The profession of optometry has come a long way since the days my father was on staff at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute 30 years ago. Originally, our profession was solely based on prescribing eyeglasses, but over the past many years we have advanced, in both our knowledge and scope of practice.
Today, optometrists are trained for four years in diseases of both the eye and the entire body – in order to be able to fully diagnose, treat and manage a myriad of conditions.
From the simple dry eye disease that plagues millions, to the rarest of genetic malformations, our doctoral-level education goes beyond anything imagined by those just preceding my father’s generation.
I remember in my fourth year of school working in clinics and interning with ophthalmologists – I imagined that everyday would be exciting, with complex cases and conditions coming in for me to manage. I knew when I graduated I could hold my book knowledge and clinical skills up against any other student, and I could handle the real world.
Then I entered private practice.
The truth is, almost everyone that comes through my office is there because they want to see better. It’s that plain and simple. I don’t see the indigent or the poor, and I don’t get to be superman saving eyes and lives everyday.
I have to be the expert, not on every eye disease, but on helping people see – with glasses, contact lenses or any other device I may need. My practice is full of families, moms and dads, grandparents and children, all with the goal of clear vision.
Of course the people I examine also want to make sure their eyes are healthy, that their vision will remain clear or to just see if there are any changes in their eyes.
I can sum it up in one word: Routine.
Even the diabetics, with a serious and potentially blinding disease, usually start out with their vision complaint rather than their last blood sugar reading.
I really try to hone these skills, to ensure each and every patient can see as clearly and comfortably as possible. And in the end, I’m quite happy that a majority of patients are simply healthy and routine – even if a great deal of my education goes unused.