by Sue Tomchin
Jill Saxon never does anything halfway.
As her husband said when she was leaving her optometry practice to take her job at vision-care giant Bausch + Lomb: “I’ve known you for almost 30 years. You’ve never walked away from a challenge. In fact, you crush the challenge in front of you and look for the next one.”
Indeed, throughout Saxon’s life, from the time her team was named number one high school soccer team in the U.S., to her years as a Navy lieutenant and optometrist serving our nation’s heroes during Operation Iraqi Freedom, to her current work as senior director, professional strategy at the global headquarters of Bausch + Lomb, in Bridgewater, N.J., she has strived to excel, while fulfilling her goal to help people.
Saxon, 39, grew up in Randolph, New Jersey, surrounded by extended family. From girlhood, she knew she wanted a career in medicine, ultimately deciding to become an optometrist, a profession she shares with her father, two uncles, and a brother.
Graduating from Muhlenberg College, she went on to graduate school at the SUNY College of Optometry. While in school, she applied for and received a Health Professions Scholarship from the Navy Medical Services Corps. “There was certainly a financial benefit to joining the military, but, more importantly, there was the opportunity to do things I wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to do as a doctor. As an officer I grew more as a person and a professional than I ever could have imagined.”
During her last year of optometry school, Saxon took part in an externship program at the National Naval Medical Center (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) in Bethesda, Md., and soon recognized that was where she wanted to be assigned. A slot was not available but she proactively asked colleagues to advocate on her behalf; the Navy created a new position for her at the hospital.
"I take great pride in being available to guide younger people, particularly women, who are thinking about what they want to do professionally in our industry.”
“I involved myself in every opportunity I could get my hands on,” she says of her posting. She ran the hospital’s optometry extern program and annually 20-25 participants trained under her supervision. Since she served shortly after 9/11 when the U.S. mounted a global war on terror and invaded Iraq, she took care of servicemembers (Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines) who arrived on medevacs from the battlefield via Germany. She also treated their families, as well as “our nation’s leaders.”
One of those whom Saxon cared for was a 19-year-old Marine who was critically wounded in combat and had lost his arms and legs. He wasn’t able to put on glasses, so she fit him with contacts that could be left in place for a month. She trained his wife, then eight months pregnant, in how to put them in and remove them. Though a small victory, that young Marine was able to see the birth of his first child.
“At that moment I realized the opportunity I had to change the lives around me,” Dr. Saxon says.
After leaving the Navy, she and her family moved back to her hometown and she worked in private practice. When the job at Bausch + Lomb came up in 2014, she was initially reluctant to leave her practice, but quickly recognized that instead of caring individually for patients, she could “help the 40,000 optometrists in the U.S. help all of their patients every day.”
Today, Saxon focuses on professional outreach and developing and launching new products. The goal of her team, she says, is to “recognize what is important today and what is needed for tomorrow, so doctors are prepared to help more patients.” She speaks at conferences for optometrists, visits their offices, and reaches out to them online.
Mentoring women at the company is one of Saxon’s priorities and prompted her to be part of launching the Women’s Leadership Network to support the growth and development of female professionals. “I want to be part of the support network that gives professional women the confidence to grow in their careers,” she explains.
When it comes to herself, Saxon is vocal about who had the most to do with the person she is today. She is grateful for her supportive and caring family: Her husband, Greg, an intelligence officer and Naval Academy graduate, who is now a procurement professional; her parents; and her siblings. But the people who had the biggest impact on shaping her values from childhood, she says, without hesitation, were her grandparents.
Her grandfather, a pharmacist for over 50 years, hired young people with special needs, “helping them to become functional members of society.” Her grandmother created a welcoming Jewish home. Family members from as far away as Israel gathered there on holidays. “Their home was the center of our family,” she says.
Before their deaths, Dr. Saxon’s grandparents handed the holiday responsibilities off to her. “So everybody now comes to us. My husband and I share with our daughter and two sons the traditions I grew up enjoying just as my grandparents shared them with me.”
Join us on December 3rd to be inspired by Dr. Jill Saxon and all of our other incredible honorees!