Kerri Norris, OD
Curious, thoughtful, and approachable, Kerri Norris is a good listener with a light-hearted sense of humor. Born in Morristown, New Jersey, she grew up a few miles away on Lake Hopatcong. Kerri tutored students throughout her university years and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. After deciding to pursue a career in optometry, she attended State University of New York College of Optometry and obtained her Doctor of Optometry degree in 2016.
Optometric Physician based in our Kennewick, Washington, office
: You grew up and went to school on the East Coast. What prompted you to move west?
: After finishing optometry school, I moved west for a one-year residency program at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Walla Walla, Washington. As part of that one-year of advanced clinical training, I would go to the Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute office in Kennewick, Washington, once a week and learn what I could. It seemed like a dream job, and I was very lucky to be hired right after completing my residency.
: Do you feel like you’re a long way from home?
: Sometimes. But my husband’s family is here and they are great! My parents, siblings, and most of my huge family are all on the East Coast, spread out from Maine to Florida! At this point, I’m the only transplant out here. My Mom, Dad, and siblings have come out to visit, but I tend to go there more often just because I’ve got a bunch of cousins and friends that keep getting married.
: What do your parents do?
: My dad, Gerry, is an electrician. He owns a small business called Norris Electric. My mom, Gail, works for the company as a bookkeeper. I remember her always answering the phone, “Norris Electric,” so I grew up thinking my actual name was “Kerri Norris Electric” [laughing].
: Your family is back east, but your husband is from here in the Northwest?
: Right! My husband is from Pasco, Washington. We met online through a dating app. It was right before the holidays, and I literally logged in to the app to shut down my account because I needed a break [laughing]. But James and I matched, and I was like, “OK, one more,” and I’m really glad I did. He works in the parks department for the city of Pasco doing landscaping and things like that.
: Is that something both of you share in common, a love of growing things?
: That’s funny—I think I enjoy it more than he does because he spends all day doing it for work. When he gets home, the last thing he wants to do is take care of our yard! I tried to take the lead on that, but I’m not going to lie; he still does more of the hard work than I do. I get to do the fun part with flowers; he does the rest, like mowing the lawn.
: Do you have any pets?
: We have three cats and a dog. Our dog, Jerry, is a Pug, but mostly he’s a mutt. He’s got the formal snout, and he snores when he sleeps. We were supposed to have only two cats, but a mystery cat wandered into our garage one winter to get out of the snow, and he didn’t want to leave. We asked around the neighborhood and actually found his owner, but they were moving and trying to rehome him, so we kept him. That was our wedding week, and a lot was going on. We decided it was a sign.
: Growing up on Lake Hopatcong, you must’ve enjoyed being outdoors. Is that something you still like to do?
: It’s true; I was pretty lucky growing up. We had fun swimming, kayaking, boating, and hiking. I’ve lived in some beautiful places. Here in the Tri-Cities, we have the Columbia River, so we can still go out on the water. But these days I also do a lot more indoor activities, especially in the summer when it gets so hot. I really like spending time in the kitchen baking things.
: What are your favorite things to bake?
: Decorated sugar cookies, for sure. I make them for events like birthdays, weddings, and baby showers for family members, coworkers, and friends. The cookies are pretty detailed and a lot of fun. I don’t think people realize how much of my free time I put toward it. If I do an order of two dozen cookies, that’s my whole weekend. I’ll bake Friday after work, then decorate Saturday and Sunday for six to eight hours each day. Then I package them and photograph them. My coworkers keep saying I’m a baker who does optometry on the side [laughing]. I enjoy doing it, so it doesn’t feel like work. It’s really special to me when people trust me to bake for an important occasion.
: Have you ever done an eye-related cookie design?
: I actually have. A colleague recently had a baby girl, and I made optometry-themed baby cookies. It sounds like a weird mashup, but they came out really cool. I did little onesies with sunglasses on them. In the style of an eye chart, I included letters that spelled “Welcome baby.” I’m pretty proud of those cookies!
2016 – State University of New York College of Optometry, New York, NY
2017 – Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center, Walla Walla, WA
2017 – Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, Kennewick, WA
2017 to present – Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute
: What else do you like to do in your free time?
: We travel quite a bit. In the last year, we’ve gone to New York City, Hawaii, and on our first Caribbean cruise, which was pretty cool. We also took our first RV trip. We flew to Phoenix, rented an RV, and drove to the Grand Canyon and back. I like not only traveling to new places but also finding new ways to travel. New York was especially fun because that’s where I went to optometry school. It was really cool to show James around my old neighborhood, do the touristy things, and show him what I love about the city.
: You also traveled to the Marshall Islands a few years ago. What did you do there?
: Yes, in 2019 I went there on a two-week mission trip through Canvasback Missions. It was a surgical mission for various eye conditions, mostly cataracts and diabetic laser procedures. Patients from all over the island would sit and wait for days for their turn. There was also a large educational component of the trip. We brought over a retinal fundus camera donated by a company and taught the local nurses how to use it. There are very smart, motivated, educated people that just need the resources to help their community. It was a fantastic experience, and I’ll definitely be doing it again.
: Looking back, was there a certain teacher, mentor, or professor that stood out to you and inspired you?
: Even as far back as when I was in Girl Scouts, my favorite movie was “Jurassic Park.” Here was this amazing female archeologist, and she just rocked. Then, in school, I had some excellent science teachers. They were clearly very passionate about science and loved their jobs. Their enthusiasm was contagious. In college, a few professors really pushed female students to work their way into roles that maybe weren’t traditionally available to them. I was lucky to have that kind of exposure.
: What made you decide to major in biology—besides Jurassic Park?
: It was just always far and away my favorite subject. Whether it was the sciences as a whole, biology, biochemistry, or even organic chemistry, which I know everyone is supposed to hate, I just loved the puzzle of it all. They’re really not separate sciences—they’re all parts of life.
: How does your love of science translate into how you approach patient care?
: Early on, I found out that I like being an educator. So much of healthcare at this point is about education. In my role at PCLI, my No. 1 objective is education—giving people the information they need to make well-considered medical decisions. Even small recommendations—like not driving at night but waiting until daylight—can make a huge difference in a person’s safety while they wait for glasses, contacts, or surgery.
: What do you hope patients take away from their time with you?
: I hope I can help them take a more active role in their own healthcare. I want to help teach them how to ask the right questions, how to access information, and how to be their own advocate. Also, there’s a psychological component to healthcare that can be a big hurdle for people. Having surgery, for example, can be scary. The procedure takes place in a sterile environment, but here at PCLI we don’t want the overall experience to be emotionally sterile. We do our best to help everyone feel as calm as possible. The chairs are comfy, and we have music playing. At the very least, I hope that when I interact with patients, I can help them feel less fearful and more at ease—even if that means just answering questions or listening to them share what they’re thinking and feeling.
: What do you enjoy most about your job?
: Definitely, the people! That includes patients, colleagues, and each individual. I’m not just treating an eyeball, I’m treating a whole person. And each person has lived a lifetime. I’m so lucky because all of my colleagues—from our office manager to the surgeons and technicians—everyone is not only fantastic at their jobs, but they’re fantastic people too. Everyone is amazing at what they do and who they are.
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