I'm breaking my rule against soap box blogging in order to say how much I enjoy being an optometrist. Truly, it is a personally rewarding profession and it encompasses many more aspects than most may realize.
Many people see optometry as the profession that simply diagnoses vision problems and prescribes glasses and contact lenses. And if that were the full extent of my responsibilities as an optometrist, I would still be proud. There are few things more fulfilling than helping a young child see the board in the classroom clearly for the first time, or helping a 40-something overcome "go-go-gadget arms" with the prescribing of progressive bifocals. And there is so much satisfaction in helping an individual afflicted with keratoconus regain usable vision with custom designed contact lenses.
But there is so much more to optometry than these wonderful examples above. Optometrists, as the primary eye care providers in this country, are fully educated, trained, and licensed to diagnose and treat medical conditions of the eye. During the 4 year graduate school training of an optometrist there are literally thousands of clinical encounters within educational rotations and countless hours attending classes and studying about the medical aspects of the human eye. By the time an optometrist graduates, passes all 3 parts of national competency board exams, and attains professional licensing they are fully prepared to address the medical aspects of eye care. This includes diagnosis of medical eye conditions, the treatment of such conditions through pharmaceutical means as appropriate and the professional determination of when to involve the ophthalmic surgeon as dictated by the condition.
Given all of this I find it unfortunate that I've encountered, on several occasions, local physicians who completely misrepresent the training and abilities of optometrists to their patients. If physicians such as these have lived in a bubble for the last 30 years, than I take responsibility, on behalf of my profession, for not doing a better job of educating the health care community of the highly trained role of optometrists within patient care. If members of the health care community do know of the advances of optometry over the last 3 decades, but still elect to mislead patients, it's a very unfortunate reminder that it is time to put politics aside and understand that patient care, not egos of health care providers, should be the ultimate priority.
As I step down from my soap box, I hope that patients and fellow healthcare providers will come to understand the essence of optometry: we are vision care providers who are fully educated, trained, and licensed to diagnose and treat medical conditions of the eye. Our responsibility to our patients includes vision AND eye health.
Dr. Beach, Doctor of Optometry!
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