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Your eyes are one of the most important sensory organs in your body. In fact, there’s a very high chance that you are using your eyes to read this right now! However, most people, when asked, won’t know what 20/20 vision is or what it means for them. On top of that, they often ask if they can have “better than perfect” vision.
What is 20/20 Vision?
No, it’s not talking about your new 2020 New Year’s glasses. 20/20 vision is a term that simply states “average” eyesight. Let’s break it down. The first 20 is how far, in feet, someone stands from an eye chat to take a test. In this case, we’re talking about those old eye charts you’ve seen in movies. However, they’re not often used anymore.
The second number, in this case, another 20, represents what you see in comparison to the average person when you stand at 20 feet. That’s why numbers like 20/20, 20/10, and 20/50 can exist.
How is 20/10 different than 20/50?
Let’s start with 20/10 – this number means that when you stand at 20 feet, you see what the average person could see when standing at ten feet. This is what “better than perfect” vision means. While the average person could see some at 20 feet, you can see much more.
On the other hand, if you have 20/50 vision, that means you have much worse than normal vision. If you are standing at 20 feet with 20/50 vision, then what you see is what an average person would see standing at 50 feet from the poster.
What is “Perfect” Vision?
While 20/20 vision is considered to be perfect, it’s not actually what we think of as perfect. Many people, mostly children, have better than 20/20 vision. Healthy eyes can easily go down to the 20/15 level with some accuracy. So then, what is perfect?
In truth, nothing that the human eye can achieve – and possibly nothing at all. Though it might sound strange, we have perfectly average eyes, and some people have a bit better than average.
On top of this, eyes have evolved to serve the purpose that the animal needs. For example, hawks, cats, dragonflies, goats, and even mantis shrimp can all see “better” than humans can in some way.
However, we can also see better than them in other ways. For example, cats can see long distances but not very short distances. All this is to say, your vision, based on genetics and environmental factors, can be better than 20/20 without a problem, it’s just not “better than perfect” or even “perfect.”
Don’t Forget Regular Checkups!
No matter what your vision, your eyes should still be checked on a regular basis. Though many wait to see a Doctor of Optometry until they think something is wrong, you should actually be going to the doctor at least once a year!
Borrowing at least some of the money needed to pay tuition and other expenses is a fact of life for just about anyone who pursues higher education. However, while borrowing isn’t something to take lightly, fear of student loan debt needn’t derail the desire to attend optometry school. Many sources of need-based or merit-based scholarships and grants can be found, and a couple of key dynamics work in optometry students’ favor. “In general, optometry students can use federal loans to cover what they need, which means they can avoid private loans, which tend to have higher interest rates and fewer options in repayment terms,” says Rob Bertman, CFA, CFP, a senior consultant with Student Loan Planner, a company that provides personalized strategies for tackling debt. Also, Bertman says, “Optometrists have six-figure income potential.”
According to the latest numbers reported by ASCO, across the U.S. schools and colleges of optometry, the percentage of graduates with debt ranges from 67.9% to 100.0%, and average indebtedness is $178,922 (graduate and professional school debt, not including undergraduate debt). And according to the American Optometric Association, the median annual wage for optometrists is $143,520. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a favorable job availability outlook for ODs, projecting that employment of optometrists will increase 10% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The numbers constitute a manageable scenario with regard to student loan debt, Bertman says, as long as graduates approach it wisely, including borrowing as little as possible; keeping cost of living low while in school; starting repayment immediately after graduation; and, should they happen to marry someone with their own student loan debt, getting a cohesive plan for dealing with both debts at once. He also advises graduates to commit to either paying off their loans aggressively or choosing income-driven repayment to keep payments as low as possible and maximize forgiveness.
Sarah Huff, MS, OD, FAAO, a 2016 graduate of the Midwestern University Arizona College of Optometry (AZCOPT), where she’s now an assistant professor, is a good example of how it can work smoothly. Dr. Huff considers herself fortunate that she had no student loan debt from undergraduate school to carry over to optometry school. “I knew my optometry education would be costly as is any medical degree,” she says, “however, I knew it would be a wise investment because a career in optometry would allow me to pay back my student loans in a reasonable amount of time.”
Prior to starting optometry school Dr. Huff applied for and was chosen to receive funding from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The organization’s Professional Student Exchange Program enables students in 10 western states to pay reduced tuition to attend out-of-state professional healthcare programs when the desired fields of study aren’t offered at public institutions in their home states. In exchange, students agree to practice in the state of the program they attended for four years after graduation. In addition to the WICHE funding, Dr. Huff made use of federal student loans. “My plan during optometry school was to be frugal and return any student loan money that I did not need following disbursement,” she explains. “I also had a timeline of when I wanted my loans to be paid off following graduation.”
After graduation from AZCOPT, Dr. Huff completed a residency in primary care and ocular disease at the New Mexico VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. During residency, rather than postponing loan payments with deferment, she used the income-based repayment option to begin paying on her loans. After residency, she changed to the standard repayment option that would allow her to pay off the debt in 10 years. “I also currently have a mortgage so I am cognizant of how I spend money,” she says. “However, my financial situation has not impacted my quality of life or my future career goals.” When asked what advice she would give to optometry students about student loans, Dr. Huff says at the top of the list is to return any extra funds following loan disbursement. “It may be tempting to use your extra disbursement on a new car, a wedding, a trip, etc., but the interest will compound and the final cost could be exponential,” she notes. “Even now, when I have extra funds I make an additional payment on my loan.”
The biggest mistake graduates can make, Student Loan Planner’s Bertman says, is to not have a strategy for repaying their student loans. “It can be easy to become indecisive about what to do because there’s a lot of information and advice out there, some of it seemingly conflicting,” he says. “But no matter what an individual’s situation is regarding school debt, there’s a path forward that makes sense.”
written by ASCO intern Brooke Weiner
Most students entering college have no idea what they want to do, and once they decide what they want to do, they change it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of college students change their major at least once. This was not the case, however, for University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) student, Ciara Knapp.
Knapp is a first-generation college student who entered with a passion for science and a desire to be a Doctor of Optometry, and she is now in the process of choosing an optometry institution. Thus far, she has been accepted to several schools, and has been offered scholarships as well.
According to Knapp, the interview process was more laid-back than she had expected, lasting only 4-5 hours. The interview can either be open-file, meaning that the interviewers know everything on your application, or closed-file, meaning that they know nothing about you yet.
“I also enjoyed the tour section of the interview day, and it was very nice getting to know the administrators. It helped me get an idea of what the school was like.”
Due to the close-knit nature of many optometry schools and colleges, applicants also get the unique opportunity to speak with current students. According to Knapp, this was very helpful in giving her an overview of what her study schedule would look like. There are additional benefits to the size of optometry programs.
“Since optometry schools tend to be small, it is located all in one building versus most other medical programs which are spread across several buildings. This makes it a very convenient option. Also, every interview provided lunch,” added Knapp.
Knapp’s interest in the field of optometry was first sparked after contracting a severe eye infection as a child. Receiving treatment prompted Knapp to want to go into the specialty of ocular disease so that she could help people in similar situations.
“I plan on specializing in ocular disease, because I believe that is how I would make the best contribution as a Doctor of Optometry. I’m also thinking of doing a residency in pediatric optometry because I enjoy working with kids,” said Knapp.
Knapp is a hardworking biology major, and she loves science in general. In fact, she further found her passion for optometry in a physics class.
“It [the physics class] made me really excited to be a Doctor of Optometry. Everything about your vision is physics, such as finding the strength of a prescription for glasses. I am really looking forward to the next three-to-four years,” said Knapp.
Knapp is very focused on her academics, and her friends even joke that she never leaves the library. In addition to being a dedicated student, Knapp is Ole Miss’s Homecoming Queen, a show choir national champion, a student ambassador, and an active member of Ole Miss’s Pre-Optometry club.
“The club helps guide undergraduate students who are interested in optometry. We talk about strategies for the OAT, and the club helps prepare students for their optometry school applications,” said Knapp.
She also helps to plan fun, inclusive student activities and special events at Ole Miss that provide students with a break from classes. According to Knapp, she considers her extracurricular involvement to be her free time.
“These aren’t resume builders to me. They’re genuinely fun activities, such as laser tag,” explained Knapp.
Knapp is a very involved student, both inside and outside of the classroom. She is an Ole Miss Tour Guide, and says orientations are always fun because incoming freshmen never know what to expect, but being an orientation leader allows her to show them how great Ole Miss is and guide them along the way.
“I love Ole Miss, and giving tours still gives me an adrenaline rush,” said Knapp.
As a first-generation college student, Knapp has a lot of firsthand wisdom to share with these incoming students. While at times being a first-generation student can be frustrating when she asks her parents for college-related advice and they can’t help, she has maneuvered her studies largely on her own, and her Ole Miss advisors were very helpful.
“Even though it was intimidating to leave home and go so far, my parents are very proud. It can be difficult when they can’t help me prepare for optometry school interviews, but it is so rewarding. One of my professors who is also a first-generation college student actually wrote one of my letters of recommendation,” said Knapp.
Knapp’s aspirations for her future include a residency in either ocular disease or pediatric optometry. She then hopes to open her own private practice and work there for several years.
“I’d also eventually like to go back and teach somewhere, because I enjoy teaching and I love that mentor-mentee relationship. I want to give back to the school I attend through sharing what I’ve learned,” added Knapp.
Good luck Ciara! We hope you will stay in touch with us once you begin school!
writen by former ASCO intern
Autumn Killop, is a contributor to the ASCO blog but now is the subject. As a third-year student at the Southern College of Optometry, Killop has the opportunity to engage in clinic practice this year, and reflect on the last two years. She finished her midterms in early June, and has a lot to say about her educational experience as an optometry student.
“Last year I had numerous chances to network, opportunities to attend conferences, and gained experience organizing meetings, fundraisers, and other events.” Killop said, “It was a busy but rewarding year.”
Killop said that her first year classes were heavily focused on laying a groundwork for her second year and beyond. Her classes revolved mainly around anatomy, mathematics, and optometric theory.
The second year courses had more clinical applications, and by the spring semester, Killop was taking mostly eyeball-related classes. Her material narrowed in focus, and she was challenged to think more like a practitioner and dedicate more energy to assessing solutions to potential scenarios in a clinical setting.
“There have been situations where I felt confident in my abilities and others where I either learned from a mistake or something I had never seen before,” Killop said.
In her third year, Autumn gets to participate in what is known as “clinic,” where she applies her learning to actual patients in an office setting. She’s only a few months in, but she is loving the experience. She said she’s been looking forward to clinic the most, and she’s seen many different types of cases already. She’s applied lecture material to real people instead of her classmates, and it’s a whole new learning experience for her that she truly enjoys.
“Everyone always has a smile on their face that brightens your day, and they are a crucial part of the support system that makes this school so incredible,” Killop said of SCO.
Part of Autumn’s enthusiasm for learning and what she does could be attributed to the learning environment at SCO. She says that the student life is amazing, and she has plenty of opportunities to achieve “the best educational experience possible.” There are student organizations for aspiring Doctors of Optometry on campus, state clubs, and more that hold events during the year. From these events, students can usually grab a free breakfast or lunch. She holds the school’s faculty and staff in the highest regard, but her favorite part about SCO is the welcoming and kind environment she sees on campus.
“The clubs on campus reach all types of ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures that provide opportunities for students.” Killop said.
Memphis, where SCO is located, is also a thriving city to learn in. When students need a study break, Killop says it isn’t hard to find one. There are always events such as fairs, festivals, concerts, trivia, and tournaments.
If Killop isn’t grabbing a meal from the campus events, there are plenty of places to eat in Memphis that she loves, as well.
“I love when family and friends visit me because I find a new restaurant to take them to, in addition to the ones I take everyone to—Brother Juniper’s for breakfast and Central BBQ for lunch or dinner,” Killop said.
After graduation, Autumn has a couple plans. First, she wants to pursue a residency. She’s not sure what type yet, but she’s counting on clinic this year and externships next year to help her narrow it down. She’s thinking a residency in ocular disease would complement her life goals best. Her ultimate goal is to be a volunteer in the U.S. and abroad to help those who need care most. Her first step after her residency, she hopes, will be to participate in the Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity Corps. The program focuses on creating sustainable eye care in developing nations.
Her advice for prospective students—optometry holds opportunities for people of all motivations. There are career opportunities, as well as volunteer and service opportunities of all kinds for Doctors of Optometry, from practices to Native American Reservations.
The future of optometry also excites Killop. She says that sub-topics in the field and the scope of practice are not only expanding, but thriving. The U.S. just saw a fifth state legalize the scope of practice for Doctors of Optometry to include surgical procedures. With an aging population in the United States, the nation will see an increasing prevalence of diseases like diabetes, glaucoma, and hypertension—all of which can be detected by Doctors of Optometry.
“It is a promising and exciting career that I have been wanting to be a part of since I was nine years old. Fourth grade Autumn would be so proud,” Killop concluded.
Whether you are 12, 18, 35, or 46, a career in Optometry is a great way to take your life in a new direction. Optometry is rewarding and provides excellent career opportunities for growth. In addition, most Doctors of Optometry have high job satisfaction and excellent quality of life. In terms of income, you won’t fall short either! The American Optometric Association has data showing the average net income is $140,013 for the primary practice of optometry to $172,356 for optometrists who own their practice. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Reasons to be an Optometrist
Doctors of Optometry are in high demand. We care for the aging population of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Going forward, the need for this profession is only going to keep growing as the population of aging people increases. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, optometry will grow by about 27 percent, or 11,000 new jobs, from 2014 to 2024. This is higher than the average job growth expected across all industries.
In addition to need, there are other things that a career in optometry has to offer. First, you can participate in interdisciplinary care with other healthcare providers. This allows you to take part in a holistic care regime through the practice of primary optometry. Next, you don’t just have to treat patients.
If you so choose, you can select the route of research. This will allow for the exploration of new diagnoses, treatments, and cures for eye conditions and diseases. Along the same direction, if you choose, you can also teach the next generation of optometrists while researching or just as a stand-alone career. There are 23 schools and colleges of optometry across the United States and Puerto Rico.
Finally, the opportunities for your specific practice are much more extensive than other types of medical professions. Within optometry, you have the option of pediatric, geriatric, low vision, contact lenses, vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, disabilities, and other special populations. Within each of these groups, you will be most likely guaranteed to find a job in any setting from cities and suburbs to rural areas and even internationally.
Optometrists love their jobs, in general, due to their ability to make the lives of their patients better while maintaining a work-life balance. We can improve lives and see the immediate satisfaction when a patient puts on glasses for the first time. In addition, most optometrists can choose a flexible work schedule based on their needs while receiving minimal emergency care requests.
If you are thinking about a career in optometry, then learn more about what optometrists do and how you can get started with the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. Our doctors will show you what you can expect and how they have improved their lives and the lives of their patients by choosing optometry.
Jeffrey Lewis, O.D.
The Doctor of Optometry degree is a ticket to a rewarding, well-compensated, flexible career, and combining it with another graduate degree, such as a master’s or PhD, opens even more doors of opportunity. Many schools and colleges of optometry offer dual-degree programs. The available programs are structured in various ways. For example, some are campus-based while others are at least partially online, and the degree tracts may be completed concurrently or consecutively. What the programs have in common, however, are the benefits they can provide for students, which include the ability to branch out from solely clinical optometry into research and to receive two degrees in less time and for less money than it would typically take.
The Security of an Optometry Degree, Plus a PhD
In May 2018, Stephanie Adams, OD, PhD, graduated from the New England College of Optometry (NECO) as the first recipient of its OD/PhD degree, a joint program with Boston University. As an undergrad she enjoyed her molecular biology courses and working in research labs and knew she wanted to pursue a PhD, with some clear goals in mind. “I wanted the security of a health profession-based career,” she says. “I explored the various health professions and was most interested in optometry and the ocular connection to systemic disease. I also wanted to be able to stretch my knowledge outside the realm of vision research and be qualified to join any science department and teach basic science courses at universities, which the PhD would allow me to do.”
After receiving the OD/PhD degree, Dr. Adams completed an ocular disease residency at the West Roxbury VA Medical Center in the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System. Then, in August 2019, she moved directly to her position as an assistant professor at the Illinois College of Optometry where she works in the primary care eye clinic precepting students and also helps facilitate human anatomy lab and lecture content. “Through the NECO OD/PhD program I was able to earn both degrees in a total of 7 years,” she points out. “A PhD degree alone can take anywhere from 4 to 7 years, so this was a great opportunity to follow a set schedule to a dual degree in 7 years, which included publishing three papers based on my work. In addition, with a PhD, I am a more competitive applicant for NIH grants to fund potential research projects.”
Optometry and Public Health
The dual OD/Master of Public Health degree was one of the things that attracted Kelly Morgese, OD, MPH, to the MCPHS University School of Optometry. She completed the program in spring 2019. “My interest in public health blossomed during my time as an undergraduate working with vulnerable populations in New Mexico and taking medical sociology classes,” she says. “I am passionate about people and health care, and there is so much public health-related work to be done in optometry. It relates to everything from amblyopia prevention through pediatric vision screenings to educating communities about how dilated eye exams save lives by revealing systemic diseases, and the importance of compliant use of contact lenses and glaucoma medications.” Dr. Morgese also feels the knowledge behind her dual degree will help her to relate to patients on a deeper level, with a better understanding of what barriers stand between them and the best possible health outcomes.
After graduating with her OD/MPH degree, Dr. Morgese began a residency in ocular disease/primary eye care at the W.G. Hefner Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salisbury, N.C. Looking toward the future she says, “I anticipate public health will be part of everything I do in optometry.”
Advantages to Being a Clinician and a Researcher
The Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSU) is among the optometric institutions that offer a dual OD/MS degree. Jeffrey J. Walline, OD, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, describes its appeal: “The OD/MS degree provides students with more options when they graduate. Completing the program gives them research experience that is important to industry partners who need to test their products. The program also makes students better consumers of science so they can practice evidence-based optometry. In addition, they have an advantage when applying for a clinical job because employers know they have obtained expertise in an important area of clinical practice. It opens doors they don’t even know exist.”
Jay W. Henry, OD, MS, can vouch. He received his Master of Science in Physiological Optics and Doctor of Optometry degrees from OSU in 1998. As he explains, “I pursued the OD/MS dual degree for a number of reasons. I wanted to challenge myself while in optometry school. I also felt like this was an outstanding opportunity to use my time wisely and get multiple degrees without spending many more years in school. I felt like it was a financial savings, time savings and most importantly a great career-building opportunity.”
Dr. Henry’s expectations were exceeded. Upon graduating he was offered a job as a part-time clinical instructor at OSU as well as more than five other positions in the area he wanted to live and work, Columbus, OH. His offers included roles in commercial, optometric private practice and OD/MD referral settings. “I think being one of the few that graduated with the combined OD/MS degree in my class definitely helped spur the interest in me,” he says. And the positive developments didn’t stop there. Dr. Henry, who now works with a full-scope practice near Columbus, notes that “numerous opportunities have been offered and created for me that I contribute to my additional MS degree as well as the connections I made as part of the degree process. Some of these opportunities have been my continued involvement with The Ohio State University College of Optometry as an adjunct faculty member and clinical preceptor at my private practice for the extern program, conducting contact lens studies for numerous companies, being invited to write journal articles on various topics, creating and co-speaking on three national lecture series about government incentives, federal legislation, quality reporting, meaningful use and technology in eye care, and serving on industry advisory boards for technology and electronic health record development.”
The effort he invested in earning the double degree was well worth it, Dr. Henry says. “I can say it has paid me back in dividends and rewarded me with opportunities I never imagined would come my way.”
Visit the websites of ASCO member schools and colleges of optometry to explore the dual-degree options they offer. And let three eye doctors show you more about how you can “find your charge” through a career in optometry.
written by Theresa Maher
Sometimes two dream careers don’t seem compatible, like medicine and fashion. Life has a funny way of working out, though. At four years old, Dr. Katherine Fisher was sure she would be a fashion designer. She wanted to be a doctor too, though. She told her mother that she would be an eye doctor.
She was able to fulfill that dream. After graduating from The Ohio State University, College of Optometry in 2018, Fisher has her own practice in Dayton, Ohio.
We know that we wear glasses because we need them to see, but in recent years we’ve seen more trends of glasses being used as fashion accessories, as well. Big-name fashion brands like Gucci, Versace, Prada, Chanel, Coach and more manufacture glasses these days.
At the 2018 Oscars, Lupita Nyong’o wore two-toned cat-eye glasses that made fans on Twitter gush and revive the Twitter account from 2015, @LupitaGlasses. Fans started the account in 2015 after her watching Nyong’o wear Ray-Bans-esque thick, two-toned frames at the Golden Globes that year.
In 2019, Fisher saw an influx of glasses on the red carpet. She said, “I noticed when I watched the Oscars this year that a lot of the celebrities were wearing glasses as an accessory with their designer looks.”
Twitter users noticed, as well, and were glad to see not only the aesthetic looks of the glasses, but representation of people who need glasses and use glasses. User @heloeloila tweeted, “for someone who is wearing glasses their whole life and usually meets people trying to avoid wearing them—seeing actresses coming to stage wearing glasses is super-important #Oscars.”
Fisher has noticed a shift in the attitude towards these common tools that help us see every day, “People used to wear glasses because they needed them to see,” she said, “but now there is a style factor.”
Fisher said that she feels fortunate to work in an office with opticians who help patients find the correct glasses for their face shape, personality, and style. While she still had a few experiences with patients who were hesitant to wear glasses, she maintains that, “We have a frame for just about everybody.”
When Fisher has time between patients, she enjoys helping patients decide on the best frames for the patient.
“I think the patients appreciate another opinion most times,” Fisher said.
Fisher explained that she, as she assumes any health care professional does, loves helping patients and that was why she became a Doctor of Optometry.
“I also love helping people feel comfortable in their own skin,” she said, “and feel better about their appearance.”
written by Theresa Maher
For parents of a new child, the list of concerns is endless—limiting germ exposure, diaper rash, formula versus breastfeeding. As children get older, the list of worries change, but it doesn’t get shorter. Least of these concerns, for many parents, is a child’s optometric health.
Maybe a child’s optometric health should be of more concern. According to the American Optometric Association, or AOA, “an estimated one in five preschool children have vision problems,” and a quarter of U.S. school-aged children wear corrective lenses. Since optometric issues have the potential to worsen over time, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.
“What drew me to pediatric optometry is my ability to effect a life-long change in a child who has undiagnosed vision problems by making the diagnosis and providing treatment,” says Dr. Ida Chung, the associate dean of academic affairs at Western University’s College of Optometry.
What many may not realize is that eye and vision complications can affect the rest of a child’s life and development significantly—including their social interactions, school performance, and self-esteem. If left untreated, the AOA maintains that vision disorders could affect an individual well into adulthood, especially with regards to education and employment.
The AOA also says that by the age of six, a child is susceptible to over four vision-obstructing conditions. From six months to five years, over 20 percent of children could have farsightedness, or hyperopia. Children who have hyperopia have a higher risk of being cross-eyed or lazy-eyed. If left untreated, lazy eye could lead to severe vision loss.
The four most high-prevalence optometric conditions for children six months to six years of age are nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and anisometropia. Astigmatism is a condition caused by an irregular shape of the eye or curvature in the lens of the eye. Anisometropia is a condition in which both eyes have a difference in refractive power (meaning one eye could be nearsighted and another could be farsighted).
The three most high-prevalence optometric conditions for children five years to 17 years old are farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism. With visits to a child’s Doctor of Optometry, all of these conditions can be treated.
According to Dr. Chung’s study with a retired elementary school teacher, “A Vision for Learning: A Teacher’s Handbook,” one of the most important things to consider about pediatric optometry is that sometimes, children may not be able to explain how they see the world. They may not realize that what they see is unusual or that other people don’t see the world in the same way. Infants can’t even talk!
“What is different about the care for children versus adults,” Dr. Chung says, “is the area of vision-related learning problems, and the treatment of vision problems through optometric vision therapy.”
Pediatric optometry becomes even more important as the new school year begins. Vision problems can negatively impact a child’s success at school if not detected and addressed appropriately. The vision tests that the school nurses issue simply won’t cut it, either, according to the AOA.
A 2015 AOA survey found that 89 percent of respondents had believed that the “vision screenings in school or pediatrician’s offices are effective in identifying vision problems that can adversely affect learning,” which the AOA says is simply untrue.
So as parents schedule their children’s annual physicals and immunizations to prepare for the new school season, they should mark annual eye exams on their calendars as well, if their child has not already had one in 2019.
written by Theresa Maher
Aroostook County, Maine is a large geographic area that borders Canada. However, it is home to a small, tight-knit community with a variety of eye care needs.
Family Eye Care and Mavor Optical is a private, family-run practice that is four generations in the making. The Doctors of Optometry there serve Aroostook County and its residents with pride and a genial attitude. The practice has two locations in Presque Isle and Caribou, Maine—both towns in the community of Aroostook County.
Dr. Craig Small has run the practice for close to 35 years, with his wife Jane on site as the optician. His two daughters, Paige and Abby, recently returned home as Doctors of Optometry when they graduated from the optometry program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services in Worchester, Mass.
Abby, 27, discussed her deep feelings of pride and gratitude to get to serve and practice in the community that helped raise her and her sister.
“Paige and I feel so glad to be able to work with our dad and come home,” Abby said.
She talked about how much she enjoys being a part of a family of four generations of optometrists. Some patients she and Paige see had seen their great-grandfather when the practice was in its first generation.
Their great-grandfather, William Small, began the practice in 1920 and ended his years of practice around 1958, according to Craig. Then, their grandfather took over the practice and after his passing, Craig took over the practice. The girls had never met their great-grandfather, and their grandfather passed away when they were 11 and 13. Now, they learn about their great-grandfather and grandfather through the patients who saw them.
With four generations of doctors, the practice has seen four generations of change in the field. Craig said the patients who have gone to the practice to see all four generations of doctors, though there are only a few, see how things have changed.
“It is quite interesting to see the changes, and how the schooling has changed as well,” Craig said. He says seeing the girls practice with him, and observing the differences between how he was educated and how Abby and Paige were educated makes him want to continue improving his practice.
Paige, 25, explained how the community shapes how they practice in Aroostook County, as well. She said the county is unique and so is the location.
“A lot of people aren’t willing to travel if you tell them they have to go to Southern Maine,” Paige said. She elaborated that it was a fair concern, since Aroostook County borders Canada. Paige and the family have seen a variety of different ocular diseases and conditions, and they’ve had to have a broad practice, since they can’t refer to specialists due to their location.
Abby said that during her time at clinic in Worchester, she functioned as an affordable resource for people who didn’t seem connected to the community and migrated from other places, but still resided in the area. The clinic helped her get a broad sense of practices and technologies in the optometry field, though.
“We felt like it was important to go away and learn these skills and bring them back to these people we grew up around,” Abby said.
Craig was happy to work in his private practice because it motivated him to be more in-touch with the patient and their needs—he and his daughters weren’t restricted by tight schedules and unfamiliar administrative practices.
“In different settings I’ve seen and worked in,” he said, “I like private practice mainly because I feel like I have a vested interest in the community. In order for me to succeed in my practice I feel like I need to take care of the people I see.”
After finishing optometry school, Abby and Paige reflected on what they would tell students who are studying in that type of setting now. They agreed that it’s important to take advantage of all of the resources a student’s school gives them.
“We (Paige and I) were part of a club that did a program where they would walk with visually impaired patients on the weekends,” Abby said. It was interesting for her to see how pervasive the effects of a visual impairment can be to a patient’s daily life.
“I felt like it was great to take advantage of all of the opportunities to go to different conferences,” Paige said. She heard before going into optometry school that optometry education was home to a small community, but she really saw what that meant when she went to conferences and made connections with her fellow future Doctors of Optometry.
Family practices play an important role in communities like Aroostook County, and will continue to do so, according to the Small family. They allow for patient education, effective relationships between doctor and patient, and freedom from quotas and impersonally-dictated schedules.
“I feel like patients shouldn’t have to be their own advocate,” Abby said, “it’s the responsibility of the doctor to be that advocate.”
Why Start Your Own Practice, Choosing Your Location with Care, and Finding the Funds
An interview with Courtney Dryer, OD, Autarchic Spec Shop, Charlotte, NC
Dr. Courtney Dryer shares her step-by-step approach to a successful cold start.
Dr. Courtney Dryer began her independent practice, Autarchic Spec Shop, six years ago in Charlotte, NC after realizing she wanted more control over day-to-day decision-making.
“I had worked for a doctor and saw things that could be improved or expanded,” she said in an interview at her chic practice off Woodlawn Road in Charlotte, NC. The inability to effect any changes “led to a certain amount of frustration. I like to have control over staff decisions, product decisions. When you own your own practice, you’re able to choose those things for yourself,” she explained. In this three-part blog series, Dr. Dryer shares a wealth of information – learned first-hand – about everything from the why to the how of opening a new practice.
In a nutshell, why did you decide to open your own practice when there were other options available to you?
I graduated in 2011, then worked for a private practice for a year, and also in some commercial practices on the weekend. I realized very quickly I didn’t see a future there. Once I made the decision to go independent, things happened pretty quickly: I opened my own high-end luxury practice in 2013 in Charlotte, NC.
For anyone looking to start their own practice, what’s the single most important question they should ask?
That question is “Why?” Why do you want to start your own practice? For me, it was freedom, the ability to make changes, updates and improvements as needed and without waiting for approval or acceptance from others. With a cold start you have ultimate control of your destiny and you alone are responsible for your success. Having your own practice means that you can enjoy unprecedented pride in your services and products; you can fulfill your unique vision for your practice to serve both your patients and your community; and you have the flexibility to travel when you want to and spend quality time with family.
What advice would you give about location. How much does that matter?
Location is very important. The first thing you should do is research lease rates for office space in the areas you’re interested in, and then compare different areas of the city or town to find the going rate for rental space. Having this comparative data allows room for negotiation with a landlord. I also suggest that you meet with landlords to gauge the potential relationship. Another question to ask is about patient base: What type of patient base do you want to serve? Primary? Medical? Pediatric? Geriatric? Check your area’s demographics to see if your practice location will be able to attract your patient base.
Another critical step in choosing a location is to determine the number of ODs, both commercial and private optometry practices in the area. Who’s going to be your competition?
When you meet with the landlord of each potential site to negotiate best price, ask if they will allocate any money toward your buildout.
Talk to existing tenants and ask four important questions:
- Are they happy with the landlord?
- How is business in their area?
- Would they do anything different?
- Anything they wished had been a part of their lease?
And a final note – very important! — before you sign your lease, have a lawyer review it to make sure it complies with industry standards.
How did you go about finding the necessary funds for starting your practice? Talk to us about that hurdle.
I always suggest that people find out if they qualify for any of the Small Business Association loans. In particular, check interest rates and see how they compare to standard bank loans. There are female-owned business loans that are available and they sometimes offer favorable rates.
Keep in mind that there are benefits to working with a small, local bank versus a large bank. Each bank has their own loan requirements, such as a necessary number of years out of school, or the mandatory hiring of a consultant. Larger banks may have other special requirements you might find onerous. Small banks can be easier to work with, according to colleagues who’ve gotten loans from those institutions.
Loans will be given based on financial status, how much debt is tied up in student loans, and amount of living expenses. The bank will ask for tax documents and proof of income from an outside employer. Keep in mind that most loans require a business owner to work at least three days outside of their own optometry practice so that there is some cash-flow and working capital.
Don’t miss part 2 of our series: Your To-Do List, Branding, and Marketing
Want to hear more tips for starting a new practice? Watch the 9 Essential Ingredients for Sucessfully Starting a New Practice.