Young Optometry residents in conversation

Dr. Sana Owais completed both her Doctorate in Optometry (O.D.) and her residency in low vision rehabilitation from the University of Waterloo. Due to her commitment to life-long-learning and patient care, she also received her fellowship with the American Academy of Optometry (F.A.A.O) designation.

She did her Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (Physiology Specialization) from McMaster University where she graduated summa cum laude and with Deans’ Honour. During her optometry training she was recognized with the VSP/FYidoctors Practice Excellence Scholarship and the Gold Key International Optometric Honour Society Award.


Dr. Sana Owais, OD, FAAO, talks about her Low Vision Residency experience at the University of Waterloo.

Jaclyn: Why did you decide to do a residency and why did you pick Waterloo?

Sana: Why residency? Three reasons. I am an academic at heart so a formal education program through a residency seemed like a fun way to continue lifelong learning. Secondly, I felt doing a residency may make me a better clinician so I can offer better care for my patients. Finally, I wanted to do a residency so I could potentially earn a fellowship afterwards and I felt a residency may make it easier to apply for jobs.

Why Waterloo? Waterloo is a remarkable instructional and research facility for the provision of low vision services and devices (of course I am biased here!).

The Centre for Sight Enhancement (CSE) is the only vision rehabilitation center in Canada accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services. The CSE hosts many holistic and interdisciplinary services, such as low vision assessments, CCTV assessments, daily living skills, computer skills training, and mental health support.

Jaclyn: Why did you pick low vision to do your residency in?

Sana: My interest in low vision piqued after my first year of optometry school, when I worked at Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario with the Vision Mate Program where I helped match clients who were partially sighted with volunteers. This program allowed me to see the positive impact of social engagement on the mental health of both clients and volunteers.

Additionally, I took a Braille course from the Hadley School for the Blind in order to learn more about tactile communication strategies for people with partial sight.

Regarding the residency discipline, I had three reasons for applying for low vision rehabilitation. The first one being how small changes can make a big impact. There is a theme in low vision that the implementation of small environmental modifications can potentially improve visual function when medical or surgical correction is unable to do so.

The second reason is that I like the creativity and the problem solving required in low vision rehabilitation. For example, I saw a patient who had dual sensory loss; advanced retinitis pigmentosa and age-related hearing loss. The patient’s goal was to play bridge and the patient did not know how to use Braille.

We recommended a sight substitution technique with tactile playing cards where we advised the patient to devise his own system of tactile coding through bump dots. This allowed the patient to play bridge with his friends who were sighted and therefore feel included.

The final reason is the aging population. Given that centenarians are one of the fastest growing age cohort in the Canadian population, low vision rehabilitation services will remain of high value with the continuing aging population.

Jaclyn: What did you do on a typical day as a resident?

Sana: There were three clinics that I participated in: the Centre for Sight Enhancement, primary care, and geriatrics. There were two different arms of the CSE: pure low vision and a concussion clinic which provided visual rehabilitation for those with traumatic brain injury or strokes.

On a typical day, which may start at 8:30 AM, I would begin in the low vision clinic doing a low vision assessment, then be a teaching assistant for the undergraduate low vision laboratory for third-year optometry students, and then finally see patients for direct care in primary care in the evening.

Other days may include travelling to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to do eye exams on residents, or supervising third-year and fourth-year interns doing eye exams in primary care and the low vision clinic.

Jaclyn: How much did you connect with the other residents at Waterloo?

Sana: Our group included three residents: the contact lens resident, the vision therapy resident, and myself (low vision resident). Although we had different schedules, we did convene on days of group presentations such as the ‘short rounds’ or the ‘grand rounds’, during which we built a strong camaraderie.

Jaclyn: Did you collaborate with other departments at the school?

Sana: Yes, we connected with the concussion, contact lens, and ocular health clinics several times. For example, a patient with achromatopsia may get fitted with red-tinted contact lenses from the contact lens clinic and then they would visit the low vision clinic for low vision aids and an ocular health assessment.

Jaclyn: How much research was involved in residency?

Sana: A lot of research and reading! Every two weeks we met with the journal club which was hosted by our residency coordinator. Each resident retrieved articles and we discussed and debated them as a group. We were also assigned a list of readings every month with a different theme in our residency discipline. Finally, we wrote papers for journal submission.

Jaclyn: What was your favourite part of residency?

Sana: Conferences! I loved attended the CE events and meeting clinicians, residents, and researchers from low vision from all over the globe. The first conference I attended was the Envision Conference in Wichita, Kansas (2018). It was a fantastic experience to see the Envision headquarters and to attend a conference purely dedicated to low vision. The second meeting was the Academy conference in San Antonio, Texas (2018). It was an incredible experience to meet other residents and participate in all of the CE events!

Jaclyn: Was there anything that surprised you about residency?

Sana: I found supervising students in the clinic to be a very daunting process. I found time-managing three students simultaneously where each patient has potentially complex ocular health issues to be challenging. I really appreciated our former supervisors afterwards because I realized being a clinic supervisor is a tough job!

Also, I was surprised that in the low vision clinic that we co-manage ocular disease for our patients which made the learning process very comprehensive. This provided a unique opportunity to examine the ocular health of rare conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and Stargardt disease.

Jaclyn: Who would you recommend a residency to? Is there any advice that you would want to offer someone who was thinking about going into residency?

Sana: I would recommend residency to anyone that embraces academia, enjoys research, and is enthusiastic about enhancing their clinical care. Because residency is a marathon and not a sprint, the applicant must be committed to the rigor and length of the residency.

Jaclyn: Where do you see yourself going in the future?

Sana: In the future, I would be interested in connecting with national and international organizations, such as the Canadian Federation for the Blind, the Canadian Council for the Blind, the Lions Club, the Lighthouse International, in order to advocate for low vision rehabilitation on a national and global scale.

Jaclyn: Thanks so much Sana for the information on low vision and your insight into residency!



Dr. Jaclyn Chang graduated from the University of Waterloo (UW) with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences before continuing at Waterloo to complete her Doctor of Optometry degree. She is currently a practicing optometrist in Toronto.

Dr. Chang is committed to sharing information and bringing new resources to her colleagues. As a student, she sat on the Board of Trustees for the American Optometric Student Association, organizing events to connect students with industry. She was the Co-Founder/Co-President of the award-winning UW Advancement of Independent Optometry Club, the first club at UW dedicated to private practice optometry. Dr. Chang is also a passionate writer, who aims to make information accessible and easily digestible to her colleagues. She has published in Optometry & Vision Science and Foresight magazine and contributed to Optik magazine. She is excited to bring valuable resources to Canada’s next generation of optometrists with


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PathFinder Spotlight:

Cindy Shan

University of Waterloo 4th year-Class of 2021

Cindy Shan is a student at the University of Waterloo, School of Optometry and Vision Science.

She is the Class President for the Class of 2021.

She has a special interest in practice management, specialty contact lenses, and myopia control.

When not engrossed in building a career in optometry, Cindy loves to travel and explore other parts of the world, test her skills at DIY projects, and hike the beautiful mountains in British Columbia.


Why did you choose Optometry?

There are many reasons that an individual chooses their profession. Optometry, to me, was always a perfect combination of being academically challenging, patient-focused, and entrepreneurial.

After reaching out to doctors in my hometown of Vancouver, I had the opportunity to shadow them and work alongside them. I fell in love with the work and was ecstatic when I got an acceptance email to the University of Waterloo.

Four years later, I am finishing up my last year of optometry school and getting ready for graduation in a couple of months.

During my time in Waterloo, I was the Class President for the Class of 2021 and helped out with many organizations within the school. The highlight was definitely planning the many social gatherings for my class, whether it was holiday parties, laser tag, or pub crawls.

Where do you see your practice / eye care in 10 years?

The answer to this question has changed drastically in the last couple of years. If you had asked me this question at the beginning of optometry, I may have said “return to Vancouver and work in an office there.”

I have learned a lot in optometry school, but one of the most important lessons was the amount of potential that this profession holds and the various regions in Canada that are underserved.

Having had the chance to complete a clerkship rotation in a rural setting, I appreciated the challenge and satisfaction of providing our services to these communities.

In the next 10 years, I hope to work on completing a residency in contact lenses and opening a practice in a rural city. I hope to share what optometrists are capable of beyond a simple glasses prescription.

What is currently the most exciting thing in your field to help patients?

I am most excited about the advancements in dry eye disease treatment and management. At the Global Specialty Lens Symposium in 2020, the last conference I was able to attend pre-lockdown, I witnessed the many advancements in technology and treatment options available.

Optometry is a profession that is ever changing and developing new ways to best help our patients. Having seen many patients that suffer from discomfort due to dry eyes, I am excited to see the new pharmaceutical and technological advancements that will soon become another treatment option.

It was exciting to see certain devices that were advertised at conferences early in my first year of school come into the market and be implemented into private practice during my fourth year.

Which ECP speakers/leaders do you admire?

Dr. Andrea Lasby has been an amazing speaker and leader that I have had the pleasure of interacting with multiple times. As an optometrist with a residency under her belt, multiple leadership positions within the optometry community, and a mother, I strive to be as accomplished as her.

I had the chance to shadow Dr. Lasby for one day at her practice, Mission Eye Care, and loved the way she interacted with her patients. The connection that she makes with her patients builds a trusting patient-doctor bond.

Her accomplishments in the world of specialty contact lenses is also very admirable, as I hope to become a fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society and the American Academy of Optometry.

Favorite past-time/hobby?

I am a big fan of crafting and have always had a knack for completing hands-on projects. Recently, I took up crocheting and have been creating many gifts for friends and family. A night in with some movies and my yarn sounds like a perfect evening.

Eventually, I hope to be able to work up to bigger projects, maybe dipping my toes into woodworking and creating my own furniture.

My favourite social aspect of optometry?
Going to conferences! I went to my first conference in my first year of optometry school and absolutely fell in love with the community. I will always remember seeing the doctors greet each other and reconnect, even though they practice in distant clinics.

My friends and I always discuss our future plans of meeting up at conferences, attending lectures together, and taking advantage of the many sponsored events.

I love the ability to build a network of colleagues that I feel comfortable going to for advice and assistance if I have a difficult case. Attending the University of Waterloo was amazing for this reason, as I am surrounded by intellectual and lifelong friends.


0 / 5. 0 puts the spotlight on Zero to Five Pathfinders

PathFinder Spotlight:

Alexa Hecht

Undergraduate Studies:
University of Manitoba in Psychology/Biology

University of Waterloo 4th year-Class of 2021

Why did you choose Optometry?

Optometry offers various aspects that I was looking for when I was choosing my career path. Every optometrist I had ever spoken to loved what they did and always stressed the work-life balance optometry provided. I wanted to have a career where I would look forward to going to work, and every day seemed somewhat different. Optometry provided me with the opportunity to own my own business one day, which always intrigued me. I know the profession will constantly evolve, and I am excited to see which path my career takes me on. Also, vision is one of the most important senses we have; helping people see every day is incredibly gratifying.

Where do you see yourself/eyecare in 10 years?

I think it’s hard to predict where I will be in 10 years, but at this point, I see myself opening up a private practice. I have always wanted to create a very unique, relaxed environment for my patients to come. I want my future practice to provide excellent patient care and showcase the hippest frames. I have always said I would love to live near a beach, so who knows, maybe I will be opening up a practice in a beach town. For now, I take one day at a time and try to focus on my present goals.

What advice would you give a first-year optometry student today?

The first year of optometry school was a very overwhelming experience. You are trying to juggle school and growing friendships while still taking care of yourself. I would tell students not to stress the small things, and their mental health should always come first. Everything will eventually fall into place, and you will find your groove. I would also tell first-year students to get involved in some way or another. I was very involved with the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) and got to attend numerous conferences and meet so many leaders in optometry!

How have you changed since high school?

I believe my mindset has shifted significantly since high school. I think one of the significant shifts I have noticed was I have stopped doing things for the sake of pleasing other people. I think this is something many young people struggle with, especially when you are still trying to figure out your place in the world. Whenever I make plans, I question whether it will bring meaning to my day; I ask myself will this cause me more happiness than stress? I’ve learned that it’s ok to say no to people, and I have learned to put myself first before committing to something.

Describe your perfect day?

My perfect day would start with a nice cup of coffee and a killer spin class. It would also involve exploring a new neighbourhood and maybe trying a new restaurant for brunch. I love to cook new gourmet recipes, so I would for sure finish off my day by trying something new in the kitchen. In a non-COVID era, my perfect day would end with grabbing a drink with a couple of friends.

What is your favourite food?

I love Thai food! There is nothing more comforting than a good pad Thai or a warming coconut curry. I’ve tried to make a few Thai dishes and they are good, but nothing beats authentic takeout!


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