Article Date: 3/1/2012

An Engineer of Modern Optometry
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An Engineer of Modern Optometry

Dr. Borish helped position optometry in the contemporary healthcare system.

Jim Thomas

On March 3, the headline on the “VisionHelp Blog,” written by Leonard Press, O.D., simply read, “Optometry’s Einstein Has Left Us.” These are fitting words to describe Irvin M. Borish, O.D., who passed away earlier this month at the age of 99.

Acknowledged as a pioneer, architect and authority, Dr. Borish’s textbook, Clinical Refraction, still a standard text for optometry students, was first published in 1949. “If he had done nothing else, the optometric profession would still owe him a debt of gratitude for that work,” writes William R. “Billy” Baldwin, O.D., in the biography Borish (Bassette Co., 2006).

During the mid-1940s, Dr. Borish, along with a small group of optometrists in Indiana, began a campaign for an optometry school at Indiana University. In 1951, the school was established, and Dr. Borish became a part-time faculty member, commuting from his office in Kokomo, Ind. to teach.

A contemporary leader

Perhaps Dr. Borish’s most significant contribution was his role in positioning optometry as a key provider in the healthcare system. In 1968, all states prohibited optometrists from using drugs for either diagnosis or treatment. That year, Dr. Borish met with eight other O.D.s at the La Guardia Airport Hotel, to address the barriers that prevented optometry from becoming “a member of an emerging primary care health system,” writes Dr. Baldwin.

“At that time, there was not a consensus among optometrists that we should be able to use drugs,” Dr. Borish told me several years ago. Indeed, opposing optometrists lobbied with slogans, such as “A lens is not a pill.”

Thanks to the meeting and the efforts, at first, of a few dedicated, forward-thinking optometrists, Rhode Island became the first state to allow optometrists to use diagnostic drugs in 1971. Of course, the resulting benefits of the La Guardia meeting are still being felt by optometrists — and their patients — today.

A meeting at SECO

Thanks to Jack Runninger, OM consulting editor and columnist, I had the pleasure of meeting Drs. Borish and Baldwin at SECO several years ago. I discovered that Dr. Borish was an accomplished poet and artist. (An eight-page section in his biography includes color reproductions of his paintings.)

He appeared to thoroughly enjoy our conversation about the arts, but when the topic shifted to optometry, it became clear we were discussing his passion. OM

Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: March 2012, page(s): 6