You Can Go Home Again: Kallie Harrier, OD and MCPHS Grad Returns to Her Roots

Kallie Harrier OD ’19 has had an eventful year: the Wisconsin native moved through four different states during her clinical rotations before deciding to return home to DeForest, Wisconsin, to join Essential Family Vision Care. Her choice to begin her optometry practice in her rural hometown has come with some surprising opportunities. We sat down with her to learn more.

First off, can you tell us a little about what drew you to DeForest as a place to start your optometry career?

I grew up in DeForest, so I am very familiar with the community and still have personal connections there. During my fourth year clinical rotations, I spent a semester at Essential Family Vision Care (EFVC) working with the doctors that used to care for my eyes. Part way through my clinical rotation, they offered me a job and asked me to come back after graduation, join the practice and start a low vision clinic.

How has it gone so far? Has working in a smaller community offered any surprises?

So far it has been a wonderful experience. I love my coworkers and enjoy getting to work alongside my mentors. All four doctors are female, and it’s pretty awesome to be a part of such a successful, female-owned and operated business. (Who runs the world? Girls!)

DeForest and the surrounding community has grown significantly since I moved away in 2008, but it still has its small town charm. One surprising thing has been how welcoming everyone is. It’s really nice to see old neighbors, classmates and friends welcome me back to the community by trusting me with their care.

What has been the most challenging about beginning your career?

Transitioning from student to doctor has been a challenge, so much so that I decided to utilize the MCPHS Advantage Scholarship and pursue a master’s in public health online. Settling in one place and getting into a routine has been the biggest challenge for me. During clinical rotations, I moved from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to Arizona to Utah and then back to Wisconsin in the course of a year. It’s a weird sensation being in one place for this long, but it’s awesome. I am slowly but surely getting into the swing of things.

What kinds of vision challenges or special patient populations are you most excited to work with?

The thing that really drew me back to my hometown and EFVC was that my boss was 100% on board with opening a low vision clinic at the practice. There are no private practices in the area that offer low vision care, so I feel lucky to be able to provide this service to DeForest and the surrounding area. 

Low vision is a special area of optometry that focuses on maximizing visual function in patients with varying degrees of vision loss. I have been seeing patients with macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and other eye conditions. During a low vision evaluation (or "functional vision exam,” as we call it in the office), we ask the patient to come in with a goal in mind. Based on these goals, I can provide various devices that can help improve visual function, such as stand magnifiers, colored filters, illumination and digital magnification devices.

Low vision is why I became an optometrist. My grandmother lost her sight from macular degeneration and was unable to do the things she loved because of it. I am offering low vision rehabilitation services so others don’t have to stop doing the things they love just because their sight isn’t what it used to be.

How do you feel MCPHS prepared you for the work you’re doing? Can you point to any particular classes or professors whose lessons or mentorship really stand out in your mind?

After graduation, I felt prepared to step into the role of clinician. All of my instructors played a role in my education, but there are a few that stand out. Working with Dr. Leonard Contardo at Family Health in Worcester helped me become confident in my abilities; he made me feel like a colleague before I had the title of "Doctor of Optometry." Dr. Jamie Malloy taught me things that I never thought I would actually see in clinical practice but have actually seen almost every day in my clinical career thus far. Finally, I consider my low vision instructor, Dr. Louis Frank, a mentor. He helped guide me through the process of selecting equipment for my low vision clinic and encouraged me to follow the path that I am currently on. I wouldn’t be an optometrist without MCPHS and their amazing faculty.