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Seeing eye to eye with Filipino optometrist Dr. Earl Jamora

by Amalia Pempengco


“Hi, my name is Earl.”

This story is not about the American comedy on NBC. It is about our kababayan optometrist, Dr. Earl John Jamora. Known to his friends as Earl, his patients and staff fondly call him “Doc” or “Dr. J”.

If you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you have been to a doctor of optometry, or optometrist. An optometrist like Dr. Jamora is a licensed, independent, primary health care practitioner who performs eye exams to diagnose vision problems, corrects eye problems or disorders, and prescribes eye care solutions. These are the few common things we know about optometrists. You’d be surprised to know that a doctor of optometry also helps prevent and manage diseases like hypertension and diabetes because these often appear first in the eye. In other words, they look after our overall visual health. As one ad says, an optometrist knows your eyes, inside and out. The best part is Dr. Jamora can do all these things in Tagalog and Visayan, and he understands Ilonggo, too.

With 10 years experience in this field, and a Canadian license to practice, he is presently self-employed and is an Associate Optometrist with Anderson Family Vision Care on McPhillips Avenue, across from Garden City.

Dr. Earl Jamora is, so far, the only foreign-trained Filipino optometrist in Manitoba – pretty impressive for a newcomer to Canada. Not many of us immigrants are lucky enough to practice our chosen profession in the Philippines here in Canada. How did he do it? How did he break new ground in Winnipeg?

“Growing up my father would always say to me, ‘Life is what you make it.’” recalls Jamora.

Inspired by these words, Earl diligently plodded on, not intimidated by the rigours of higher learning. He completed two educational degrees in the Philippines – one in Business Management from Ateneo de Davao University and then his Doctor of Optometry from Davao Doctors College. Earl is a true “blue-blooded Atenista,” having attended Ateneo de Davao from elementary to high school, then off to Ateneo de Manila University for three years in college, and then back to Ateneo de Davao where he graduated with a B.S. in Management.

“I just love going to school,” he admits with a humble tone in his voice.

“After earning my Business Management, I worked for Citytrust Bank for 2½ years. During this time, clients kept on asking me what I was doing at the bank when I should be an optometrist and helping out in the family business.”

Taking the plunge into this new field seemed like a good idea as Earl comes from a family of optometrists. His mother, his aunts, his brother, his dad’s uncle and some of his cousins are optometrists. Given the importance of vision to quality of life, many optometrists consider their job to be rewarding.

After completing his Doctor of Optometry in 2000, Dr. Jamora began his practice in Davao City. Three years later, he started searching on the Internet to find a job overseas. His wife, Jeny, was a registered physiotherapist and she expressed her desire to work abroad. Knowing that optometry jobs aren’t in demand like nursing, Earl still sent out applications to New Zealand, Australia, US and Canada. And then a job offer came from Morden, Manitoba.

“Manitoba? Where is that? I had to look it up.”

This started Earl’s journey to Canada. He came with a working visa to be employed as a Contact Lens Manager, but actually served as an Optometrist’s Assistant.

“I arrived in Winnipeg in April 2004. It was tough for the first six months without my family, plus no one to cook or iron my shirts,” Earl recalls. “I really missed our house help in the Philippines.”

Undaunted by the harsh climate, the new culture or the steady diet of yoghurt and cheese sandwiches, Earl worked hard and after three months he applied for the Manitoba Nominee Program. When his family arrived, the next thing on his to-do list was to challenge the Manitoba Optician’s Exam. After two years working in Morden and with an Optician’s Certificate in hand, it became easier to move to Winnipeg to work. Earl then worked for Sears Optical at the Garden City mall.

While living in Morden, Jeny, found out about the bridging program at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry’s website. Going through the bridging program and passing the board exam is the only way for internationally trained optometrists to be registered for practice in Canada.

Faced with a difficult decision, Earl had the support of his wife to go ahead and pursue his dream. This meant leaving his family behind in Winnipeg for at least one year.

“I knew Jeny could manage without me for the time being. She has learned to drive since our Morden days,” Earl talks of his wife’s courage.

He also had to take out a student loan for tuition, board and lodging, credentializing, prior learning assessment, travel and incidentals for his externship in Dryden, Ontario, equipment and, finally, for the board exam.

“I knew the cost of the one-year bridging program was equal to my dream SUV. However, I also knew that the value of education will last a lifetime so it is the best investment,” he said.

“Many of us immigrants come to Canada to give our kids a better life. Nothing wrong with that, but if we have the chance to get our professional designation in Canada, I believe we should go for it. No matter how old you are there should be a willingness to go back to school. You are only as old as you think!”

With determination and hard work, a sizable student loan and a big sacrifice not only for Earl but for Jeny, who was left alone to care for their son, Earl passed the prior learning assessment exam, went through the one-year bridging program, internship and externship, and passed the gruelling five-day board exam.

“To have Canadian training keeps you current and adds confidence. It levels the playing field,” Earl declares without a hint of regret.

Earl dreams of seeing more Filipino optometrists in Manitoba. A good friend, Ana Antonio, who lent Earl her optometry reviewers, is now undergoing the one-year bridging program.

“I encourage foreign trained Filipino optometrists to pursue their professional designation in Canada. I would like to help others as I received help when I needed it. Now is the time to pay it forward.” Then with a hint of sadness in his eyes, he adds, “Besides, it’s lonely to be by yourself.”

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