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written by Dr. Sha’Mia Stinson
KYCO 2020 Graduate
Hi! I’m Sha’Mia Stinson and I am a recent graduate from the Kentucky College of Optometry from South Carolina.
I decided to pursue a career in optometry because I enjoy helping improve patient’s quality of life through vision services by diagnosing and treating eye related diseases, identifying possibly life threatening conditions, performing specific surgical procedures, and providing pre- and post-operative care for eye surgery patients.
Additionally, a career in optometry would provide me with the flexibility and freedoms I desire as it pertains to work life balance, flexible work schedules, different practice modalities and specific areas of interest. The past four years have been challenging yet rewarding in many different ways.
One experience that will stick with me is while attending KYCO, I had the opportunity to present a poster at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. During this conference I was able to make connections that will assist me throughout my career as an optometrist to achieve my desired level of success. It also emphasized the importance of research in the profession. The more we continue to learn about ocular conditions, medications, optical devices etc. the better we will be able to treat our patients.
While attending KYCO, we received in-depth training regarding injections and laser procedures to remove lumps/bumps, treat different types of glaucoma and issues that may arise after cataract surgery. Becoming proficient in these additional services will make primary eye care more accessible to the medically underserved rural populations. I had the opportunity to treat patients in a very rural area, encountering many conditions that will lead to blindness and poor quality of life. In large part this is due to patient’s inaccessibility to proper eye care and/or distrust of health care providers. These are two areas that I want to work to correct. The program is rigorous between exams and national boards however, being able to apply your knowledge in clinic and improve your patients’ quality of life makes it all worth it.
I’ve learned about advocating for the profession as it pertains to expanding the scope of practices to allow optometrisst to deliver a greater level of patient care. Before attending Optometry school, I was unaware of how important it is to be involved in advocacy work. It was a surprise to me but a very welcomed surprise. As my optometry school journey has come to an end, it looks very different than what I imagined with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Although, I have developed a strong interest in ocular disease and geriatrics, I feel prepared to work in any type of optometry setting as I have been exposed to a number of different ways to practice and how to be effective in each setting.
Hi there! My name is Nitya Murthy and I’m a very recent graduate of the Kentucky College of Optometry. As I look back on my last 4 years in optometry school, I feel immense gratitude. I feel so lucky to be in this profession, for having attended my school, and to be living in the great state of Kentucky.
As members of the inaugural class, we had our ups and downs throughout our schooling. A lot of things had to be figured out for the first time, and that definitely brought some challenges. However, the advantages were that we could really play an active role in sculpting our vision of what we wanted our school to stand for. I loved that I had the opportunity to start the clubs I wanted at our school. I founded the Cornea and Contact Lens Society, the Pikeville Lions Club chapter, our NOSA chapter and the KYCO Journal Club. Within these organizations we set precedents and laid the foundation for the future. Looking back on all this as a 4th year, I couldn’t be more proud of what the younger classes have done with these organizations. It feels really good to see the seeds we planted grow.
I have graduated from optometry school and it sure isn’t what I imagined! Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of our spring clinics and activities have been canceled. I never thought graduating in 2020, the Year of the Optometrist, would mean a virtual graduation with all my dearest friends and family scattered across the country. Walking across the graduation stage was supposed to be the day that I became a doctor, but looking back, I think that day has been coming together in bits and pieces for a while now. The first day I saw a Hollenhorst plaque in my patient’s eye and referred her out for a carotid doppler, when my preceptors introduced me to patients as Doctor, when I did a trend analysis and figured out a patient’s visual field defects were progression and they needed to start glaucoma medication…and the first time I had to deliver the news that a patient’s traumatic injury meant they had lost that eye for good- it was then I felt like a doctor. It was the mentors, friends, patients, and our families that got us here and we are deeply honored to be newly inducted members of this great profession. The Class of 2020 may not have a graduation ceremony, but we still feel proud to be the doctors of the future!
blog post submitted by Diopsys, ASCO Corporate Contributor
Many ophthalmologists and optometrists have an outdated view of electroretinography (ERG)—one that associates the use and function of older ERG technology rather than the modern visual electrophysiology tools used by eye care professionals today. This means that common myths still making their way around the eye care ecosystem are preventing doctors from exploring the potential value that ERG could bring to both their practice and their patients.
Over decades, ERG vision testing equipment—how it is used in the office, how it impacts the patient experience, how results are read, how it supports treatments—has evolved in big ways to become an essential part of a high-performing eye care environment. But a recent survey reveals that 28% of practicing eye care specialists fail to consider adding electrophysiology to their practice because they feel that they don’t know enough about it.1
What have you heard about ERG testing? Let’s look at the myths that might be leading you to overlook this technology.
Get up to speed with ERG innovation below and read a free eBook for more information in one convenient package.
What is an ERG Test?
ERG is a type of light induced visual-response (LIV) testing that measures retina function. A functional test conducted with ERG technology can support a specialist’s treatment recommendations in a way that structural tests like the OCT cannot. In fact, both types of tests can be leveraged at various points throughout a patient’s course of care. This ideal application can be seen in a variety of case studies, like this one about a retina specialist’s experience treating a patient on anti-VEGF medication.
Common Myth: Length & Patient-Friendliness
A common belief held by those unfamiliar with modern electroretinography is that that ERG tests are time-consuming endeavors that negatively impact the patient experience. This is no longer true. While testing technology many years ago may have been intrusive to patients, ERG tests today use easy to apply disposable sensors that are placed on the lower lid and forehead for a simple, noninvasive testing experience. Patient set-up and testing is also faster and easier for technicians to perform, which means the current flow of an office won’t be drastically affected by introducing ERG. Eye care practices can easily integrate electroretinography into their everyday schedules and processes.
Common Myth: Interpretation of Results
ERG results of the past were difficult to interpret, and at the time, university researchers were the only people who had the means of performing tests and reviewing the results for others. Now, ERG results are laid out in a way that’s intuitive and contains relevant information specialists need—at their own offices—to make diagnostic and treatment decisions. Many include color-coded reference ranges for straightforward interpretation.
What have you heard about ERG? Take the time to learn more about modern electroretinography solutions to get up to speed on advancements in technology and see if it’s right for your practice.
Interested in discovering the truth behind more common ERG myths? Download this free resource.
Read the eBook Dispelling the Myths of ERG: Discovering Modern Electroretinography to:
- Catch up with the innovation occurring in electroretinography
- Discover the truth behind five of the most common ERG myths
- Learn what to look for in today’s ERG products and providers
Download your free eBook here: https://info.diopsys.com/dispelling-the-myths-of-erg-modern-electroretinography
See the original blog post here https://info.diopsys.com/blog/get-up-to-speed-with-erg-dispelling-common-myths
- Visual Electrophysiology Survey, Diopsys, Inc.
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 first of a three-part series.
Myth 1: You can’t sneeze with your eyes open.
Fact: You actually can sneeze with your eyes open, but your local Doctor of Optometry is going to tell you that this isn’t something you should try and practice. There are a few theories why we naturally close our eyes when we sneeze:
- The face has many, many muscles. When we sneeze, a lot of the muscles in our faces contract forcefully, with some of those muscles being around the eye, which forces our eyes to also contract.
- Typically, a sneeze is forcing out irritants or nasty stuff (e.g. upper respiratory infections). Sneezing with our eyes closed may be an evolutionary adaptive protective mechanism to prevent all that nasty stuff our body wants out from going back into our eyes.
Myth 2: We see everything in our field of vision.
Fact: We actually have a blind spot in each eye. It is located at the back of the eye and is called the “optic disk.” This structure is extremely important to our vision. It is responsible for collecting all the fibers (called axons) from the retina and forming the beginning of the optic nerve. The optic nerve then transmits the fibers carrying the visual information from the eye to the brain.
Fortunately, we have two eyes.
The brain is able to process a tremendous amount of data and uses both eyes’ visual cues to fill the gap in our vision without us even knowing.
Most people are also unaware that we see upside down! Impressively, our own personal supercomputers (a.k.a. our brains) are also able to invert the images from the retina so that we can see things right side up.
Myth 3: Color blindness means you can’t see any colors.
Fact: A more appropriate term for “color blindness” is “color vision deficiency.” It’s actually very rare for people labeled as color blind to only see shades of white, gray, or black.
Both men and women can be color blind. Statistically, males are far more likely to be color blind than females.
Interestingly enough, I, Dr. Lewis, have a color vision deficiency. My color blindness is called “Deutan color blindness” (also known as deuteranomaly).
Deuteranomaly is a type of red-green color blindness in which the green cones in the eye detect too much red light and not enough green light. As a result, red, yellow, green, and brown can all appear similar, especially in low light. It’s often very difficult for me to tell the difference between blues and purples or pinks and grays.
There are different types of color blindness, but the red-green color blindness that I have is the most common inherited form of color deficiency.
Some statistics suggest that red-green color blindness make up to 4% of the world’s population, and among the color-blind population, 75% people diagnosed with color blindness have Deutan color blindness like me.
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 who doesn’t know that we see upside down! And stay tuned for the next part in our three-part series.
Jeffrey Lewis, O.D.
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.