The Differing Opinions on Professional Optometry

By Ryan Wineinger, OD February 26, 2016

In the industry of optometry, everyone has differing opinions on what professional optometry is. Some believe being a professional optometrist is only relegated to private practice, in which a doctor has controlling interest over their practice. New optometric graduates believe getting their degree automatically makes them a professional optometrist regardless of their mode of practice in their first job. A corporate executive hiring a new graduate OD for clinical care believes they are hiring a professional optometrist. Every single OD, future patient, or future employer that you ask, has a different opinion on what professional optometry is.

So what should we do about all of these opinions? We can't ignore them, but we need to find a happy medium for our industry to continue to flourish. If we spend countless hours debating what is and what is not professional optometry, we are going to continually leave ourselves open for people outside our industry to come in and figure out how to treat our patients better than we can. These outsiders will have a better solution for taking care of our consumers (patients) that is more relevant and convenient for them. Better solutions could be cost savings, time savings, or a more attractive offering that we just can't compete with.

You hear countless stories in professional sports, where an athlete, coach, or team owner says our team just took our eye off the ball. It's not usually the winning team that is saying they took their eye off of the ball, it is the losing team. If we continue to have conflict in this industry about what is and what is not professional optometry then we are going to be that losing team talking about taking our eye off the ball.

I don't want to be on the losing team. I enjoy practicing optometry. There are so many avenues to practice and be influential within this industry. I believe all ODs should concentrate on what they're good at and find their niche. The many avenues that are available to an OD is what makes our industry unique. All of these avenues are imperative to providing our patients with the quality care they need. There are professional optometrists that are working hard providing quality care while building a practice. There are other professional optometrists that are in a research setting, working hard to develop a product that will allow all of us to provide better care for our patients. Those are just two examples, there are so many options in this industry and we should be inclusive, not exclusive, of our colleagues.

Look how far our industry has come. First there were diagnostics, then therapeutics and now some states have the ability to treat with lasers. This was all done by working together with other optometrists without a concern of if they were in a “professional” optometry setting or not. We have the ability to work together and we need to use this ability to look at all areas of an optometric practice. There are so many ways we can improve the patient experience within optometry. It could be a better way to refract, a better way to dispense materials sold in our offices, or a better way to communicate with our patients. We all know the outsiders are here and they're continually looking for ways to get to our patients. If we continue taking our eye off the ball, they will win.

There will never be a correct answer on what professional optometry is, but there doesn't need to be a correct answer. I believe that all optometrists, regardless of how they are utilizing their degree, need to work together to protect the integrity of this profession.

As I see it, variety is the spice of life, and it will be the spice in optometry that keeps us from losing the game!

How would you define professional optometry? Voice your opinion on Twitter @VSPProviders.

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