“I love the idea that you can go see a doctor and it just be a pleasant experience. The whole experience of making people’s lives better and building that connection with the patient was just a big draw for me.”
Rachel Williams, O.D. M.P.H., chose the field of eye care because she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives while also simply providing a pleasant experience for each patient in her exam chair. She’s able to do all that and then some with Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor & Haun, where she relishes in the collaborative environment among top minds in their profession.
Based primarily out of our Maryville clinic, Dr. Williams offers comprehensive eye exams, disease screening and management, glasses and contact lens prescriptions, and much more for her East Tennessee patients.
Dr. Williams was born and raised in Cocoa, Florida. Growing up, she of course spent her fair share of time at the beach. That’s why she’ll tell you at present day that the mountains of East Tennessee still offer a welcomed change of scenery. Throughout high school, she was very active in volleyball and track, but she also flexed her musical muscles by playing piano and violin in her alma mater’s orchestra.
After high school, Williams began her undergraduate studies at University of Central Florida where she majored in biomedical sciences. It was there that she would be enlightened to what would ultimately become her career trajectory.
“When I was in undergrad, I knew I wanted to do something in the healthcare realm,” she said. “I found out that my undergraduate program had a pre-optometry association. That’s where I started to get the idea that I wanted to do optometry.”
She had such a strong inkling thanks to fond memories of her own eye doctor appointments throughout her life, beginning back in the third grade.
“I was looking at all the healthcare-related clubs in college and came across the pre-optometry association,” she said. “After I saw that, I started thinking about it, and I realized that every time I went to the eye doctor growing up, I always had a good experience there. I wanted to be that for other people.”
From there, it was ‘off to the races’ with her career aspirations. Dr. Williams attended the Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in Memphis, which she enjoyed so much that she decided to complete her residency there.
But before her residency, Dr. Williams had to do three rotations her final year at SCO, one of them being in house in Memphis and the others at Bennett and Bloom Eye Centers in Louisville, Kentucky followed by Piedmont EyeCare Associates in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With part of her residency at SCO involving a particularly heavy focus on ocular diseases, Dr. Williams became quite well versed on many facets of the diagnosis and treatment, sparking a major interest that remains with her to this day.
“I would say the majority of patients in my residency that I really enjoyed caring for were the glaucoma patients,” she said. “Between glaucoma and macular degeneration, those were the two I mostly worked with and also quite a bit of low vision cases. It’s truly amazing what available technology you can introduce to these patients that can vastly improve their quality of life.”
Williams was introduced to the Knoxville area thanks to a visit with a dear friend living in the city. She was quickly bitten by the East Tennessee bug and ended up falling in love with the area. That, of course, opened her up to leaving Memphis and heading east. Enter Drs. Campbell, Cunningham, Taylor & Haun, where she was immediately impressed by the warm, friendly staff.
“Everybody that I met was just extremely welcoming and super nice,” she said. “I was taken around to a lot of different offices and I got to meet a ton of people. Everyone was so willing to answer any questions that I had and was just so friendly. I loved that coming into a practice I already felt like I could talk to anybody. Plus, it’s a larger practice so there are a lot of different people that you can bounce ideas off of. That was something that I looked for in my residency as well. It was an easy transition for me.”
With so much to offer under one roof, Dr. Williams quickly realized that the collaborative environment with other skilled professionals is a true asset.
“If there is a patient who is a little more complicated than normal, something that maybe I haven’t encountered a lot before, I can easily reach out to the retina specialist or the cornea specialists, for instance,” she said. “They’re very open to fellow doctors asking them questions and getting their thoughts on something as far as how to treat or how to monitor.”
In addition to the benefit of stellar teamwork, Dr. Williams is also enthusiastic about furthering her experience in a variety of eye care scenarios.
“I’m excited to do a little bit of everything. That was another big draw for me joining the practice. It seemed like I could still do a lot of glasses and contact lenses, but I could also get plenty of exposure to disease treatment and management, like diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration, all those things that we typically see along with the occasional anomaly that makes you think a little extra hard.”
While countless patient interactions contribute to Dr, Williams’ gratefulness for her career, one patient story from her residency continues to stick out in her mind. The patient had Stargardt’s disease, which is an inherited retinal disease that affects central vision.
“She was having a lot of trouble with being able to read and write,” Dr. Williams remembers. “I introduced her to this electronic magnifier, which is kind of like a tablet that you can place over what you’re trying to read. You can zoom in and change colors and such. I showed that to her and she did really well with it. She was just so excited to go home and use it and tell everybody at her church about it. That was a very rewarding experience.”
Dr. Williams reiterated that being able to foster positive experiences along with the long haul of improving quality of lives is a wonderful reason to get out of bed every morning and come to work.
“I love the idea that you can go see a doctor and it would just be a pleasant experience,” she said. “The whole experience of making people’s lives better was just a big draw for me and building that connection with the patient and seeing them over time, getting to know them and making it very personable.”
In her free time, Dr. Williams and her husband are always up for fun outdoor activities, such as hiking and kayaking, for which East Tennessee serves as the perfect backdrop. They also enjoy playing video games and spending time with their two beloved dogs.