The Traveling Optometric Practice

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This story originally appeared in our November 2009 issue.

Air Force Major Tara M. Jayne, OD, describes herself and her husband Ronald Jayne, Jr., a former Chinese linguist for the Air Force, as travelers. “We don’t grow roots well,” she says. “But we definitely like the idea of serving in the military, having the opportunity to be in different parts of the country, going on humanitarian missions and serving populations around the world.”

In seven years of service, she has been assigned to four bases and relocated in August to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Previously, she served as chief of optometry services for Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and had been stationed in California and South Korea prior to that. The Osan Air Base in South Korea was one of the highlights, Dr. Jayne says. “You are doing your job supporting the war, but it reminded me of M.A.S.H.,” she says. “You have this tight family, and I’d never been in a situation where you have 100 people in your extended family. You walk down the street, and everyone knows you,” she says.

It’s also a great career, she says. The Air Force gives her opportunities to expand her optometry skills, working with active duty members, their dependents and retirees. In South Korea, she also served on other Air Force bases that didn’t staff ODs. “I would fly around to the different bases for intensive three-day spurts,” she says.

Dr. Jayne also worked with aviators for the Korean Air Force because they did not offer optometry services. “If the pilots were ineligible to fly because of some vision condition, we would help them get back in the cockpit,” she says. Often, these pilots were reassigned, but that was frustrating to them. Dr. Jayne was eager to help them get back in the air. “It was like clipping their wings. I could get them going again. You feel really cool that you’re a part of that.”

In many ways, her day-to-day work isn’t that much different than a U.S. private practice. She sees a range of conditions, from refractions and contact lenses to glaucoma and hemianopsia. But traumatic brain injuries and disease can be part of a day’s work, too. Plus, there’s the travel—a perk unparalleled in a civilian job, she says. “In private practice, you pay to do those things,” she says. “You pay for your staff to work while you’re gone, and you pay for your ticket. I get to do this as my job, and I love it.”

Dr. Jayne almost ended up in private practice herself. While working as a technician in a practice near her home in Ohio, she decided to go to optometry school. Her plan was to return and buy the practice after graduation, but when Air Force recruiters came to visit The Ohio State University College of Optometry, Dr. Jayne became intrigued.

She discussed the opportunity and the tuition reimbursement with her husband, and they realized it was a smart decision. She applied for the Air Force’s Health Professional Scholarship Program. She was paid through the Air Force Reserve, and her final year of optometry school tuition was covered.

Since that first assignment immediately after graduation, it’s been a whirlwind, she says. Dr. Jayne will be in Germany for the next three years, working with three other ODs. The position offers chances to travel to Africa on humanitarian trips. And after that? She says, “Wherever the Air Force sends me, that will be my next home.”