Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Sarah Y. Connolly ‘12
Dr. Sarah Y. Connolly ‘12 shares her journey from NECO to her current position as Senior Medical Science Liaison for Regenxbio. She highlights all the milestones from NECO, clinical practice, and now as an industry professional.
NECO: The Student Years
I knew from the age of three that I wanted to go into medicine. I come from a long line of physicians and nurses, and have vivid memories of these exciting and impressive job skills–taking care of people! I was first accepted into optometry school during my senior year of undergrad. I remember being so relieved and excited that my dreams were coming true. By February, I was ecstatic to be accepted to my first choice, NECO!
The first year of optometry school was challenging. Basic science was not an area I excelled in. However, I found some great study buddies and tutors and pushed through. Luckily, it turns out I was pretty good at the actual optometry content! I look back on my time at NECO with fond memories. Living in Boston during my early twenties was a blast–we played softball and kickball (I was spectacularly terrible), had amazing social events (casino night and Eyeball), and spent hours exploring the city.
My goal when starting at school was to join a practice before buying my own. Thankfully, NECO exposed me to many aspects of optometry, which led to many job positions along the way. During the Special Populations rotation in fourth year, I fell in love with the low vision veteran’s clinic. I never thought of doing a residency, but eventually applied to NECO’s low vision residency because of the great experience working with veterans.
Unfortunately, I was not chosen for the position; but, Dr. Stacy Lyons, an amazing mentor during the Special Populations rotation, encouraged me to explore vacant residency programs. I applied for an open position at an anterior segment surgical residency in Nashville, and was lucky enough to be accepted.
Clinical Practice: The Residency + Clinician Years
My residency year was hectic, often working 60 hours a week and managing complex surgical and anterior segment medical cases. I was exposed to all aspects of surgical management, experienced all the newest technologies and treatments, and even managed complicated patients that I only ever read about in Kanski during school! Furthermore, I built great relationships with my co-resident and corneal fellow who have become lifelong friends. I even got to meet a few Nashville celebrities!
After the residency, I was hired as a consultative optometrist and spent a total of eight years working in anterior segment. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and started to present posters, lead continuing education events, and create content for online publications. I was terrified at first, but grew to love the teaching aspect of optometry. As a dry eye patient myself, I founded and ran a Dry Eye Clinic where I committed to the most up-to-date treatment options for my patients.
Industry: The MSL Years
Our practice was eventually bought by private equity, and it led me to consider alternative options for my career path. Having friends who had made the leap to industry a few years prior, I was encouraged to consider medical affairs at a pharmaceutical company. I was soon hired at Novartis as an anterior segment Medical Science Liaison (MSL). I admit I do miss clinical practice, but I quickly fell in love with medical affairs.
As an MSL I get to present scientific data, nerd out with fellow optometrists on all things related to the eye, and I get to have the autonomy of creating my own schedule. I found different ways to impact patient care on a macro level–working with colleagues in advertising and marketing to help them better understand the needs of the patients and their healthcare providers.
I am now working as a Senior MSL at Regenxbio. Depending on the lifecycle of the medication you support, a company can have completely different needs for their MSL. I currently support recruitment and enrollment for our Phase II and Phase III (pivotal) trials by working directly with the Principal Investigator (PI) and their study coordinators on a weekly basis.
I have opportunities to present on gene therapy, disease state, and our early clinical trial data. As someone who loves to attend conferences, my job literally requires me to cover them.
Sometimes you get to take photos with your friends who are now famous optometry experts! As our trials progress, and we prepare for launch, more time will be spent providing education on gene therapy–hopefully, one day that means coming back to NECO to share my experiences.