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We have developed an improved active region design for optically pumped vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers. The design makes use of carrier-blocking layers to segment the absorber and promote uniform carrier populations in the quantum wells with pump efficiencies near 75%. A model to calculate the carrier distribution in the active region and a design methodology are presented along with a metric to describe the carrier uniformity in the quantum wells. Experimental verification of the performance improvements shows an over 50% reduction in device thresholds and an increase of 20°C in maximum operating temperatures.