DALLAS, Pa. - Angela Burda, O.D., admits her recent accomplishment has yet to sink in.

In May, the 26-year-old graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pa., with a Doctorate in Optometry, concluding a path that originated in high school and wound through Misericordia University. Dr. Burda has dreamed of being an optometrist since her high school days at Marian Catholic in Hometown. There were a few things about the profession that appealed to her.

"I always wanted to do something in the medical field, and with optometry you have that patient interaction that I really enjoy," says Dr. Burda, who also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Salus University in 2009. "When I was in high school, I used to spend time at my uncle's office (Dr. Gary Andrus, O.D.) and follow him around."

Dr. Burda, the daughter of Mike and Gloria Burda of Barnesville, graduated from Marian Catholic in 2004 and, with the decision made to follow in her uncle's footsteps to become an optometrist, she had to choose a school to start her on her academic journey.

Majoring in biology was a must, Dr. Burda says. After she participated in an open house at Misericordia University and spoke with Frank Dipino, Ph.D., professor of biology, her mind was made up quickly. "Dr. Dipino was very encouraging and the Misericordia science program really appealed to me," says Dr. Burda, who received her undergraduate degree from Misericordia University in 2008. "I also liked the smaller class sizes and the chance for more one-on-one instruction. I just felt comfortable with Misericordia."

During her four years at Misericordia, Dr. Burda did more than just excel in class. She served as a resident assistant for two years, earned an achievement award for her peer tutoring efforts and taught study skills to students with learning disabilities.

In the end, Dr. Burda not only earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from MU, but she also left Misericordia as a well-rounded person. And that, she says, is what helped her get into Salus University to pursue her doctorate degree. "Your grades and the school that you went to are important, but Salus really looks for well-rounded students," she says.

As part of her graduate studies, Dr. Burda was required to complete six externships at Advanced Eye Care, Limerick, Pa.; Wilkes-Barre Veterans Association Hospital, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; The Eye Institute, Philadelphia, Pa.; Edmonds and Associates, Drexel Hill, Pa.; Wills Eye Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa., and Great Valley Eye Associates, Frazer, Pa., in which she also was awarded clinical honors at each assignment. Dr. Burda worked in primary care, hospital and emergency room settings where she performed comprehensive eye examinations for various age groups and concentrated on the diagnosis and management of ocular diseases, as well as providing specialty services in neuro-optometry, anterior segment, glaucoma, corneal refractive therapy and more.

"You can have a 4.0, but if you don't have any people skills you're not going to survive in a clinic," she acknowledges. "A big part of optometry isn't only diagnosing and treating, but also educating your patient and communicating with them. That's one of the skills I gained from the peer programs at Misericordia."

Her Misericordia experience will also pay dividends as Dr. Burda begins her career as an optometrist. Those years she spent helping her peers not only made Dr. Burda a better student, but a better person as well.

Now that she has her doctorate degree, Dr. Burda is ready to begin her job search. She'd like to join a clinic in the Allentown or Philadelphia areas, but not too far from her hometown of Wyncote. It's a step that Dr. Burda has been looking forward to since she followed her uncle around in his optometry office years ago.

"It's neat to look back over the last 12 years and realized I accomplished the goal I set back then," Dr. Burda says. "It's been a lot of years and work, and I'm really excited to get started."