That Good Feeling

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This story originally appeared in our November 2009 issue.

Joni Weideman, OD, of Tallahassee, Fla., says she was a bit of a “late-in-life bloomer” when it came to figuring out her career. Getting her degree from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry in 2003 was the easy part. After that, she was stumped.

She practiced locally for a year, but Dr. Weideman wasn’t feeling fulfilled. Then she completed a residency at the Lake City VA Medical Center, where she learned that she loved working with veterans. “They’re the best patients one could ever have,” she says. Dr. Weideman quickly accepted a position at the VA Tallahassee Outpatient Clinic, and began looking into joining the U.S. Air Force Reserves about four years ago. “My veterans encouraged me,” she says. “It’s great because now I can see the full spectrum of patients—those going in as Airmen and completing service as veterans.”

These patients let her know how much they appreciate her effort. “I get that good feeling all the time because I live and work locally,” she says. “I’m walking in the mall, and I hear, ‘Hey doc, I got my new glasses, and I love them!’ It makes me feel great.”

Her duty as a reservist requires her to report to 622nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia once a month for unit training assembly, and she also has two weeks of active duty a year. “I complete eye exams on flyers who are going over or returning from traveling,” she says. “I fit them with contact lenses that are best suited for the type of aircraft that they are flying.”

Yet her favorite experiences have been the humanitarian missions, such as a July trip with the Pacific Angels program to East Timor in South East Asia. A team of four optometrists saw 1,600 patients over six days. This past May, she participated in a disaster relief exercise in the Philippines organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This type of mission allows the participating countries to interface and test their response to a disaster. “It was phenomenal to see the military from different countries work so seamlessly together throughout the entire mission,” Dr. Weideman says. And it was challenging. As the only optometrist, she saw 350 patients. “In order to function you have to be able to see. So we would go in and provide reading glasses for those who need to do things up close or spectacles for those who need to drive a car to transport water.”

Dr. Weideman has only one regret: “I wish I had joined earlier,” she says.