UT Southwestern Eye Bank – Technical Supervisor
Staff Sargeant, U.S. Air Force
Karen Rohrback grew up in a military family which was always supportive of her desire to serve. Her mother had been in the Air Force, so while growing up in Xenia, OH, enlisting in the Air Force after high school graduation was a natural path for Karen – and she was excited about joining the military.
Following basic training in San Antonio, she went to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, TX. Here she began the medical part of her career as a Med Tech. During her two and a half years at Sheppard, she experienced many sides of medicine working in various departments at the hospital; med surgical, labor and delivery, and emergency. Karen says labor and delivery was her favorite area to work in, “It was neat seeing life come into the world.” At Sheppard, she also earned her EMT certification. For a while, Karen was hoping to become a firefighter, but a back surgery put an end to that.
From Sheppard she transferred to Tindal AFB in Panama City, FL. She was pregnant when she transferred, and worked in their family medicine clinic.
Her final assignment with the Air Force was at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, OK. Here she took ambulance calls, and worked as a paramedical examiner for insurance companies on the side. Of all her posts, she liked Oklahoma City the best. “It had a nice vibe to it – I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends,” she says.
With nearly 10 years in the Air Force, she had a pivotal conversation with a Chief Master Sargeant who told her, “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing any more, then it’s time to go.” Karen knew it was time to move on. Her husband had retired, so she got out of the Air Force. Looking back, she has her regrets, and would have preferred to retire at 38.
Not knowing what was next, Karen started working at a dentist office as an office manager while she recovered from a back surgery. She also worked at Baylor University Medical Center, and stayed home for a few years to raise her kids and care for her ailing Mother-in-Law. Karen started mortuary school, but ended up leaving early to start her career in eye banking.
As a temp at UT Southwestern, she was exposed to eye banking and when a full-time opportunity opened up, she pursued it. Two years later she was supervising, and a decade later she’s still at the eye bank.
Her military experience included, Karen has been in the medical field for 32 years. She says her military training as made her “a stickler for sterile technique” and her trainings and methods of operation all come from her military background. She always tells her reports that “There’s an easy way to do things, but it’s not always the right way.” Karen also credits the military for her confidence and says, “Learning from good leadership helps with being a supervisor.”
For someone looking for advice, Karen would recommend military service saying, “It gives you a path and the education benefits are great.” Today, her son is in the Air Force, first as a Chef, but now he’s in mortuary affairs. Her last bit of advice is, “Don’t get married or have kids until you’ve seen the world!”