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Autumn, a fourth year optometric student at the Southern College of Optometry, is a friend of ASCO and has submitted several blogs in the past. Her latest vlog shows us a bit from her optometric externship in Alaska.
Autumn can be contacted at email@example.com
Interested in submitting a video blog or a written blog? We are looking for submissions from optometric students, faculty/administrators. and residents. For more information, contact Kimberly O’Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet Dr. Parres Wright, Assistant Professor at Midwestern University – Chicago College of Optometry. This video shows how she navigates educating her students during Covid as well as her passion for her students and for her profession. She is proof that academic optometry is a rewarding and fulfilling career path.
Dr. Wright is on the following social media platforms:
Podcast: Capital W
Read Shail’s Part 1: Don’t Let Eyes Be The Demise
Northcote Parkinson, 1942
Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Less time studying, and better grades. Though factual, it sounds entirely fictional. Hi all, my name is Shail Gajjar and I’m a second year at The University of Houston College of Optometry. I hope to share some lessons and insights from my first year in the Doctor of Optometry (OD) program.
I recall a time when I used to dumbfoundedly wonder how my classmates juggled their commitments. Whether it be marriage, taking care of a pet, volunteering every weekend, having a kid, playing on a regional ultimate frisbee team, working a part-time job, or commuting from home, the people around me somehow found a way to fit a doctorate program into their schedules. The question I used to wonder was how? As is, I felt there wasn’t enough time to study, so how could someone – with substantially less time – still manage to sufficiently study. What was the secret?
While I cannot speak on their behalf, here’s the answer I came to one semester later:
Lesson 2: Quality ≥ Quantity. Per Parkinson’s Law, your results will improve when you spend less time studying more. Treat each studying session like your last, as if the final is the next day.
You’ve probably already been told about the importance of time-management. I wish not to expand that dialogue. My emphasis is instead time–usage. To illustrate this, consider the following scenario:
Let’s say you take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) in 2 months. I want you to imagine how a typical day of studying would go. More specifically, imagine how many hours you would study in a day.
WHAT IF I told you there was an issue with your registration (you can’t reschedule) and you now have 2 weeks. AS IF THIS WASN’T ENOUGH, you cannot study any more per day than you did previously. What would you change? How would your days of studying evolve?
With absolute certainty, my stress would go through the roof. That variable aside, however, I can also say my time-usage would significantly change. I would undergo a paradigm shift. Rather than casually studying the material for the day and taking breaks as I please, I would spend each and every single minute of that studying session with focus and concentration. My breaks would be limited to an “as-needed” basis for the sole purpose of expanding my studying. Such new behaviors would be rooted to a sense of urgency; the realization that each minute matters would push me to spend the limited time that I had with maximal efficiency.
THIS, my friends, is the key that revolutionized how I approached studying my second semester of first year. Sure, scheduling in activities for the sake of my mental health decreased the available amount of time that I had, but enhancing my time-usage allowed me to cover more material in less time.
Now… this might sound really intense… And to be frank, as I re-read the points I make above, it does sound a little forward. Yet, I can say that employing the methods mentioned will allow you to free up more time for yourself. And so, whether you’re group studying or studying by yourself, always ensure you’re studying with a sense of urgency. It can be really easy (and tempting) to sit back, relax, and casually flip through PowerPoint slides. Or maybe have a few conversations with your friends, order some food, and so forth. Unfortunately, such behaviors will only prolong your studying time and ultimately restrict you from doing the things that you actually enjoy.
Study in an environment that keeps you motivated, but don’t make studying longer than it needs to be. All of this brings me to…
A variation of Parkinson’s Law:
FIRST, schedule doing the things that you love. Work will THEN expand to fill the available time remaining for its completion, assuming you’re spending that time correctly.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Lakshya Trivedi (more info at his website themdjourney.com or his YouTube channel TheMDJourney) for teaching me this concept, and to HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj (learn more at pramukhswami.org) who taught me its application.
Easy Anyama, 2nd year optometry student at the University of Houston, College of Optometry continues his journey in optometry school. Episode 2 of Easy on the Eyes is below. Revisit Episode 1.
Are you an optometry student (or know one) who is interested in sharing your story with us? Please message ASCO’s Director of Communications, Kimberly O’Sullivan, at email@example.com.
I get it. It’s your first year of optometry school. You’re nervous. Your anxiety has peaked. Your ambitions are high. You refuse to fail, and you’ll use every ounce of your strength and mental energy to safeguard your success. I was there too, and I admire your dedication to the profession. No one wants to fail, and yet it remains a possibility for each one of us. The simplest of mistakes, the smallest of missteps and you’ll find yourself in a position you would have never imagined otherwise. My name is Shail Gajjar and I am now a second year at The University of Houston College of Optometry. My first year of optometry school was full of ups and downs, and I hope to share some of the lessons I learned with you all.
Lesson 1: Your grades matter, sure, but so does your mental health. Find your passion, and treat it like another class.
I’m sure you’ve heard one person or another stress the importance of taking care of yourself in graduate school. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you also shrugged off this piece of advice. It’s easy to let this fly over your head. And to highlight its importance, I would go so far as to say this is one of the most important lessons I learned in optometry school.
I can’t tell you the number of students I saw pulling all nighters, sacrificing sleep, or downing gallons of coffee or energy drinks just to squeeze in as much studying as humanly possible. I found myself in that very same position during our first exam week. The scariest part of all, however, was the difference I saw in myself during the first week of school versus during finals week. During the first week of school, I was vibrant, energized, social, and excited. During finals week, I was a literal zombie – dead, emotionless, lacking motivation, and dragging myself to the end. This observation is true for anyone who forewent self-care in my class.
On this note, I must ask: Why is it that society only cares about the product, but never the process? We always ask what our peers scored on the exam, but never how they were doing in the preparation for that exam. And if we do ask how they studied, it’s with the intent of learning their study habits so we can score an A on the exam next time around. I admit, perfect grades are ideal. But at what cost to attain those perfect scores? If I have to be honest, if getting a 4.0 means sacrificing your mental health, then the grades aren’t worth it. It comes down to one simple question you must ask yourself:
How many times can you burn yourself out before the damage is irreversible?
Earning a Doctor of Optometry takes 4 years. There are two ways to get through this journey:
- Accelerate as fast as possible and burn the majority of your fuel in the first year. Score high, even if it means emptying your tank.
- Put yourself in cruise control. Stay consistent, take care of yourself, and expend your fuel equally through the four years of school.
The first semester of optometry school I embraced strategy 1. After just a few months of school, I found myself exhausted both emotionally and physically. Half of my winter break was spent sleeping, watching movies, and trying to somehow scavenge enough energy to get through the next semester.
I knew there was no way I’d be able to get through the program with the habits I had established. I made a few key changes. First, I made my hobbies and passions a priority; I treated them like another class. I scheduled two “classes” that I would attend no matter how many exams I had on the horizon. The first class was Fridays from 4:00 – 8:00 PM. The second class was on Sundays and split into two time intervals: 2:00 – 4:00 PM and 7:00 – 10:00 PM.
Class 1: Following my clinic practicum lab, I made it a point to socialize with my friends. Whether that meant going to a nearby park to play sports, accompanying them to a restaurant, or heading to the recreation center, Fridays were seldom spent studying.
Class 2: Beginning at 2:00 PM, I spent my time at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Stafford, Texas. I attended the Sunday classes they held for adults. The calm, divine aura of the temple served as a weekly reminder that there is more to life than taking one exam after another – I was reminded the end goal of this optometry program was treating patients, not taking exams. From 4:00 – 7:00 PM, I went to a local Starbucks and spent some time studying. From 7:00 PM onwards, I came back to the temple and had dinner there. Ending my week with spirituality allowed me to recalibrate my identity.
No matter how busy you get, never forget your sense of happiness. DO IT! Paint that one drawing, shoot those hoops, make that meal, play those video games. As someone who once spent every living hour of the day studying, I promise you spending some of your time taking care of yourself is the better route to go. I am wholly convinced those Fridays with friends and Sundays at the temple were the reasons I was able to stay sane and thrive in my first year of optometry school. I’m happy to report my grades actually improved despite the fact that, objectively, I was spending less time studying.
Naturally, your next thought might be: I get that you were happier and more motivated your second semester, but how does less studying amount to better grades? The answer to this question lies with the second lesson I learned in optometry school. Until then, I thank you for your time in reading this. I hope I was able to provide useful insights and know you’ll do great things.
DISCLOSURE: Optometry school is not easy – the program is certainly serious and challenging, and for good reason. But despite its difficulties, acing optometry school is a realistic aspiration. While there is no one-size-fits-all guide to getting through the program, I hope my lessons will aid you in your optometric journey.
To my future colleagues,
I wish you the best,
The University of Houston College of Optometry
Meet Easy Anyama. Easy is a 2nd year optometry student at the University of Houston, College of Optometry. We first met Easy when he was featured in our April 2020 issue of Eye on Education, and we are excited to learn more about him.
Check out his video below and learn more about his journey to optometry school via two NFL mini camps. The NFL’s loss is optometry’s gain.
We look forward to “Easy on the Eyes” Episode 2 and thank Easy for sharing his story with us.
Are you an optometry student (or know one) who is interested in sharing your story with us? Please message ASCO’s Director of Communications, Kimberly O’Sullivan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASCO is happy to introduce Doctors of Optometry, Sola and Brenda Fadeyi. Take a listen to their story.
They describe their journey of finding and getting into optometry school, why they chose optometry as a career, and their trials and tribulations along the way. Both Doctors of Optometry may have had their challenges but they overcame them and now are thriving in their careers and in life. We hope to learn more about both of them in the future.
Thank you Drs. Fadeyi for sharing your journey with us. Take a listen.
Can you think of a common eyesight “fun fact” that you’ve never actually heard a doctor say? Those are what we’d call “eyesight myths” — old wives’ tales for your eyes.
Most of us have probably wondered how true they are. So today, we are going to break down some common eyesight myths and separate fact from fiction, in our second of a three-part series.
Myth 4: Cataracts only come from our parents (i.e., they’re inherited)
Fact: Cataracts can actually be the result of both genetic and environmental factors. According to the World Health Organization, cataracts are the 2nd leading cause of vision impairment or blindness, behind only uncorrected refractive error. Fortunately, developments in technology have made cataract surgery incredibly safe, and approximately 98% of patients will experience improved vision if no other eye conditions are present.
A cataract can be defined as an opacity of the crystalline lens. There are a surprising number of different types of cataracts, but for the most part, they can be broadly divided in to two categories: 1) congenital, and 2) acquired.
Congenital cataracts can be inherited but may also develop because of infections, metabolic diseases, trauma, inflammation, or even drug reactions.
Age-related cataracts are the most common form of acquired cataracts. Both genetic and environmental factors can cause age-related cataracts. Since we don’t have a natural cure for age-related cataracts yet, it’s important we take preventive measures. We can decrease the risk of developing age-related cataracts by making healthy lifestyle choices like not smoking, limiting alcohol use, and managing health problems. Other healthy habits include eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, wearing sunglasses outdoors, and, of course, getting annual comprehensive eye examinations.
Myth 5: Over-the-counter glasses are good enough
Fact: It probably comes as no surprise over-the-counter glasses (or OTC glasses) aren’t the best glasses you can get in terms of physical appeal or prescription quality. These types of glasses will not hurt your vision, but they most likely will prevent your visual system from functioning at their highest levels.
For starters, most people have far-from-perfect distance vision, and reading glasses only help your near vision. During your annual eye examination, your local Doctor of Optometry can help determine if you are also struggling with your distance vision. There are quite a few ways to treat these challenges, with lined bifocals, lined trifocals, and progressives being the most commonly prescribed solutions.
Most patients don’t have equal vision in their eyes, and OTC readers assume you do, so each of your eyes has the potential of being significantly over or under corrected. And yes, most people will need reading glasses because of their naturally aging crystalline lenses, but don’t forget to see your local optometrist to be sure the changes that are occurring to your vision are not something more menacing.
Myth 6: Only go to the eye doctor when there’s a problem
Fact: How do you know when there’s a problem? Most problems that your eyes can have don’t result in pain or vision loss until you’ve waited too long. The only way to get ahead of a problem is to have annual comprehensive eye exams.
For example, there’s a condition called macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 50, as well as the most common cause of blindness in the Western world. The back of the eye has a thin sensory layer called the retina. The retina is loaded with photoreceptors, which are light-sensing cells. The macula contains the highest density of these photoreceptors and is responsible for our incredibly detailed central vision. When these cells deteriorate, it affects the quality of the images collected. This translates in blurry, distorted, or even permanently lost vision. There are three main stages for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD): 1) Mild AMD, 2) Intermediate AMD, and 3) Advanced AMD. Most people do not experience vision loss during the Mild stage, so this stage is critical for diagnosis because there is no cure for AMD.
Your local Doctor of Optometry is capable of detecting and treating many diseases like this, so make sure to see them annually so they can help you (and your eyes) stay in tip-top shape!
Did you know the truth about these myths before reading? Or was I able to shed some light (ha!) on how our eyes work?
Share this article with someone and stay tuned for the next part in our three-part series!
Jeffrey Lewis, O.D.
A Short Conversation with Dr. John Flanagan, ASCO President
During ASCO’s Board meeting in June, ASCO swears in a new President for the upcoming 12 months. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Board meeting was held remotely, and Dr. John Flanagan was sworn in as ASCO’s President virtually.
Dr. Flanagan is the Dean and Professor at School of Optometry and Vision Science Program, University of California, Berkeley. He graduated in Optometry and Vision Sciences from Aston University, Birmingham, UK in 1980, where he later earned his PhD in 1985. From 1985 to 2014 he was Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo and for the latter 25 years was seconded 75% to the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences, University of Toronto, Canada, where he was a Professor and Director of the Glaucoma Research Unit, Toronto Western Research Institute and a Senior Scientist at the Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network.
He has held continuous federal research funding for 32 years (MRC/CIHR/CHRP/ORF/NEI-NIH), with additional research funding from the BrightFocus Foundation, the Glaucoma Research Society of Canada and the Glaucoma Research Foundation. He has supervised 45 graduate students and has authored more than 175 peer-reviewed publications. In addition, he has 14 book chapters, three books and given numerous invited lectures to both professional and academic audiences around the world. His research interests include basic mechanisms of human glaucoma (glial cell activation, neuroprotection), ocular imaging, clinical psychophysics, ocular blood flow and studies of vascular reactivity. Awards include Certificate of Merit for Research Excellence, Glaucoma Research Society of Canada; Claire Bobier Lecture, University of Waterloo; Springer Lecture, University of Alabama; the Glenn A Fry Award from the American Academy of Optometry; Outstanding Performance Award, University of Waterloo (2004 & 2013); Institute of Medical Science Mel Silverman Mentorship Award, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 2011; the Dario Lorenzetti Lecture, McGill Ophthalmology, 2013; and the Karen Walker-Brandreth Lecture, UC Berkeley, 2015. He was a plenary lecturer at the 2003 AAO meeting, and was appointed as faculty for the inaugural World Glaucoma Congress in 2005 and at each subsequent WGC meeting. He was a founding member of the Optometric Glaucoma Society; Program Chair from 2002 to 2007, and President from 2007 to 2012. He is also a member of the American Glaucoma Society, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and American Academy of Optometry. Professional organizations include the American Optometric Association, California Optometric Association, Ontario College of Optometrists, and British College of Optometry. From 2008-2014 he was Chair of the Clinical Research Ethics Committee at the University of Waterloo. He has also served as a Governor and Senator at the University of Waterloo, and was a member of the Senate Executive Committee. He is currently President of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, having previously served as Secretary and Treasurer. In 2015 he was awarded a life fellowship of the British College of Optometrists. In 2016 he received a DSc honoris causa from alma mater Aston University, and fellowship of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. In 2020, he received the President’s Award for services to the profession of optometry, by the American Optometric Association.
Titles: J.G. Flanagan BSchons, PhD, DSchc, FCOptom, FAAO, FARVO
Dr. Flanagan chatted with ASCO’s Director of Communications, Kimberly O’Sullivan to talk about the upcoming year.
ASCO: Dr. Flanagan, congratulations on being named ASCO President for fiscal year 2020-2021. Before we get into that, how are you doing during these challenging times? How are you adapting to the “new normal”? What was graduation like and how are you preparing for the upcoming academic year?
Dr. John Flanagan: Thank you for asking. It has indeed been a challenging time, I’m not sure I’ve ever worked harder than in the last 4 months, yet it has not been without rewards. I’ve come to dislike the idea of this being a “new normal.” I certainly hope not, but I do think that there will be significant change to the way we live and the way we practice. As an optimist I believe many of these changes will be for the good of the profession. I’m excited by the acceptance of telehealth, finally. I believe this is good for our patients and good for optometry. I think that we were overdue for a reminder of the importance of good infection control practices. We have all worried about adenovirus, and in other parts of the world how Creutzfeldt-Jacobs disease has influenced practice protocols, but after SARS-CoV-2 I believe we will all take viruses that cause colds and flu, more seriously. Why should we be so relaxed about exposing our elderly or immune-compromised patients to other viruses? I believe that many of us will continue to wear scrubs in everyday primary care practice, have a much lower tolerance to wearing face masks, and I think it appropriate to adopt a west coast namaste rather than a hand shake.
Graduation was probably one of the most emotional, socially distanced events of the lock down. When a class is ready to graduate, there is a wonderful dynamic between the graduates and the faculty and staff. The graduates are eager to begin the next step in their careers, but there is a bond that is genuinely emotional. Graduation is a celebration for family, friends and classmates, but for many faculty and staff it is also a cathartic separation. This year we had an informal Zoom toast, but promised that as soon as possible we will arrange the best of commencement celebrations. This is after all, the Class of 2020!
The upcoming academic year will be interesting, and is already taking a great deal of time, effort and planning. We are proposing a hybrid curriculum where all clinic, clinic labs and small group teaching in the OD and Vision Science programs are taught in person, but all didactic classes will remain remote but synchronous. Key to the planning is that no group of more than 26 can gather in a single room or place, and that, wherever possible they remain socially distanced. We are hopeful that our incoming first year students will be together enough to create a class identity, and start supporting each other from the start. This is essential to training and bonding, and ultimately professionalism. Second years will be together in clinical training, and third and fourth years will be in full clinical rotations, albeit with reduced patient capacity due to essential safety measures.
ASCO: What are you looking forward to most as President of ASCO? What will be some of your top priorities this year?
JF: As a Dean who comes from away, I have greatly appreciated the comradery and cohesiveness of ASCO. Colleagues were welcoming and helpful, and willing to educate me to the national culture of the profession. I knew many of the Deans and Presidents before moving to California, but by no means all. It has been a true pleasure getting to know everyone. We are a small group, and we enjoy the privilege of meeting as an all-inclusive board. This is unusual in such professional organizations.
I look forward to honoring the tradition established by my immediate predecessors Jenny Coyle, David Heath, Karla Zadnik, David Damari and Elizabeth Hoppe. They have provided inspired leadership. The staff, under the leadership of Dawn Mancuso, have equally enabled and organized, and shared their talents.
Our priorities are well defined moving forward; Optometry Gives Me Life/applicant pool and diversity. As part of the executive committee I worked hard to ensure these were ASCO’s priorities, and it is essential we remain focused and within the financial means of our relatively small association. We have an active Strategic Plan and a treasure trove of creative thinking from our recent Opening Our Eyes and Research summits. The Board knows of my concerns regarding diversity. As a profession we need to do better. With less than 3% black students nationally we have to do better. This will be a major focus of my presidency.
In addition, it is important to acknowledge the many activities of ASCO, from faculty and leadership development, SIGS and committees, academic advocacy, residency promotion, data development, and communications.
ASCO: Please tell me more about the priorities you mentioned above. How will you continue focusing on the applicant pool? Has the public awareness campaign, Optometry Gives Me Life, launched in March 2019, yielded any positive results yet or it is too soon?
JF: Optometry Gives Me Life has launched with great promise. We understood it to be a 4-year commitment. The numbers of engagement are startling, but at the end of year 1, and as expected, there is not yet clear evidence of impact. The large numbers engaging with the program augers well for future impact and increase in the applicant pool within 4 years.
Five years ago, the Board considered a proposal by Berkeley Optometry and the National Optometric Association to hire an Executive Director of Diversity Success. The Board were supportive and unanimously approved a motion to commission a consultant’s report. We are yet to fund the report. I still believe that this is an essential element towards helping each and every School and College improve their diversity and inclusion. The national statistics tell of a stark reality. Less than 3% of all optometry students and 4% of all faculty are Black, when there are 12.7% African-Americans nationally. These numbers have been static for at least the last 10 years. We must find creative ways to fund this position and an initial consultant’s report to inform ASCO as to the type of programs and type of search we need to help this critical, national effort. I will seek the advice of ASCO’s Diversity and Cultural Competency Committee as to how best to move forward, and once again look forward to collaborating with the National Optometric Association.
However, underlying all special projects and initiatives is a need for ASCO to play a role in national coordination, advocacy, policy and communication, alongside our partner organizations. During the onset of the pandemic the ASCO board met informally on a weekly basis. It became a welcome sanity check and invaluable exchange of experiences and ideas as we each worked through the problems of remote education, lock down, PPE, urgent and emergent care, mental health, ACOE requirements, COPE regulations, National Boards, graduation, state licensure and clinic reopening protocols. Never has it been more obvious that ASCO needs to be a strong national voice for education, research, students, faculty, and residents.
ASCO: Let’s get to know you on a personal level better. Why did you choose the career of optometry? What did your path entail getting you to the Dean of Berkeley School of Optometry? What did you find most appealing about the field of optometry?
JF: I started wearing glasses as a 6-year-old myope. I never particularly enjoyed wearing my glasses at school, but I always enjoyed seeing my optometrist. The colored lights, the letters, the questions, feeling part of the examination, were all part of a positive experience. In high school I always thought I would be a vet, but a severe cat allergy developed in my late teens and quickly put a stop to that. I took a gap year and worked in theater and as a truck driver. I ended up with a choice between performing arts, medicine and optometry, and decided that optometry would be the perfect qualification for a starving actor. I started optometry school at a particularly magical time at Aston University. They had an amazing faculty who fostered a new attitude towards research for that time in the UK profession. I simply never looked back. I also co-founded a Revue company based within a community arts center in the grounds of the campus. We performed locally and each summer at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I was happy to accept a scholarship from the Royal National Institute for the Blind to study for a PhD back at Aston. However, the research won out and overpowered my thespian urges. At the end of my PhD there were no academic jobs in Thatcher’s Britain, but Canada was recruiting. I married the love of my life, Kathy Dumbleton, who had just finished her residency in contact lenses at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, and we both accepted jobs at the University of Waterloo.
My research led me to an interest in glaucoma and neurodegenerative disease. This quickly started a collaboration with Professor Graham Trope, an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist at the University of Toronto. This eventually led to a unique opportunity that resulted in me being seconded (75%) to Toronto for 25 years, and I thank both Graham and Professor Jake Sivak for making this possible, their support and respective leadership in Ophthalmology and Optometry, were always inspiring. I never thought I would leave this wonderful post, but in 2014 Berkeley Optometry came calling and I have never regretted the new and unanticipated opportunity of leadership and administration. I have recently accepted a second 5-year term as Dean, and look forward to celebrating Berkeley Optometry’s centennial in 2023!
ASCO: Tell me more about Berkeley and the Schools of Optometry. Berkeley has a storied reputation.
JF: UC Berkeley is an amazing university, with a beautiful campus and an outstanding School of Optometry. The depth and range of daily academic pursuit can leave you breathless. Every year I speak to the first-year class at orientation and ask them to make sure they take full advantage of the institution and all it offers, whether their interests are in the arts, politics, public health or sports, there are daily events featuring some of the world’s most accomplished and talented people.
I also want the profession of Optometry to understand just how outstanding some of our Schools and Colleges are, both clinically and from a research perspective. Berkeley Optometry has one of the biggest clinical operations in the country, which includes a pioneering telehealth screening service for diabetic retinopathy and a digital health clinic serving over 40,000 patients a year, the country’s first academic myopia control clinic, a sports vision clinic integrated within the intercollegiate sports teams, a pioneering neurorehabilitation and TBI clinic, along with our many other specialty and primary care services. Our Vision Science program is amongst the biggest and most successful research groups dedicated to eye and vision. Our 42-year-old NEI-NIH doctoral student training grant is the largest in the country, and as large as the rest of the top 10 combined, we have more NIH funding than all of US Optometry combined. This is something we should all be proud of, not just Berkeley, and I can still boast on their behalf having only arrived six years ago!
However, what I am most excited about for our future is our faculty renewal over the last 5 years, both clinical and senate. We have recruited 4 brilliant young assistant professors, 2 of whom are PhD optometrists, a further 2 outstanding OD, PhD clinician scientists, and 10 new clinical assistant professors. Our future looks bright!
ASCO: We like to ask everyone we speak with to say something about the field of optometry that people may not know.
JF: There are two areas of interest I would like to highlight, neither of which are particularly unknown but both of which I believe are underestimated and underserved. The first is glaucoma, for which some in our profession have developed exceptional skills and expertise. Many of us treat glaucoma, and work well in partnership with ophthalmologists who are glaucoma specialists, but others are committed at a higher level. Every year, my meeting highlight is sitting with around 100 members of the Optometric Glaucoma Society discussing and debating the latest in glaucoma research and management. Amongst that group are ODs who are pioneers in all aspects of the disease with the exception of incisional surgery. They are educators, researchers, but most of all clinicians, dedicated to the care of patients with glaucoma, both simple and complex. They inspire and humble me. I will always be grateful to my friend Murray Fingeret for proposing the idea, and along with Michael Patella and Tom Lewis, it has been a privilege to form the OGS and watch it grow. However, I believe that more optometrists need the opportunity and encouragement to practice to the full scope of their training, including the management of glaucoma.
The second area is a more recent passion, uncorrected refractive error. In partnership with Kovin Naidoo and Hasan Minto, Berkeley Optometry is in the process of establishing the Berkeley Vision CURE (Children’s Uncorrected Refractive Error) initiative, a service and research organization with the simple but ambitious goal of ensuring that every child has access to eye care and vision correction by the year 2050. There are approximately 2.7 billion people living with uncorrected refractive error (URE), making URE the world’s most widespread unaddressed disability (World Report on Vision. WHO, 2019), and children are carrying much of this burden. Of the 2.7 billion people with URE, approximately 1 billion are aged 18 years or younger. By the year 2050 there will be more than 1.3 billion children with myopia alone. Of the 1 billion children with URE, over 90% will live in countries with developing economies. Along with colleagues Sarah Kochik, Ian Bailey, Luigi Bilotto and others, it is time to organize and serve.
ASCO: Please tell us a little about your life outside of the workplace. What do you like to do outside of work?
JF: Kathy and I love to hike, and there are few places better than the Bay Area for access to stunning parks, mountains and seascapes. I’m never happier than being out on a trail and seeing the wildlife and beauty around me, whether it be whales, elephants or a soaring eagle. I’m passionate about football, the soccer variety, and have always had an interest in music. The Greek has become our favorite live music venue and I still love to play when I can. I had a great run with the Lost Faculties, 14 years of friendship, madness and mayhem, and some of the best fun a grown up could have. Looks like Orlando in 2019 will be our last and final gig, having played our first, “final” concert at the AAO’s Australia Party in Denver in 2014.
However, the most important thing in my life is family. Kathy and I have been married for 35 years and have been blessed with two wonderful daughters and a granddaughter. My daughters are both health care professionals and have been working in high stress environments throughout the pandemic. I am proud of their achievements and commitment, but relieved they have been safe so far. We were recently able to gather for a carefully coordinated, socially distanced, appropriately quarantined, bubble controlled and wonderfully intimate wedding. It was a beautiful afternoon filled with love and happiness, but please, not the “new normal”.
Thank you for your time Dr. Flanagan! We look forward to having a very productive and interesting year!
In many ways, vision is our most valued sense. Much of our physiological design, such as skull shape, is based around interpreting and enhancing the immense amount of information our eyes give us. Our eyes are some of the most complicated structures in nature.
People with impaired vision often don’t realize what they’ve been missing until their vision is corrected. Vision allows us to enjoy the detail of individual leaves in treetops from the sidewalk or the distinct smile lines on loved ones’ faces during laughter. All the little details that make life so rich and wonderful.
Doctors of Optometry are primary health care providers and are responsible for providing more than two-thirds of the primary eye care in the US. The career of an eye doctor is so much more than just, “One, or two?”
Optometrists change lives each and every day. We diagnose and treat injuries and disease, administer visual rehabilitation and therapy. We restore long-lost hobbies by aiding in the detection and treatment of glaucoma, or help ensure a pain-free life by recognizing the signs of a brain tumor pressing on an eye. It is even possible for Doctors of Optometry to add 100 points to a baseball player’s batting average by improving attention and optimizing their visual processing system.
Optometrists benefit from being able to work directly and compassionately with their patients, receiving the satisfaction of knowing the work they did made someone’s life better.
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, optometrists have been caring for fellow essential workers, watching for warning signs and treating eye strain that can occur after long hours and little sleep. With so many jobs and classes being brought online, small text and blue light from electronic devices can cause fatigue and headaches.
Because the eyes are an orifice and produce tears, there is an increased risk of transmission or contamination that optometrists have needed to prepare for, intensifying sanitation and carefully selecting which patients to meet with in person. Many offices have implemented virtual patient visits and telehealth services for immediate concerns in order to help reduce the burden on emergency rooms.
Private and corporate practice dominate most optometry careers, but there are a wide variety of options. Eye doctors can enter the profession as an officer and provide care to our armed forces or join a research facility to improve our understanding of eye health. They can join academia to instruct rising professionals, train to perform minor surgical procedures, and so much more.
But in all of these paths, optometrists are able to enhance quality of life and assist everyone, young and old, in living as completely and richly as possible. We offer expertise in all matters of eyecare, always seeking to advance the care that we give to our communities.
This is why I’m proud to be an optometrist. I am able to stand by my fellow eyecare professionals. We help bring smiles each day, and open people’s eyes (sometimes literally) to the small beauties of the world.