Article Date: 11/1/2010

Creating a Lifelong Learning Community in Optometry

Creating a Lifelong Learning Community in Optometry

Students of all ages learn, share, inspire and connect at The Vision Care Institute, where the emphasis is on building relationships for career enrichment.

With a dynamic curriculum and innovative programs, The Vision Care Institute, LLC, a Johnson & Johnson Company, has expanded its scope as an educational resource to create an environment where eyecare professionals can continue to grow at every stage of their careers. The most recent advancement is a virtual learning community, where alumni of The Institute's various live and electronic programs can come together to share their experiences and tap into the expertise of seasoned professionals. Despite these advancements, however, The Vision Care Institute (TVCI) remains true to its original mission, creating a bridge from optometry school to practice.

Creating a Bridge

The Vision Care Institute offers 2-day workshops for third and fourth year optometry students, with programs designed to complement their contact lens coursework. "Our goal is to offer the hands-on experience necessary to excel in the field of optometry, from development of communication skills to the technical training needed to fit the latest, industry-changing contact lenses," says Colleen Riley, OD, MS, FAAO, Vice President of Professional Development and Medical Affairs at Vistakon.

While the TVCI philosophy remains the same, the curriculum and the way it is presented has evolved to reflect the changing times and the needs and learning styles of today's students. "The students attending TVCI workshops today experience a real-world environment and take away many ‘use tomorrow’ techniques, tools and tips," says Katie Carpenter, MBA, Senior Director of The Vision Care Institute.

At a recent Specialty Contact Lens Training Seminar, 43 students from 8 schools and colleges of optometry experienced some of the challenges and rewards of fitting contact lenses and interacting with patients in this real-world environment.

Hands-on, Real-world Experiences

Long before they arrive in Jacksonville, students begin their participation in a TVCI workshop by completing an online personality assessment designed to reveal their communication styles. This information forms the basis of the communication module, a mainstay of the curriculum, presented by Gale Stoner, a practice management consultant and author of "Some Assembly Required: Seeing Your Practice Through Your Patients' Eyes."

Students learn the key attributes of various personality types, their listening and speaking styles, and how these factors affect a doctor's relationships with patients.

"This was my favorite session," commented Kacie Monroe, a student at Indiana University School of Optometry. "Not only were the results and description spot-on for me, but now I know how my patients view me — positively and negatively — and I can take steps to compensate for my weaknesses and improve my communication with them."

Far from being simply a lecture, this session — and all of the sessions at TVCI — quickly engages students in interactive labs with role-play and discussion, reflecting one of the major changes in how coursework is presented at TVCI. "We continue to learn the way the new generation of students learns," Dr. Riley says. "Our programs have become very interactive."

According to Walter D. West, OD, FAAO, Chief Optometric Editor of Optometric Management and Program Director, TVCI: "At The Vision Care Institute, we teach in an adult learning format, encouraging attendees to pull from their own knowledge and experience to appreciate the material we present. At the same time, we encourage them to teach by sharing that experience with others."

During a late-summer workshop, students were able to apply what they had learned in optometry school in two interactive half-day sessions on contact lenses for astigmatism and presbyopia. Each module began with a brief presentation by an experienced faculty member and clinician. Then, the students broke out into small groups to see real patients recruited from the community. One unique aspect of fitting contact lenses at TVCI is the immediate feedback from patients, who comment on everything from the comfort and vision achieved with a lens to a practitioner's hand-washing diligence.

"Attending The Vision Care Institute can radically change an eyecare professional's success with contact lenses," says Chris Guier, OD, who practices in Jacksonville, Fla. "We teach them how to better communicate with their patients, but more importantly, how to be successful in contact lens fitting. They actually fit patients while they are here, so they leave feeling more confident, and they receive feedback from patients in a safe, learning environment. That has a measurable effect on their practice, which benefits everyone."

Inside the Institute's Learning Community

"One of the benefits of attending a program at The Vision Care Institute is the opportunity for networking, not only with other students and doctors, but also with our distinguished faculty and leaders in the profession," Ms. Carpenter says. "To help nurture those fledgling relationships and to reinforce our commitment to our alumni, we recently launched a TVCI Alumni program, including an online community."

At, the emphasis is on learning from leaders in optometry, sharing thoughts and experiences with colleagues, inspiring other optometrists, and connecting with fellow alumni to build a professional network. The site boasts numerous interactive features, including message boards, blogs and an "ask an expert" component.

Want to find out what it's like — what it's really like — during the first 90 days of practice? Check out Ryan Emrick's blog, "Candy and Contacts: Self-discovery of an Optometrist." Dr. Emrick, a 2010 graduate of Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry, pulls no punches as he shares his experiences with candor and humor. Ann Madden, OD, a 2000 graduate of Indiana University School of Optometry, blogs about the pros and cons of her decision to begin her career as a retail-based optometrist.

The mentorship blog-ging team includes Chris H. Cooper, OD, a graduate of Southern College of Optometry (SCO) and senior managing partner of a 7 OD, 3 MD private practice in Memphis, Tenn., and Gene Wong, OD, a 2010 SCO graduate, who currently works in private practice with the goal of becoming a partner within 2 years.

The leadership forum provides insights from experienced professionals, including Dr. West, Charissa Lee, OD, a graduate of SUNY College of Optometry, who has broad experience in a wide range of practice models and currently practices in Irvine, Calif., and Giovanna Olivares, OD, FAAO, Director of Professional Education at Vistakon, Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

Discussion forums run the gamut from healthcare reform to scented eyeglass frames. Advice from internationally recognized authorities on topics as diverse as UV protection and financial planning is just a click away, and an alumni directory helps everyone stay connected. "Members of have access to a rich array of resources and networking opportunities that are not available anywhere else," Ms. Carpenter says.

Chief Executive Optometrist Program Expanded
The Vision Care Institute and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have a long-standing partnership to bring the best in practice management education to optometrists. This year, the Chief Executive Optometrist program was expanded to include two webinars available exclusively to TVCI alumni.
In June, Kathy Pearson, Ph.D., and Walter D. West, OD, FAAO, presented Strategic Decision Framing, an interactive session designed to enhance the process optometrists use to make decisions for their practices. The October webinar, Strategic Leadership and Empowering Women ODs, featured Dafna Eylon, Ph.D., and Ann M. Hoscheit, OD, FAAO, F.A.A.R.M., who explored the transformative power of leadership traits and its application to practice. Both webinars are now available on demand through the alumni community at
The Vision Care Institute in partnership with the Wharton School also periodically offers an intensive 4-day, fee-based program for optometrists that combines cutting-edge business strategies and tactics from Wharton professors, with case studies and best practices from Fortune 500 companies. For additional information, please visit

TVCI Fast Facts
The Vision Care Institute, in Jacksonville, Fla., is a 14,000-square-foot facility that houses state-of-the-art lecture halls and conference rooms, fully equipped examination lanes and administrative workstations.
Since opening in 2004, the program has expanded to include 13 international locations and 6 satellite facilities. All told, it encompasses 82,000 square feet (527 lecture seats) worldwide. Courses are given in 27 languages in 40 countries, and fitting workshops take place in 65 examination rooms. As of December 2009, The Vision Care Institute has 40,000 alumni worldwide.

Preparing for a Journey

One misperception about TVCI is that it is open only to optometry students. Dr. Riley is anxious to correct that notion. "Courses are available to practicing optometrists, and we want to expand this program," she says. "In fact, our vision is to offer learning opportunities throughout a doctor's career.

"At 3 to 5 years in practice, doctors have a completely different perspective than they did as students. Between 5 and 10 years, life becomes busier and more complex, professionally and personally, as doctors may be buying practices, getting married, starting families and so on. At 10+ years, doctors really appreciate the opportunity to return to an educational setting to hone and update their skills and be given the opportunity to mentor and share experiences with others."

To engage optometrists at every stage of their careers, TVCI will continue to develop fresh, relevant content that mirrors what is happening in the marketplace. As Dr. Riley, a former academician, notes, "What we're finding is that an optometrist's career path may take many twists and turns and involve more than one type of employment or practice setting. So, as educators, we aren't preparing people for a destination. We're preparing them for a journey. At The Vision Care Institute, we want them to have a holistic experience."

Student programs at The Vision Care Institute, which also include a tour of the Vistakon manufacturing facility, are open to all 3rd and 4th year optometry students. 2011 dates are now available online.
For information, go to

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2010