Lauren Dermody

May graduate Lauren Dermody has joined the joint Missouri practices of Cherry Hill Family Eye Care in Wildwood and Sullivan Eye Care in Sullivan. Her time at UMSL was marked by involvement in the College of Optometry and service to the profession. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Treating low vision can get emotional fast – and that’s a big part of what Lauren Dermody likes about it.

The College of Optometry student recalled a recent patient, a young women who Dermody had shown an electronic magnifier.

“She was crying because she was like, ‘I couldn’t see the pages. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to read a book,’” Dermody said. “She didn’t think she’d be able to go to college. With low vision, you are providing a service to people that, a lot of times, they didn’t know existed. Our purpose is not really to treat the disease but more to treat the symptoms.

“I really enjoy having that bond with a patient and providing them that service that they didn’t even know existed and improving their quality of life.”

Low vision is one of several passions – including pharmacology and pediatrics – that she discovered while studying for her OD at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Dermody, who graduated in May, is now taking those passions to the joint Missouri practices of Cherry Hill Family Eye Care in Wildwood and Sullivan Eye Care in Sullivan.

Dermody’s entre into optometry began with her father’s quality of life. When he was in his 30s, he developed retinal detachments in both eyes and had emergency surgery.

“‘My vision went black, and I couldn’t see,’” she recalled him saying.

That, combined with her own poor vision, made optometry a top choice for Dermody when she was in high school, thinking about how she wanted to live the rest of her life.

“It’s a great field to be in because it’s super satisfying,” she said. “In the moment when somebody puts that contact lens in, and they can see right away, they’re going to be super happy. It’s a health care profession, and I really wanted to be able to help people.”

A native of Belleville, Illinois, she found herself drawn to UMSL’s family feel and proximity to home after graduating from Truman State University with a biology degree and a minor in Spanish for the medical professions, which has been useful during her clinical rotations, as Dermody can perform most of an eye exam in Spanish.

Transitioning to the large workload of optometry school was tough initially, but Dermody rose to the challenge.

“First year was hard,” she said. “But I had so much fun because I’ve made a really awesome group of friends. It’s so cliched, but when you do come to this school, it is like a family. I couldn’t have done it without a group of people to do it with me and helping me out.”

Pretty soon, Dermody had not only adapted but was excelling to the point that those around her noticed and offered her a way to help out her fellow students – first as a tutor and then a teacher’s assistant.

It all started when Director of Student and Alumni Services Nick Palisch asked Dermody if she’d like to tutor pharmacology.

“I love pharm,” Dermody said. “So many drugs that you can take affect your eyes. I’ll tutored in it and then kept getting more and more people.”

Pretty soon she found herself not only tutoring but serving as a TA for ocular disease.

“I like helping people obviously,” Dermody said. “I think it’s really cool to see how people click when you have that one-on-one interaction.”

Though she’s glad to be going into private practice after school rather than education, she sees herself using those skills to help her patients learn about their conditions and the treatment or management of them.

One of the things she’s most looking forward to about life after optometry school is the chance to practice rural care at the Sullivan location.

“You get to help people that really wouldn’t have another option,” Dermody said. “In Sullivan, a lot of people perform rural jobs and things in their eyes, so we do a lot of extractions of metal pieces or wood or glass from eyes. If we weren’t there to do that, they would probably have to come to St. Louis to be treated.”

Dermody’s time at UMSL, however, wasn’t all about academics or making it to post-school “real life,” as she calls it.

She was also super involved, serving as secretary for the American Optometric Student Association and chair for UMSL’s fundraising event, the Eye Ball. She enjoyed being president of the UMSL chapter of the National Optometric Student Association, helping plan an Easter egg hunt for the visually impaired in collaboration with St. Charles County Parks and Recreation Department, a fundraiser talent show, among others.

She also was part of the Missouri Optometric Association and Illinois Optometric Association and a student ambassador for the College of Optometry.

But perhaps the best part of her not-strictly academic UMSL life was meeting Matthew Falconer, an optometry student one year behind her who was her downstairs neighbor.

The two got engaged on March 30 this year.

“I would walk down the stairs every day and see him going to class, and we would talk,” Dermody said. “Then we had our white coat celebration, and we had a party and we started talking. Then he asked me on a date. So there we go.”

Jessica Rogen

Jessica Rogen