FACES: 21 years after moving to Park River, Dori Carlson still enthusiastic about work as optometristOptometrist Dori Carlson’s first glimpse of her future career came when she was still in elementary school. Carlson, a Park River, N.D., optometrist, went to an eye doctor for the first time in third grade after her teacher noticed she was having trouble seeing the black board.
By: Ann Bailey, Grand Forks Herald
PARK RIVER, N.D. — Optometrist Dori Carlson’s first glimpse of her future career came when she was still in elementary school.
Carlson, a Park River optometrist, went to an eye doctor for the first time in third grade after her teacher noticed she was having trouble seeing the black board.
“My third-grade teacher would write assignment on the blackboard. I couldn’t see the assignments.” At recess, Carlson recalls, she would quit playing outside and return to the classroom so she could write down the assignments. When her teacher found her standing close to the board one day, she asked what she was doing. Carlson explained that she was writing down assignments because she couldn’t see them from her desk in the middle of the room.
Her teacher then called Carlson’s parents who made an eye exam appointment for her. Carlson, like many children, was amazed at how clearly she could see after she got her first pair of glasses.
“I vividly remember going to the hardware story, running some errands.”
Years later, after Carlson graduated from high school she knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care and decided to focus on optometry. She graduated with a doctorate of optometry from Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore., in 1989.
After graduation and residency at the American Lake and veteran’s hospital in Seattle, Carlson and her husband, Dr. Mark Helgeson, also a North Dakota native and an optometrist, were planning to join practices in the Pacific Northwest when he got a letter from the community club in Park River.
The letter noted that Helgeson was a North Dakota native and asked him if he would consider moving to Park River to replace the optometrist there who was retiring.
Along with the letter, Henry Kelly, editor of the Walsh County Press, gave Helegson a subscription to the newspaper and also stood in the back of a pick-up truck and videotaped the town and sent the VHS tape to him.
During the next few months, the community club also arranged for the couple to visit Park River, making sure that one of the visits was on Thanksgiving weekend so they could experience how enjoyable it was to spend the holiday with their families, who lived in the area.
The efforts of Kelly and the community club sold Carlson and Helegson on Park River and in 1990 they began practicing optometry at the Park River hospital. The couple later moved to a building across the street from the hospital and bought out the practice of a Grafton optometrist. They now see patients in Park River and in Grafton.
Besides her work as an optometrist in Heartland Eye Care, which she and Helgeson own, Carlson also is an active member of the American Optometric Association. After serving several positions in the association on the state and national levels, in June 2011, Carlson was elected as national AOA president. She is the first woman president in the association’s 113-year history.
During the next year, she will spend about 150 days traveling to promote the 36,000-member association and talk about eye-care issues, including the importance of early detection of vision problems. She will also represent the association on health care policy issues and this week meets with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Meanwhile, during the next 20 months, Carlson plans to visit every one of the United States’ schools of optometry during the “Dori 20/20 tour,” which includes 20 states. Her advice to the optometry students?
“Be open to opportunities that you never knew existed.”
She’s glad that she and Helgeson were.
Twenty-one years after moving to Park River, Carlson continues to be enthusiastic about her work as an optometrist.
“The best part of my profession is being able to take care of people. Every day is different, depending on the patients’ needs that day.”
Reach Bailey at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.