Christopher McDaniels

bestIMG_2910_2 When this article was written, Christopher McDaniels, Cherokee, was a second-year student in the Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry program.

As a boy, Christopher McDaniels witnessed how good eye care can transform lives. “My sister, Jennifer, is four years younger than me,” says McDaniels. “When she was little, she was very frustrated. Sometimes she’d run into walls and even throw tantrums.” McDaniels’ parents took Jennifer to an optometrist who discovered that she was seeing double and prescribed glasses.

“It was so neat to see how something as simple as a pair of glasses changed my sister’s life,” says McDaniels. “Her demeanor completely changed. That Christmas, one by one she took ornaments off the tree, looking at every detail, and then carefully put them back on the tree.”

Witnessing his sister’s transformation drew McDaniels into optometry. So did the lessons he learned growing up with deaf parents. Having good vision, he realized, is important for all people, but good vision is crucial for people who depend on their eyesight for learning and communicating. “I considered a career in audiology,” he says, “but I thought I could help deaf people even more by making sure that their visual system is effective.”

Vision is key to communication in the McDaniels household. “Sign language is our primary language,” says McDaniels. “My sister and I learned to use sign language before we could speak. Now my sister is going to school to be a professional sign language interpreter.”

While attending high school in Owasso, Oklahoma, McDaniels realized that math and science were challenging for him, but he worked hard and did well. His parents were his role models. “Everything they’ve done has been against all odds,” he says. “I learned from them that there is no excuse for not doing what you want to do.”

McDaniels attended college at NSU and helped pay for his education by working in the medical records department of the College of Optometry. McDaniels think that his work in medical records will help him better understand his staff members’ perspectives when he is in practice.

Now in the second semester of hisHe moved on to becoming a student at NSY’s College of Optometry, where he is a second year student.

Doctor in Training

Now in the second year of his professional education, McDaniels says that a typical day includes attending classes and learning skills in the laboratory where students practice on each other. A year ago McDaniels and his 25 classmates started doing school screening. Recently they began seeing patients in the clinic. “We take the patient’s history and do some initial testing. Then we go to the checkout doctor and report what we’ve learned and discuss how we should proceed. We go back to the patient and do a few more tests and talk again with the check-out doctor who then joins us in looking at the patient and deciding what to do next.”

“When I starting seeing patients, I thought I’d be more nervous,” McDaniels confesses. McDaniels, though, was relatively calm. “That’s because the patients are so gracious and understanding,” he says. “They seem to be excited that they get to help us learn.”

When he graduates, McDaniels, who is on an Indian Health Service (IHS) scholarship, will work for IHS for four years. He says then he’ll either stay with IHS or open his own practice. “I’d love to do vision therapy and optometry for special needs groups, like deaf people or physically or intellectually disabled people,” he says.

McDaniels advises prospective optometry students to take upper level courses in math and science during high school. “The advanced placement courses that I took in high school helped prepare me for college,” he says. McDaniels also recommends shadowing an optometrist. “A lot of people don’t know what an optometrist does,” he says. “Dr. Norman Hinkle, an optometrist in Owasso, was very helpful to me. I shadowed him and he introduced me to other optometrists with different kinds of practices. Shadowing these optometrists helped me realize that there is much more to optometry that I originally thought.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Winds of Change. The cover artist, Brent Greenwood, Chicakasaw/Ponca, lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.