Dennis Smith MS ’87 and Nada Lingel ’79, OD ’81, MS ’88, ’00 have longed believed in the impact their profession could have with the right education and training.
That’s why the husband-and-wife duo have spent a combined 62 years teaching in the Pacific University College of Optometry, providing guidance to future optometrists.
Though their activities have run the gamut — from Lingel’s position as assistant dean for clinical programs to Smith’s involvement with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center board, its clinic and its partnerships with the university — both have emphasized systemic disease and the way eye care directly relates to overall health.
“In my experience, patients don’t present only wanting to talk only about their eyes,” Lingel said. “Patients want to talk about everything from how their bowels are working to the tingling in their fingers. If the optometric physician isn’t aware of the connections between such symptoms and systemic disease, he or she could be doing a disservice to patients, one that could cost lives.”
That lesson has been core to what they’ve passed on to students.
“In addition to addressing ocular and visual concerns, I’ve always expected our students to be concerned if a patient walked in with swollen ankles, skin lesions, inflamed gums” or other symptoms that could be signs of serious health conditions, Smith said. “I want our students to care enough about the health of the patient that they will perform a few basic tests to get the patient to the appropriate healthcare provider.”
Smith and Lingel retired from Pacific in 2015 and 2017, respectively, but their commitment to systemic disease education lives on.
They recent established the Drs. Dennis L. Smith and Nada J. Lingel Award for Excellence in Systemic Disease. The annual award will recognize one or more fourth-year optometry students for their hard work, skill and dedication to understanding systemic disease and providing comprehensive patient care.
“We hope to honor the student who is interested in the welfare of patients so much that they are willing to make the sacrifices in time and energy needed to stay current in systemic disease and demonstrate a commitment to applying their knowledge” in practice, Lingel said.