Pate Named 2020 AOA Optometric Educator of the Year

Pate Named 2020 AOA Optometric Educator of the Year

A UAB School of Optometry faculty member has been named the American Optometric Association (AOA) Optometric Educator of the Year for the third time in less than five years. Caroline Pate, OD, FAAO, is the 2020 recipient of the award.

“Dr. Pate has a steadfast commitment to the optometric profession in and outside the classroom,” said Kelly Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, UAB School of Optometry Dean. “We are proud to have her on faculty and see every day just how worthy she is of receiving this esteemed honor.” 

The associate professor and the director of residency programs first served as residency supervisor for Family Practice at UABSO in 2008. At that time, she was the direct mentor to seven residents. As residency director since 2014, she has mentored and worked with 69 additional residency graduates, several of whom have become faculty colleagues at UABSO or at the school’s affiliated residency sites.  

Because of her leadership, each year the percentage of students from UAB entering residency programs exceeds the national average. Pate believes the percentage of students pursuing residencies speaks to the culture created at the school regarding the importance of residency education. 

“I can honestly say that my own residency changed my life – it changed my career path, put amazing mentors and colleagues into my life that I still keep in touch with today, and helped me become a more confident and well-rounded doctor,” she said. “It is my hope that each of our UABSO graduates that pursues residency education will finish out their residency with similar sentiments.” 

Leading by example, Pate is committed to volunteering within the profession of optometry locally, statewide, and nationally. She became involved in the Alabama Optometric Association (ALOA) and the Birmingham Area Optometric Society immediately after completing her residency at UAB. These organizations shaped who she is as an optometrist. 

“Not being a native Alabamian, nor an alumnus of UAB, it was a wonderful opportunity to become involved in the profession and meet many colleagues from the state,” Pate said. “Then, I didn’t know what amazing leaders in optometry the state of Alabama has in the profession. Their mentorship has been invaluable.”

Pate has served as the ALOA's Education Committee Chair for four years and produced very successful meetings for the association. She continues to share her expertise in the CE arena by serving on the ALOA Education Committee as a member. She has also served on the ALOA's Student Affairs Committee as a liaison between the association and the student leadership and faculty. Pate was named the Alabama Optometric Association's Young OD of the Year in 2014 and the Alabama Optometric Association's Educator of the Year in 2019.

She also assists the ALOA in organizing Student Day at the Legislature. Second-year students go to the state's capitol in Montgomery, to learn about optometric advocacy and to meet with their legislators. Pate helped to get this program off the ground and has been a part of it since its inception. 

As her involvement within the state association has grown, so has her involvement on a national level. Through her work on the AOA Faculty Relations Committee, Pate has helped to develop and has participated in the Optometric Educator's Exchange on numerous occasions. She has attended the AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference in 2008, 2013 and in 2017 to help advocate on behalf of the profession. Pate served on the AOA Faculty Relations Committee from 2012- 2016. 

Currently, she is serving on the AOA Membership Committee and as the Faculty and Student Membership Engagement Committee/Liaison. Pate is serving as the chair of the Allied Health Professionals Education Committee for SECO International as well. 

“One of the unexpected surprises of academia has been the opportunity to provide service to the profession in so many different ways,” Pate said. “I want my students to leave UABSO with a love for the profession, not only being well-prepared with the knowledge and clinical skills necessary to take care of the patients they will serve, but to trust what they know and admit what they don’t, to never stop learning, and to always put the patient first. I want them to leave UAB with the desire to become involved in optometry outside of patient care, to find their passion within the profession – whatever that may be, and look for ways to give back.”