Optometrist, Dr Jennifer Tsai, shares her experience of practising optometry across America and travelling around the world
08 February 2019
When and where did you relocate to?
I grew up in Washington DC and attended the University of Virginia. I finished optometry school in Pennsylvania. I practised bi-coastal for a while between New York and Los Angeles before permanently relocating back to New York City, where I am based now.
Last year, I travelled to Tulum in Mexico, as well as South Africa, Morocco, Greece and Italy. The year before I travelled to Portugal, Italy, Dominican Republic, Malta, Canada and Cuba, to name a few.
What inspired you to travel?
For me, it is a sense of curiosity. There is so much you can learn about the world from travelling that can in turn make you a better and more relatable optometrist in the exam room. You can relate to your patient’s culture and beliefs, and learn new concepts and become more accepting of others. I believe that these experiences make you a better and more rounded person. Inner self growth has always been important to me.
I really enjoy learning about culture – either through the food or the history. My favourite places to visit have been Morocco, Iceland and Bali
How did you prepare for travel?
I usually prepare for my travels by researching what areas I would like to visit. I separate visits into local trips, things that are nice to see and things that I believe would be life changing for me. I like to make a condensed action-packed list so that I have the flexibility to pick and choose from activities while I am traveling.
What is your first impression on arriving in a new destination?
My first impression when I arrive to any new destination is the people I meet. I believe the people you meet in new places are who you will remember most from a trip as they hold lasting memories years later. I love learning about people, their culture, the way they live and grew up and what they love to do for fun.
What is a typical day like in the practice for you?
On a typical day, I see 20–25 patients. Most patients who come in are routine exams, contact lens fits and medical exams. I work nine–10 hour shifts, which allows for three day weekends. I specialise in dry eye treatment, orthokeratology or corneal refractive therapy and digital strain therapy.
What inspired you to get in to optometry?
I was inspired to become an optometrist because I wanted to be in a field that helped others. I enjoy the one on one long term patient interaction you find in optometry. I value that optometry is a medical field that allows entrepreneurship, fashion and creativity. I studied psychology and biology in undergraduate university and then attended Optometry school. I shadowed many specialities along the way to make sure it was the right fit.
I have worked in both New York and California, and I think the primary difference is that travelling is more accessible in New York. A lot of business occurs in the city and it’s very easy and acceptable to leave on the weekends for even a weekend trip to Europe
How do you successfully combine or balance your working life with travelling and experiencing the world?
I always give 100% to anything I set my mind to. If I travel, I make the most of the trip by making sure I do all the activities I enjoy. When I work, I make sure I put the patients first and take care of all of their needs. I work extra days and extra hours before leaving for travel to make sure I accommodate my patients.
How does practising optometry differ in different destinations that you have travelled to?
I have only practised in the United States. However, I have practised on the east and west coast. I find that there is a difference in rules and regulations, lifestyle choices, cost of living, income, patient diversity, commute to work and room for growth or scalability.
What is the lifestyle like outside of practice in places that you have travelled to and how does it differ to the US?
I have worked in both New York and California, and I think the primary difference is that travelling is more accessible in New York. A lot of business occurs in the city and it’s very easy and acceptable to leave on the weekends for even a weekend trip to Europe. Travelling and transportation is less accessible in California, so trips tend to be to destinations up and down the California coast.
I visited children in poorer areas of South Africa and nomadic children from Morocco. It was very rewarding to offer them something to protect their eyes like sunglasses
What is the most rewarding aspect of optometry where you are based now?
I get to meet new people, share new ideas and try new food. It is rewarding because New York is a big melting pot of different cultures. When I travel and come back, I get to become more relatable to my patients and share stories.
What is the most challenging aspect of optometry where you are based now?
Seeing more paediatrics is not as common where I practice because New York is a big city. It would be nice to be able to see more children.
What have you learnt from moving or travelling?
Travelling has taught me a lot about myself. It has taught me to value the present when I am in new places, to take in every sensation and thought and to accept that enjoying the journey is part of life’s purpose.
What inspired you to share your travel and work experiences on social media?
I wanted to share that you can be multi-dimensional. People often assume that you can’t be in a medical field and travel. I wanted to show others and hopefully inspire them that it can be possible and even beneficial.
What’s been your most memorable experience from travelling?
Visiting children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to provide them with optical needs. I visited children in both poorer areas of South Africa and nomadic children from Morocco. It was very rewarding to offer them sunglasses to help protect their eyes from the UV light.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about relocating or travelling for work?
If you are interested in relocating or travelling, don’t be put off due to fear of a new place or being alone. It is always better to figure out if something is the right fit before you rule it out. Always make sure you understand your intent and why you are interested before you make the commitment.
My favourite place to visit in Morocco was The Sahara Desert because the experience is truly like no other. It feels like you are alone in the wilderness which is a stark contrast to the busy city life in New York
What’s the best thing about where you have travelled to and your favourite places to visit or activities to do in these destinations?
I really enjoy learning about culture – either through the food or the history. My favourite places to visit have been Morocco, Iceland and Bali. My favourite activity in Morocco was visiting The Sahara Desert because the experience is truly like no other. It feels like you are alone in the wilderness which is a stark contrast to the busy city life in New York. In Iceland, I liked how each part of the country is completely different. You can experience waterfalls on one side, a blue lagoon to the west and dog sledding on the east. My favourite thing about Bali is the people as they are kind and open hearted which makes it special. I also loved visiting the jungles and rice terraces in Ubud.
Please sum up the experience in a sentence?
Traveling feeds my inner curiosity of the world.