Article Date: 6/1/2008

Is "Optometric Physician" a title or Oxymoron?
o.d. to o.d.

Is "Optometric Physician" a title or Oxymoron?

If you choose to redefine your practice, focus more attention on what you do, rather than on who you are.

Chief Optometric Editor

The description of who and what we are, both as individuals and as a profession, has been in a state of flux for years. Folks in the profession have made efforts to better describe who we are, but mostly these efforts describe what we do.

This interest in "redefining" began in the mid-1980s, as many states began allowing optometrists to prescribe medication and provide treatments that had never fallen within the scope of optometry. I hear several terms used for our profession. Perhaps the two most popular are "medical optometrist" and "optometric physician." To me, "optometric physician" is the least cumbersome and most descriptive.

In some cases, however, I see the term "optometric physician" used as an oxymoron. I find it interesting that Wikipedia defines oxymoron as "a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms… What distinguishes the oxymoron from other paradoxes and contradictions is they are used intentionally, for rhetorical effect. And the contradiction is only apparent, as the combination of terms provides a novel expression of some concept, such as "cruel to be kind.'"

No oxymoron here

I personally don't see the term "optometric physician" as an oxymoron because to me, "optometric" and "physician" are complementary rather than contradictory terms. The problem with the term "optometric physician" is not that we use it to describe ourselves and our profession. The problem is that many optometrists allow this redefinition to limit who they are and what they do, while trying to expand the impression of their scope of practice to patients and the public. An example: The optometrist who redefines himself as an "optometric physician" and then limits his scope by shying away from spectacles and/or contact lenses.

It concerns me that so many now feel they have to choose a "model."

Now for the "medical model"

About the same time we began to redefine ourselves as "optometric physicians," the term, "medical model," emerged as a description of how a practice or practitioner either plans or perceives his focus or his practice. Interestingly, and I digress, I can't think of what the other model of optometry is called. Is it the "vision care" model, the "selling glasses" model or perhaps the "seven, four and out the door" model?

We should focus more attention on what we do, rather than on what we are. While we often speak about the "expansion of scope" — providing the diagnosis and management of disease — in many cases, it has not been an expansion but rather a shift to the medical-model direction.

I'm proud our scope of practice now includes medical care, but it concerns me that so many O.D.s feel as though they must choose a "model" rather than recognize their ability to provide comprehensive care. Many optometrists do not focus on non-medical vision care, spectacles and contact lenses. And, there is more demand for these services now than ever before.

Providing medical eye care is important, but the percentage of the population needing those services pales in comparison to those who need non-medical vision care and correction.

The choice is yours

There's no right or wrong choice for any individual O.D., only their choice. However, providing every service you can rather than limiting yourself with one model or another may be the wisest of the choices. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2008