Article Date: 8/1/2007

Advice from the "Old Guard"
o.d. to o.d.

Advice from the "Old Guard"

Our potential to serve increases dramatically when we begin to see our patients for more than just their eyes.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

The late summer and early fall are often thought of as "Back-to-School Season" by many optometrists. Some market accordingly while others depend on the mothers and fathers of those going back, rather than actively marketing to the wants and the needs of the students. Going back to school is a major event, yet only one of the many that occur this time of year.

The adult perspective

Many adults think of the spring season as one of "new beginnings." You know what I mean, they rationalize that snacks during the holidays, football and basketball season are no problem. Those few extra pounds are O.K. because as soon as spring comes they will get themselves into shape; start dieting, get a tan, new clothes, shoes. As a result of their efforts, they will look and feel good about themselves, they'll be attractive and self-confident and they'll fit-in.

In the student's eyes

Now let's look at this from a student's perspective, regardless of their age and whether they are in elementary, middle, high school or college. Their spring is generally the end, or at least the reduction, of activities that revolve around one of the major focuses in their life, school. The pressure is off to a large degree. So is the daily worry about fitting-in — what someone will think, or say about what they wear, who they sit next to and their circle of friends. In a way, the traditional summer break is a time for the "ugly ducklings" to fade into the woodwork and emerge at the beginning of the next school year as more of whom they perceive themselves to be, more of whom everyone else will accept and more of what they can feel good about themselves becoming.

We can make a great impact on the self-image of all patients.

The beginning of the new school year is both anticipated and feared. There is the anticipation of how others will receive them as the new self they have become. And the fear is that perhaps the growth, change of appearance and self improvements that they perceive may go unnoticed by their peers. The result is a sense of failure as they wait for this school year to end and nothing more.

What can I do?

And, you ask yourself, what part can we as optometrists play in this vernal metamorphosis? We can make a great impact on the self-image of all patients but first we must stop seeing them as only patients or eyes to care for. We must realize the potential we have to be influential in not only providing the appropriate professional care but also the advantage we offer by being an advocate for patients of all ages, and especially those who are children, regarding their appearance and self-image. I would venture to say that in reading this column there is not a single O.D. who hasn't already had a thought pop into their head about at least one adolescent patient they fit with contact lenses and in so doing, changed the patient's life. You know the one I'm talking about. Her parents told you how much they appreciated what you did for their child, and they didn't mean fitting them with contact lenses, they meant your intangible, invisible yet valuable assistance in their child's transition from that awkward, tentative, shy and perhaps introverted child into the smiling, confident and socially comfortable child that they now know.

Maximize the impact

It's interesting that we can all remember examples of this and as we look back on these transformations, we don't feel that we put forth any unusual amount of effort, yet the impact was so noteworthy. Imagine what could be accomplished if we really turned our attention to the impact we can have on all of our patients by consciously focusing on what we can help them become. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: August 2007