No. 1-ranked Bascom Palmer fills jobs with PBSC grads
Palm Beach State College has become a hiring pipeline for the nation’s No. 1 eye hospital. Twelve graduates of the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program currently work at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Palm Beach Gardens as ophthalmic technicians, comprising almost one-half of the facility’s technician staff of about 25.
“The Palm Beach State College program is very critical to our continued success,” said Anthony R. Garand, executive director of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Palm Beach Gardens and Naples. “I find that those who come through the program have a very sound foundation and practical skill set. All of them have been successful in putting what they’ve learned into practice. They are some of my best technicians.”
The Ophthalmic Medical Technology program, based on the College’s Palm Beach Gardens campus, launched in 2012 and awards a two-year Associate in Science degree. The professionally accredited program trains students to be ophthalmic medical technologists who assist eye physicians and surgeons in the evaluation of vision and treatment of patients with eye disorders. Bascom Palmer made its initial program hires in 2014 from the inaugural graduating class, and since then as many as 14 have been employed there.
As announced earlier this month, U.S News & World Report once again ranked Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Health System as the nation’s best in ophthalmology. Recognized as a global leader in vision research, medical education and patient care, Bascom Palmer received the No. 1 ranking in 2018-19 for the 15th year in a row and the 17th time overall since the publication began surveying U.S. physicians for its annual “Best Hospitals” rankings 29 years ago.
“The greatest endorsement any program could ever receive is when the most highly respected ophthalmic institution in the world, who could attract and hire anyone they want, validates the quality of our graduates by hiring not one, but 14, with an interest in hiring more,” said Robert M. Kershner, M.D., chairman, medical director and the lead professor for PBSC’s Ophthalmic Medical Technology program.
“What Bascom Palmer has said to us is your students are so inquisitive. It’s not just a job for them, it’s a career,” said Mark McKay, associate professor for the program.
Palm Beach Gardens native Kerri Bryant was that first graduate to be hired, and in two years she was promoted to a senior ophthalmic technician. She is the co-lead technician for the glaucoma service, and among a range of responsibilities, she helps train new technicians and manage schedules.
“I feel what is most valued by Bascom Palmer and by the doctors that I work with is that because of my educational background, I’m able to think a step ahead, see problems maybe down the road, or testing that the doctor will want,” Bryant said. “I can tell that they’re impressed. Palm Beach State really gave me the confidence to walk into the No. 1 eye hospital in the country and apply less than three months after I graduated and get in, and that’s strictly because of the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program.”
Second to be hired was Ryan Stanfield. His interest in eyes started when he took a job at Pearl Vision and knew from the first day that he had found his niche. His interest in the medical side of vision was growing just as he heard about PBSC’s new program.
Stanfield also has been promoted to senior ophthalmic technician and is now the co-lead technician for the retina service and lead technician for retina research. He works with doctors researching treatments or diagnostic testing and measures patients’ visual acuity according to research protocols. He also trains other research technicians.
“I’m very lucky that we have Bascom Palmer in this area, and it was very nice of them to get me involved in the research and see if I was interested,” Stanfield said. “Of course, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for the Palm Beach State program getting me prepared for the field. I wouldn’t be able to even get my foot in the door at Bascom Palmer. I would have needed experience.”
Usually, technician candidates aren’t hired unless they have a one year minimum of work experience, but Bascom Palmer does give consideration for training.
“I’ve been able to have the requirement waived if these technicians have the degree from Palm Beach State,” Garand said. “By the time they’ve done two years of training, including hands-on experience and internships, they are trained well enough so that we are able to start them at a mid-point of the salary range instead of lower in the range.”
Yadira Hanson, one of Bascom Palmer’s most recent hires, graduated from the PBSC program in May. A native of Colombia, she came to the U.S. eight years ago as an experienced licensed practical nurse. She had planned to keep going and become a registered nurse when she discovered the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program while taking prerequisites at the Palm Beach Gardens campus.
“Getting into that program changed my life and gave me a new pathway,” Hanson said. “When I arrived at Bascom Palmer, I knew what I needed to do. I had a lot of questions, yes, because each doctor wants different things, but basically, everything I learned, I’m practicing now.”
Bryant, Stanfield and Hanson share a common sense of purpose in their growing careers. As Bryant said, “I love that we have the opportunity to really help people and make a difference. In the health care field, blindness is actually the number one fear for people, even over death. People are very scared to lose their eyesight, so we’re really part of making a huge difference and impact on people’s lives and health.”
Going into its seventh year, the Ophthalmic Medical Technology program greets the incoming class of 2020 this week. The classes are intentionally small to ensure individual attention and lots of interaction with the equipment and professors.
“We usually only take 15, but we had such strong applicants this year, we accepted 16—the largest number ever to enroll,” McKay said.