Initially, Henry Ford College alumnus Eric Smith was on the fence about teaching in the College’s Ophthalmic Technician program.
However, HFC OPT Program Director Dr. Kathy Campbell – his former professor and mentor – gave him the inspiration he needed.
“I wasn’t sure about teaching at first, but I eventually decided, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ Dr. Campbell really went to bat for me. I couldn’t say no,” said Smith, a 2013 OPT program graduate, who lives in West Bloomfield with his wife of 12 years, April-Joi Colbert-Smith (who studied business at HFC).
For eight years, Smith has been a Certified Ophthalmic Technician for Wilkinson Eye Center in Pontiac. HFC OPT students have completed their clinical externships at Wilkinson Eye Center, where they have also shadowed Smith.
“Dr. Campbell liked how they would come back from shadowing me and really be prepared for class,” said Smith.
Better than he thought it would be
That made him a natural fit to return to his alma mater. Currently, Smith is teaching in his first semester at HFC, teaching OPT 220: Ophthalmic Photography.
“It’s been 100 percent remote, which makes it extremely hard to teach, but we’re making it through. The fact that the students are doing so well in their clinicals says a lot,” he said.
“Eric’s experience as a graduate of the OPT program allows him to teach the students from his hands-on expertise in the field to assess the chief complaints from the patients to recognizing the defects in the ophthalmic photography tests performed to obtain a diagnosis,” said Campbell.
Still, despite the difficulties of teaching online during the coronavirus pandemic, Smith is glad that he accepted Campbell’s offer.
“I enjoy teaching even more than I thought I would,” he said.
Work-related injury leads to HFC
A 2001 graduate of the now-closed Redford High School in Detroit, Smith worked in fast food and security before landing a job at Severstal Steel, which is now called AK Steel Dearborn Works for two years. Smith was making good money at Severstal and thought he would remain there for the rest of his career.
However, Smith fell off a conveyor belt and severely injured his knee. That forced him to retire. Severstal gave him a severance package and offered to pay for his education. One of the schools that came up was HFC. One of the main reasons Smith came to HFC was its location as he was living in Detroit at the time.
“I had no clue what I wanted to do,” he confessed. “I took a placement test and found out I excelled in science. The programs I excelled in led me straight to the OPT program. I knew nothing about it at all. I was interested in learning more. So I enrolled in the program. It was the first time in my life I’d ever earned a 4.0 GPA.”
Not only is Smith a COT, he is also certified through the Joint Commission on Allied Personnel Health in Ophthalmology . He hopes to continue his education as his schedule permits.
“The gratification you get… is amazing”
Smith takes a lot of satisfaction in his chosen profession.
“For me, it’s the gratification of helping someone going into the field and seeing them grow. I keep in touch with people who’ve shadowed me. They’ve become friends and colleagues. I can see that happening with my current students. I’ve seen them grow even just from January to now. That’s the best part,” he said. “Helping people and giving them the gift of vision – you get hooked on helping someone see something that they couldn’t see before. The gratification you get from that is amazing, especially when you’re helping someone to see better, before they even see the doctor. That doesn’t happen often in most fields. In this field, COTs get as much credit as the doctors do.”
He spoke highly of his education at HFC.
“I had a great education. It was very thorough. HFC was a diverse place to learn – every creed and color attends here. You learn more about that than you learn in class. You learn more about their culture and what to say, what not to say. You learn to act properly around them. That has come with me into the ophthalmology field because I see different people all the time. It has served me well.”
Source: Henry Ford College