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Hansen Leaves Mark on Ophthalmic Medical Technology Program

suzanne1For 16 years, the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program in the College of Health Professions has been teaching students the skills they need to be indispensable to an ophthalmologist.

And for most of those years, Suzanne Hansen, M.Ed., COMT, has been right there.

Hansen was a member of the program’s second class of students. After graduation, she joined the program as a clinical coordinator. Then in 2004, she was named interim program director, followed by program director in 2005. In 2009, she was named chair of the Department of Ophthalmic Technologies.

Now, Hansen and her family are settling in their new Texas home. While she is continuing in a part-time capacity this semester, she officially stepped down as chair in December.

She leaves behind a small, but successful, program that is one of only four accredited programs in the United States that is training at the highest level — the technologist level. Other programs offer training at the assistant and technician levels.

“It’s really hard for me to leave a job that I love, but I’m excited about the future of the program because I know it is going to be in good hands,” she said. “Our alumni support network is so strong and concerned about ensuring that our students receive the best education and as many opportunities to succeed as possible.”

The Ophthalmic Medical Technology program teaches students how to assist an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmic medical technologists carry out a lot of the prescreening and diagnostic testing that is done during an eye exam.

“Most ophthalmologists say that they couldn’t get everything they need to get done in a day without the help of their technologists and other assistants,” Hansen said. “Higher patient volumes mean the technologist is more valuable than ever before.”

Students who complete the 24-month program graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Ophthalmic Medical Technology. They also are eligible to take the national certification exam that is administered by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO).

Over the past five years, the UAMS program has a first-time pass rate of 94 percent, which is higher than the national average, Hansen said.

The program can handle up to six students in each class. Currently, there are five students in the program.

Hansen said she actually knows of more job openings than she has students to fill the spots.

“It isn’t unusual for an ophthalmologist who has hired one of our students to call and ask me when he or she can hire a second one. Our students are so prepared that they are an immediate asset to a clinic,” she said.

Most graduates of the program do become full-time ophthalmic medical technologists; however, some have continued on with their education. Those alumni are now optometrists, orthoptists and physician assistants.

“This program really prepares our students to succeed,” said Hansen. “I’ve had students who went on to optometry school who told me that UAMS’ program actually gave them an advantage over their classmates.”

While Hansen will no longer be in Arkansas, she said she hopes she will be invited back to teach the occasional class.

“I’m proud of this program and what it has achieved,” she said. “I’m honored to have been a part of it for 15 years, and I certainly intend to continue my support as an active alumnus.”

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