stay up on my grades and to do well while in school.”

Moerdick’s perseverance was rewarded this year when the American Academy of Optometry Foundation and VSP Global selected him as one of two UMSL recipients for the $3,250 AAOF VSP/FYidoctors Global Scholarship, which is awarded to top-performing fourth-year students. Valerie Leff, also graduating this May, was the other awardee.

“It was quite an honor,” he said. “Just to be recognized for that out of our great group of classmates was something really special to me and something that I’m really proud of. It lets me know that the hard work that I’ve been putting in is starting to pay off.”

Moerdick attributes his success at UMSL to a support system that includes his family and fiancée, Morgan, as well as the tight-knit group of friends he’s made in school. Living so far away from home would have been difficult without them.

Courtesy of those close bonds comes one of Moerdick’s favorite type of UMSL moments – the end-of-school retrospective. After each semester the group would get together and talk high and low points and celebrate. Their second-year review is especially meaningful to Moerdick.

“It’s notoriously the hard year,” he said. “Grinding along and getting through tests and proficiencies and labs and exams. Just to take that last final of the semester and able to kind of sit back and rejoice with friends and reflect. Talk about how bad it sucked and how good it feels to be done with it and moving along knowing we’re that much closer – one semester closer, one year closer – to getting our white coats, to seeing patients, to fourth-year rotations to now, when we’re graduating.”

This last semester before Moerdick leaves UMSL to return to Pritchett Eye Care, he’s been externing with Bruce Williams, a contact lens specialist in Seattle, which jibes with Moerdick’s interests as a longtime contact lens wearer. Another part of Moerdick’s interests is the disease side of care, which he developed in the fall semester during his externship with Tim Harkins at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. He looks forward to returning home and providing the Reno and Sparks communities with excellent eye care.

Down the road, Moerdick envisions opening a practice with a partner. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s not what’s most important to him.

“My ultimate goal is just to be the best optometrist that I can be,” he said. “I want to provide my patients the best eye care that they can get and, most importantly, that they deserve. I hope to be a positive light when people come for an eye exam and think about optometry.”

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Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen

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