Newly Minted Optometrist Has Eye On Life In Harwich

By: Ellen Chahey

Newly minted optometrist Dr. Ashley Jadene Stevens. ELLEN C. CHAHEY PHOTO

HARWICH – Go figure. She’s the only person in her family who doesn’t wear glasses, and now Dr. Ashley Jadene Stevens is an optometrist.

Having graduated in May from the New England College of Optometry in Boston, Stevens is now in practice with Sheinkopf and Tomasik Eye Care Associates in South Yarmouth. Dr. Sheinkopf has recently retired, which leaves plenty of work for his newly-minted colleague.

This is one busy summer for Stevens. In addition to graduating, moving back to Harwich, and starting her career, Stevens is also getting ready for her wedding, which will be held in Wellfleet in August. She and her future husband, Joseph Thacher, will live in Harwich, although for the next year it will be a commuting marriage while Thacher finishes his tenure as a captain in the Army, where he is a pilot. Stevens plans to keep her own name after the wedding.

“Harwich was a great place to grow up,” said Stevens. A graduate of the Harwich High School class of 2006, she recently organized their 10th reunion. Her youth in Harwich “worked to my advantage,” she said, giving her many friends and allowing her to pursue many interests such as the violin and figure skating. She skated competitively from the time she was four years old until she left for college at Wellesley, where she got interested in playing squash. And Harwich has the ocean. Stevens and her fiancé like to sail.

What went into the making of this optometrist?

When Stevens, who majored in biology and minored in psychology at Wellesley, helped a relative with research about cataract surgery, she learned that eyes really interested her. As she thought about where she might go professionally with eye care, she finally decided that she “likes patient contact rather than surgery,” so she chose the optometric route.

The last year of training at the college of optometry, she said, is spent entirely in clinical practice, and the school, rather than maintaining a clinic of its own, affiliates with about 50 institutions in the Boston area, so she gained experience in many kinds of eye care.

In her position in the South Yarmouth office, Stevens will see about five to 10 patients on a typical day. They do things slowly, she said.

“We dilate everyone,” she said, referring to the practice of opening the eyes’ pupils with drops to get a better look inside. A patient has to wait for the dilation to take effect, which means that each appointment takes longer.

Because Stevens already has so much clinical experience from school, she can make an educated guess about what a day might bring. “In spring and fall, it will be allergies. In summer and winter, probably dry eye” because of the effects of heat and air conditioning. “And when the kids go back to school, we see a lot of pinkeye,” she said of the highly contagious condition.

What’s new in the world of eye health?

With dry eye affecting a “huge” number of people on the Cape, the FDA has recently approved a new drug that can relieve the condition. Also, she said, “treatment has come a long way” for the eye care of people with diabetes.

Stevens loves her roots in Harwich. Her mother, Jadene Felina-Stevens, was a founder of the Saltwind Poets in 1989 and died three years ago of cancer. Her father, Brian, a “retired phone guy,” and a sister, Alexis, live in town. She said that many of her friends are “starting to move back” after sojourns in many states. She’ll miss being able to travel all over the country to visit them, she said, “but they’re still my best friends” and it means a lot to her that they’ll all be settling in town.

She said that she loved going to the old Harwich High School – “that white building, so New Englandy” – but that she thinks that its consolidation with Chatham High into a new regional Monomoy Regional School District was a good change. She hasn’t seen the new school yet – “any time I’ve dropped by, it was locked” – but she looks forward to seeing it some day.

A trip to the new Monomoy High is only one of the travels that the new Dr. Stevens has on her agenda. She has family in Italy and has also been to France and many of the United States.

Because she loves to hike, Stevens would love to see all the national parks. And she can see them without glasses.