Article Date: 4/1/2007


Jim Thomas

The Meeting That Turned the Tide

Almost 40 years ago, a small gathering of O.D.s set the course for optometry.

One of the defining moments in optometry came in January of 1968 when nine optometrists met at a hotel at the LaGuardia Airport to discuss the future of the profession.

I recently had the privilege of meeting one of the doctors invited to the meeting, Irvin M. Borish, O.D. We met along with Jack Runninger, O.D., and William R. Baldwin, O.D., who recently completed a biography on Dr. Borish. At 94 years young, Dr. Borish is known for a lifetime of contributions to optometry, including the writing of “Clinical Refraction,” the first significant clinical textbook in optometry. Our conversation pleasantly jumped from painting to poetry to writing (Dr. Borish is accomplished in each). But when the doctors brought up the LaGuardia meeting, it was clear that they had touched on one of Dr. Borish’s passions.

Back in the day ...

Optometry played a peripheral role in health care in 1968. O. could not use drugs for either diagnosis or treatment. In addition, not optometry schools were committed to training in primary care.

Progressive optometrists faced opposition from ophthalmology and optometry. “At that time, there was not a consensus among optometrists that we should be able to use drugs,” says Dr. Borish. As Dr. Baldwin notes in the biography, AOA members wore buttons at conventions that read, “A Lens Is Not a Pill.”

Alden Haffner, O.D., then president of the Optometry School at the State University of New York, organized the meeting to include optometrists who could plant the seeds to transform optometry. All attendees agreed that the AOA must change its position on the use of drugs by optometrists. (It soon did.) In addition, the schools must adopt a primarycare curriculum. They also agreed that state optometric associations must become instrumental in removing restrictions on the use of drugs.

Living history

Soon after the meeting, Dr. Haffner gave a speech that led to Rhode Island becoming the first state to authorize optometrists to use diagnostic pharmaceuticals. In 1971, Dr. Borish and Spurgeon B. Eure, O.D., argued for changes in state drug legislation in a debate at the AOA’s annual meeting. Following the debate, several states initiated plans to allow optometrists to use drugs, notes Dr. Baldwin in the Borish biography.

Many optometrists — too many to list here — became instrumental in the profession’s transformation. Their legacy continues in today’s primary care optometric practices.

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2007