Just as our students had to pivot and adapt with little to no warning as the pandemic progressed, so too our faculty had to adjust and readjust during the pandemic. We wanted to dedicate this issue’s Essentials to Lindsay Sicks, OD ’10 for her tireless work in implementing the vaccination training that allows doctors of optometry to serve as COVID vaccinators. As a legislated profession that has had to fight for an expansion of scope, this has been an important move forward for the profession, and it would not have happened without the support and dedication of Dr. Lindsay Sicks.
Growing up in Orland Park, Dr. Sicks has always known where her heart lies — in the Midwest and in Chicago. Choosing a small central Illinois town for undergraduate, her transition to Chicago for graduate school gave her the opportunity to explore 'the big city'. “I was really nervous going to my interview at ICO, but the second I walked in Anthony Barone was there to greet me, and it just felt like home.” As a student she heard the sounds of the city from her apartment as the train whizzed by, “It was a really fun phase of my life. I loved every second of being in optometry school.”
After optometry school, she went on to do a residency in Oklahoma and then taught at Midwestern University before returning to ICO in 2013. Her path from ICO student to ICO Associate Professor and a specialist in cornea and contact lenses was not always straightforward, but she found her way with the help of mentors and those who believed in her, and we are so thankful she did. Here are a few of her essentials.
THE POWER OF YES
When I first arrived at ICO, I was sure I wanted to specialize in pediatrics, but the more time I spent in the peds clinic the more I realized it wasn’t my thing. Even after doing my third year research project specifically on kids, I could feel it was not the right place for me. After one of my original externship rotations was cancelled, I signed up with Chicago Cornea Consultants and I just loved it. Every day was so fun, the patients were challenging, it was so fast paced — every day there was something new. It totally changed my view of what I wanted to do.
Jennifer Harthan, OD ’06 and Janice M. Jurkus, OD ’74, MBA really encouraged me to do a residency, but I definitely had a bit of imposter syndrome. Cornea residencies, after all, there are only a few residencies, and I just didn’t know if I was good enough. I had thought I would want to continue at ICO, but the cornea and contact lens faculty encouraged me to explore options beyond ICO, and so, I did my residency in Oklahoma and I just loved it!
I am where I am today because others believed in me, and I leaned in and said “yes.”
COVID’s silver lining for me was absolutely being able to spend time with my husband and my kids. To get to see my son grow from five months to eight months and be with my kids every single day was such a blessing. It was such a joy to be able to just breathe and take time to do what we often don’t have time to do. Our lives are so busy — I drive an hour each way to ICO, and we often don’t have dinner until 8PM. To be able to shut our computers down at 5PM, to go for a walk and then cook dinner together — it was just so nice to have them so close around me those three months.
During COVID, we got a weekly meal kit delivery and we would cook lunch and dinner every day. That’s how I taught myself to cook! Whether it’s sautéing an onion or arranging a charcuterie board, so much of cooking is an act of love, and I’m grateful to have had the time to cook for my family.
THE POWER OF A MENTOR
I remember one specific instance while I was a 4th year student working with Jennifer Harthan, OD ’06 in the Cornea Center for Clinical Excellence. We were seeing a patient with high astigmatism and were going to design a bitoric lens. I was SO nervous because I wanted to make a good impression, but my first response was “I don’t know what to do and I can’t remember anything about bitoric lenses!”
So, Dr. Harthan sat down with me and starts off with “I know you know this” and then walks me through the Mandell Moore calculations. To have someone take the time to be an effective preceptor and walk me through step by step... it just really meant a lot to me. It still does today.
I really try to take the same active role in teaching students. I also think it's pretty remarkable that our administrative team still works in the clinic seeing patients. They still remember what it’s like to be in clinic for the first time, to be nervous and not know the answer. They can provide that perspective to students.
A GROWING ICO FAMILY
I have two kids, Grace and Ben. They have been such a joy to me, especially this last year with so many things going on. My daughter always jokes with me, "I'm going to come do work with you." She’ll sit beside me when we get ready and play on her tablet or write in her notebook. In the morning, she always tries to put on her contacts.
I brought them for eye exams recently. They’re usually pretty shy kids, but they LOVED the Class of 2021. Ben was only five months old when we went into lockdown so he really hasn’t been around many strangers. This was his first exposure to other people, and right away, he ran over to our students. It was so fun to see my two families merge.
A POWERFUL ALUMNI NETWORK
Optometry is such a small community.You never know who will connect you to your next job. Our alumni are ALL over the country. I knew this as a student, but I didn’t realize the impact of it until I moved beyond the walls of ICO.
I want to encourage both alumni and students to advocate for the profession. As a legislated profession, we need to stand up for our expertise. Injectables, lasers, these are things we CAN do and we make sure our students are proficient in these skills before they leave ICO.
We should all stand up for our career and legacy. We’re not just glasses and contact lenses — we restore people’s sight; we help people function and live more meaningful lives. That is why I show up for work every day, because I know how much of an impact our alumni and students are making.
Leonard Messner, OD made this initiative a top priority for ICO and really championed the quick rollout of this course. Elizabeth Wyles, OD and I worked together to develop the course and wet lab. The IOA also wanted to train vaccinators, so we partnered together to offer this to Illinois ODs. I’ve enjoyed teaching this wet lab to ODs in the same way I enjoy teaching advanced procedures to students. Because this is a new subject, sometimes they’re nervous, but they’re also so excited. To see these ODs then become successful, to see them learn something that had never before been part of their practice, to share in that success, it's just really fun. It was also inspiring to see that many ODs step up. I got to meet ODs from all over the state and train some of my mentors. I got to be the teacher for those who have taught me so much. It was just such a great experience.