Alumna sets sights on serving others

At 7 years old, Dr. Marion Harris Flowers received a gift to ensure her continued success in school—the gift of clear sight. Today, she uses that success to ensure kids in Tennessee receive that gift as well.

A native of Leland, Flowers is part of a team of optometrists that administers full eye exams to children ages 4-18 in the Shelby County School District as part of Well Child, the largest school health provider in the Volunteer State.

“It’s really hard to thrive in school if you can’t see; I know from personal experience,” Flowers explained. “A lot of these kids wouldn’t otherwise get the care they need because their parents may not be able to take them to the doctor. It’s a good thing for us to be able to bring this service to them.”

Through the Well Child service, students are only out of class for the time needed to complete a routine eye exam. Those who need glasses are able to pick out frames on the spot with help from medical assistants. A licensed optician later delivers the completed pairs of glasses to the school and ensures a proper fit for the patients.

Flowers said even those students with perfect vision are advised of the importance of routine exams to maintain eye health.

“I’ll send home a letter letting the parents know what we did, and if I find anything severe or that needs a referral, I’ll also offer those recommendations,” Flowers said. “The good thing about these comprehensive eye exams is that we can find things you wouldn’t otherwise notice.”

Some eye conditions, she explained, might not affect a child’s vision or cause any pain, so parents might not know anything’s wrong. In those cases, Flowers said it’s still good to be aware of the problem to help minimize the effect it can have later in life.

A 2008 magna cum laude biochemistry and molecular biology graduate from Mississippi State, Flowers later earned a doctorate from Southern College of Optometry. When she’s not treating children through the school system, she sees patients of varying ages at a private practice in south Memphis.

In addition to performing routine eye exams, she treats urgent conditions such as infections and inflammation of the eye, and helps patients manage glaucoma and other ocular diseases.

She explained that eye exams can be instrumental in identifying or managing general health conditions.

“We can find a lot of systemic diseases that you may not even know you have, or if they are uncontrolled, it shows up in your eye,” Flowers said. “By routinely dilating your eyes and looking at the blood vessels in the back, we can see signs of diabetes or hypertension and refer you to a primary care doctor or specialist.”

Whether she’s working in an educational or clinical setting, Flowers said she is committed to providing the best possible care for her patients, so they can maintain and improve their quality of living.

“One of the main reasons I went into the field is that I want to help people,” she said. “I want to make a difference and do something where I know I’m impacting somebody’s life. I get to do that by helping them take care of something very important—their vision.”

Flowers attributed her passion for hard work to her Mississippi State education. During her time at the land-grant university, she received the R.C. and Sophie E. Paige Endowed Scholarship, Minor S. and Helen D. Gray Scholarship, and Dr. Will D. Carpenter Endowed Scholarship.

“I love the family vibe of Mississippi State,” she said. “Everybody’s down to earth, and there’s always someone you can go to if you need help with something. There are always different activities going on, so you can have a life outside of academics.

“My coursework was definitely academically challenging,” she admitted, “but I liked that because it prepared me for the even bigger challenge of optometry school.”

To continue the tradition of giving that affected her education, Flowers, along with her husband and fellow Leland native Roddell, independently established a For the Love of Our Mothers Memorial Scholarship this year. Along with helping to fund the educational endeavors of a high school senior from their Mississippi hometown, she said the scholarship has another special purpose.

“We both lost our moms to breast cancer in 2013, and this $500 scholarship allows us to give back and honor their memories as well,” Flowers explained, adding that she and Roddell hope to increase the scholarship’s value in years to come.

Flowers, who has a 2-year-old daughter Madison, said she remembers her own mother being a big proponent of education.

“She never let me settle because she knew I was capable of doing more,” Flowers said. “It hurts that she wasn’t around to see me complete that goal of graduating from optometry school, but because I was in my last semester, she knew I was almost there. She always pushed me, and I thank her so much for that.”

By Sasha Steinberg | Photo by Megan Bean