Lori Zimmer-Youngman '94

Washington optometrist's work helps infants, elderly see clearer

By LeeAnn Kriegh ’94

Photo: Lori Zimmer-Youngman '94While at the College of Optometry at Pacific, Lori Zimmer-Youngman, O.D. ’94, liked to stay busy. “I started out in work study,” she said, “and then I found other odd jobs, working in the clinic office, helping professors. I was around everywhere. There are those who’d tell you that given the opportunity, I would’ve worked in every imaginable place in the building.”

More than a decade later, Zimmer-Youngman remains busy. She is a staff optometric physician for Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute (PCLI) in Vancouver, Wash., and she is president of the Optometric Physicians of Washington, the state association for optometrists.

When she arrived at Pacific, Zimmer-Youngman thought she would specialize in pediatric eye care. Instead, she became interested in ocular diseases, which usually affect patients on the other end of the age spectrum. "On the one hand, the elderly were a patient population that was exciting for me clinically," she said. In addition, Zimmer-Youngman said she felt personally drawn to addressing the diseases and issues that face the elderly due to her close connection with her grandparents, particularly a grandfather who suffered from diabetes.

"The elderly are many times not given a lot of respect," said Zimmer-Youngman. "They don't necessarily get things explained to them very well, and I thought I was good at that, and I enjoyed it." 

At the PCLI, ophthalmologists and optometric physicians work together to provide everything from cataract surgery and glaucoma care to LASIK surgery. "We have a really nice team approach to care for our patients," said Zimmer-Youngman, who handles pre- and post-operative counseling at the institute. "Optometrists do the pre-op, counseling, and post-op, and ophthalmologists do what they do best, the surgery. It costs less for the patients and just makes sense."

Because of the unique patient base at PCLI, students and optometrists frequently visit the institute to learn about the different levels of surgery and care for chronic diseases provided. In addition, Zimmer-Youngman provides continuing education lectures to local optometric physicians about topics such as proper eye care and refractive surgeries.

Her work at PCLI is just one aspect of Zimmer-Youngman's professional career. As president of the Optometric Physicians of Washington, she spurred the state's June launch of Infantsee, a nationwide public health program designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an integral part of infant wellness care. "Our member optometrists will
provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment within the first year of life as a no-cost public health service," she said. With support from Honorary Chair Jimmy Carter, the program aims to educate parents on the importance of vision care for infants.

Zimmer-Youngman said her work with Infantsee stems from a personal sense of duty to help others using the skills afforded by her profession. "I think with any profession, as you begin to see the needs of the population, you start to feel like there's something you can do to help," she said. "It's just about doing what you can to serve your community."

One of Zimmer-Youngman’s many jobs at Pacific – although this one was unpaid – involved running the vision screening program. Her training and experiences there helped her recently, as she revitalized the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, which coordinates free vision clinics and other health care for people without insurance. The clinic brings Zimmer-Youngman back in touch with Pacific, coordinating schedules for students from the College of Optometry, who work with the local optometrists who donate time to the clinic.

“Having Pacific students there allows us to see more patients and gives the students an opportunity to see patients and provide an important service at the same time,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Zimmer-Youngman said she also couldn’t do her work without the support of her husband, Jay Youngman, O.D. ’93, himself a family practice optometrist. Having a spouse who shares the same profession can be challenging at times. “You can sometimes get sucked into talking about work too much,” she said, adding that the benefits far outweigh any negatives. “There’s so much understanding there. One thing that’s been nice is just our shared understanding of the profession itself. He understands my commitment to doing the things I’ve done.”

Over the years, their family, which includes two young sons, has lived in four Washington cities. Zimmer-Youngman said it is – hopefully – time to settle into one place. Having grown up in Oregon, she said she looks forward to living close to many friends and family members, and is excited about working in PCTI’s new surgical center in Vancouver.

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