Angela Ellerman started wearing bifocals in sixth grade.
“That isn’t the usual time people start wearing bifocals,” said Ellerman, lead optometrist at UGA’s University Health Center. “My optometrist was really great and helped me feel like my vision could be normal again. I thought that was really admirable.”
In college, Ellerman studied sciences, majoring in biochemistry. What she discovered was that she loved science—but not being secluded in a lab. Instead, she sought out applied sciences that are people-oriented. Optometry easily fit that bill.
“There is a lot of biology, physics and chemistry involved in optometry,” she said. “It gives me an opportunity to use all of those skills while working with people.”
After she finished optometry school, she worked in that field in a corporate setting. In 2005, she and her husband, Kenneth, started their own practice in Morgan County and “quickly learned that we love each other but not working together.” She heard that the University Health Center needed optometrists and took a part-time position that eventually led to a full-time position.
“Once I started working with students, I realized this was something I loved,” she said.
College health is unique, according to Ellerman. She sees approximately 20-25 patients each day, and the majority of her patient population perpetually ranges from ages 18 to 25. This particular age group is learning how to access health care and make those decisions for themselves, and she enjoys the opportunities to teach and guide them through the process.
There are specific concerns that come with that patient population, too. Ellerman sees a much higher rate of contact lens usage than she would in private practice, as well as more eye strain and fatigue from studying.
“I’m so glad the University Health Center has this clinic,” she said. “It helps keep students engaged and learning when they’re having vision issues.”
Ellerman said that the most important thing she does is help patients feel engaged in their health care and understand their role in it. She encourages them to be part of the decision-making process.
“It’s important for them to know how to ask the right questions and understand what they’re hearing,” she said.
But what Ellerman enjoys most is the instant gratification that comes with her work. Her patients typically don’t have to wait for medicine to work to “feel better.” Once they have the proper lenses, they’re able to see.
“Being able to share that excitement with them is really fun,” she said. “That’s what happened to me with my doctor, so it’s nice to experience that with my patients. I hope it has the same impression on them that it did on me.”
Additionally, Ellerman regularly participates in a type of extended certification program with the American Board of Optometry that she said keeps her plugged in to new technologies in her field. She’s also a member of the Georgia Optometric Association.
In her personal life, Ellerman is learning more about competitive archery, something her two sons have taken up through 4-H. She’s become a first-level coach and now coaches a 4-H team. Ellerman is also learning to knit and enjoys scrapbooking her family’s memories.
Above all, Ellerman looks forward helping people.
“We want students to feel comfortable at the University Health Center,” she said. “I’m here to help them achieve what they’re trying to achieve in the best way possible.”