Matt Weinheimer, OD ’14
Unlike his classmate Dr. Gittens, Matt Weinheimer, OD ’14, grew up in the United States. His opportunity to practice internationally came thanks to the United States Navy. “I was part of the health professions scholarship program,” he explains. “I was technically a reserve officer while I was at ICO.” A month after his graduation, Dr. Weinheimer and his wife moved to the U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan. They stayed for three years in a Vietnam War-era townhome, with Dr. Weinheimer as an active duty Lieutenant.
Japanese optometrists perform little more than refractions. Students from the Kikuchi College of Optometry occasionally visited Dr. Weinheimer in Okinawa, and were surprised by all he could do. While overseas, Dr. Weinheimer still adhered to U.S. medical law. He was thus able to practice the full scope of his education. This freedom was important in the Navy, as Dr. Weinheimer’s clinic saw “a lot of traumas.” Amongst the active duty patients, there were “contusions, corneal abrasions, retinal detachments…” Dr. Gittens also cared for families and veterans. Unfortunately, the closest specialists were in Hawaii. Serious cases, from pediatric surgery to cataracts, were put on an 8-hour flight.
In some ways, Okinawa was not all that different from Hawaii. “It had its own culture from mainland Japan,” says Dr. Weinheimer, “very much island life. People moved a little bit slower.” He was especially taken with the kindness of the Okinawan citizens, given its military history. In 1945, “the U.S. military and the Japanese military came to a head” in The Battle of Okinawa. “Unfortunately, there are still a lot of wounds left to heal,” says Dr. Weinheimer. “For how gracious the Okinawans are, it’s really a testament to how they forgive.”
Of course, Dr. Weinheimer experienced some of the more famous areas of Japan, as well. “Tokyo and Kyoto were amazing,” he says. “We went during cherry blossom season. It’s amazing how they keep those historic sites preserved so well.” He got scuba certified, traveled to Indonesia, and participated in a military exercise in Australia. “We met a great group of friends and had a great experience.”
While in the military, Dr. Weinheimer’s access to new products and technology was limited. “Vendors were not allowed to come in due to ethics issues,” he explains. Today, he works in a 6-doctor private practice in Zionsville, Indiana. “It’s a whole different ballgame.” In the U.S., Dr. Weinheimer gets to recommend more tools and materials to his patients than ever before. Thankfully, he feels prepared. He took on “tough cases” at ICO, practiced full-scope optometry in Japan, and used his personal time to “stay up on breaking news in the industry” before coming home. “It has been good so far.”