O.D. Scene

O.D. Scene


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” Irish poet W.B. Yeats once said. Here, in part one of our two-part series on the leaders of schools of optometry, I speak with just a sample of the individuals who are providing the fuel needed to light this fire: Arol Augsburger, O.D., Illinois College of Optometry president, Rod Nowakowski, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O., University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Optometry dean and Richard W. Phillips, O.D., F.A.A.O., Southern College of Optometry president. (Next month, I speak with Jennifer Smythe, O.D., Pacific University College of Optometry president, Earl Smith, III, O.D., Ph.D., University of Houston College of Optometry dean and Mel Shipp, O.D., M.P.H., Dr.PH, The Ohio State University College of Optometry dean.)


O.D. Scene creator, writer and editor Jack Schaeffer, O.D.

A total of 21 colleges of optometry exist, so speaking with every representative of these fine academic institutions is not possible. Therefore, I selected these six individuals to provide a glimpse into the colleges of optometry and their students. In following the theme of the optometric family, my daughter Brooke graduated from the UAB School of Optometry in 2012. My son, Mark, is a 2011 Southern College of Optometry (SCO) graduate, and my son David is a member of ICO’s class of 2017. (Interested in discussing your school? Consider submitting to “School Viewpoint,” which starts this month.)

Will 2014 be a good year for wine? “Travel, Food & Wine” columnist Kirk Smick, O.D., F.A.A.O., returns this month to discuss where you can find out. Specifically, he talks about Sonoma County, Calif., also known as part of wine country.

Key Opinion Leaders Weigh in…

Arol Augsburger, O.D., Illinois College of Optometry president, Rod Nowakowski, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O., UAB School of Optometry dean and Richard W. Phillips, O.D., F.A.A.O., Southern College of Optometry president

Q: What is a distinguishing characteristic of your institution?

AA: Through patient care experiences at the Illinois Eye Institute in Chicago (and under the mentorship of our faculty) and at 161 affiliated external patient-care sites around the world, our students have spectacular clinical rotations. … We are committed to providing the rigorous academic and clinical preparation necessary for our doctoral students.

RN: The UAB School of Optometry is an integral part of a major academic medical center, and we place a huge emphasis on translational research within the university and within our school.

RP: We have a new academic/classroom complex… We have mandatory career counseling three of a student’s four years on campus, a Capstone program that emphasizes practice management skill, multiple practice management courses and an active placement service. But the most distinguishing feature, based on the feedback from our students, alumni and new faculty would have to be the “family atmosphere” enjoyed by all.

Q: What major research and/or capital project is shaping the future of Optometry and your institution?

AA: ICO’s Eyepod (a pre-clinic learning center with 38 ophthalmic teaching lanes, five teaching laboratories, six research laboratories and individual assessment rooms for student evaluations), a new lecture center, the Alfred and Sarah Rosenbloom Center on Vision and Aging and a patient care facility, for Chicago public school children who lack access to eye care.

RN: We have a very large, recently designed and renovated laboratory space that includes researchers from our UAB School of Optometry Department of Vision Sciences and from the UAB School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology working side by side. This laboratory will lead to increasingly closer collaboration [between the two eyecare specialties] here and elsewhere and to translational outcomes that will eventually reduce the prevalence and severity of vision impairment and blindness.

RP: This summer, we will complete a $9.4 million expansion of the academic complex, which will have two large classrooms with high technology A/V support, six flexible “break out” classrooms for seminars and team-based learning utilization and a 620-seat auditorium, which will be helpful for CE, interdisciplinary and community events. Also, we are about to establish a clinical facility on the University of Memphis campus, which will expand the demographics of our patient base considerably.

Q: What differences do you see in the Optometry applicants today?

AA: The students today are very generous with their time and willing to engage in various ways in the community: They want to make a difference in the lives of people they hope to care for in the future. Also, students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds. Finally, they seek a career-life balance.


Stephanie and Arol Augsburger cheering on three of their thespian grandchildren (Valerie, Maryrose and Silas) after a performance of Snow White in Ohio.


Dr. Nowakowski piloting his 1975 Bellanca Super Viking en route from Birmingham to Dauphin Island, Ala.

RN: They are better informed about the profession and have availed themselves of opportunities to obtain practical experience by observing O.D.s at work and/or working in optometry practices. Also, we have seen a huge gender shift with more females entering the field for a number of years.

RP: The average GPAs and OAT scores seem to be getting higher each year. In addition, during the interview process we are finding that the applicants have a very informed understanding of the profession. Also, in comparison with other generations, they are much more interested in being of service to their communities and to humanity, in general, and they have a better-developed life/work balance. If we can be more effective in developing the spirit of entrepreneurism and provide a high level of training in how to be successful from a business standpoint, I believe this generation will raise the bar on the profession of optometry.

Q: What challenges are facing new graduates today?

AA: The high costs of starting practices and the students’ relative educational indebtedness today points to a more timid approach to opening start-up practices. This is a notable difference compared with the graduates of 40 years ago. That said, we still hear of grads that do this every year, so it is possible for entrepreneurial-minded doctors with the right help.

RN: Information overload, adhering to increasing federal rules and regulations, healthcare reform, being a watchdog for adverse legislation and advocating against it, keeping up with technology and competing for market share.

RP: The most obvious challenge is indebtedness. Many theorize this is one reason less new graduates initially enter private practice. Another challenge is lack of networking: Because today’s graduates are more interested in ensuring they have a proper “life/work” balance, they struggle with making time to visit other practitioners and provide public service presentations, among other networking efforts. Finally, integrating with past generations of private-practice O.D.s is a challenge, as their entry-level skills, debt and the availability of optometry jobs that offer high salaries often trump the offers made by private practice O.D.s.


Dr. Phillips (right) with Greg Russell, O.D., former president of the Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians, at SECO.

Q: According to ASCO, almost 65% of the student body in optometry school is female. Why do you think women now make up most of the student body, and what is your advice for this powerful demographic post-graduation?

AA: In the U.S. today, women outnumber men in undergraduate programs nearly three to two. Since two-thirds of the highly qualified applicants for positions at optometry colleges are women, it isn’t surprising that about that percentage of the student body are women. Optometry is a wonderfully fulfilling career.

RN: I have watched it [the female demographic] evolve through 38 years as an educator, and I welcome the change. I give all graduates the same advice regardless of their gender: Practice at the highest level, provide the patient care they would want to receive, continue to learn, support the profession by being engaged in its growth at the state and national levels, and give back to the school that opened the door to the profession.

RP: …I think that the recent balance in parenting responsibility can be credited with this shift. It has helped to break the stereotypes of women staying at home and men going to work. Most of our SGA presidents have been female and are exceptionally career minded. The stereotypes are being broken, and I, for one, believe that optometry is and will continue to be a better profession because of it.

Q: Where have you seen change through the last five years in the field of Optometry?

AA: Optometric care continues to be more and more integrated into the healthcare organizations of this country through community healthcare centers, hospitals and accountable care organizations. Optometry has embraced technology improvements, including EHR, at a high rate.


Dr. Augsburger welcoming ICO grads into ICO’s 50 Year Club.

RN: The greatest changes are primarily in the area of technology related to imaging, and there is no end in sight.

RP: Some optometrists have waited too long to add an associate, causing their private practice to wither. This has resulted in a more proactive effort on the part of practice owners to reach out to students. Similarly, I am seeing a significant increase in participation from our state, regional and national associations with our students … and our students [are showing] an increased interest in becoming involved in organized optometry. I think this is crucial for organized optometry to retain membership … The students must be engaged with (and not just entertained by) our professional associations in order for them to better realize the value of membership.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

AA: I really enjoy golfing. My wife Stephanie and I enjoy traveling, some to visit our eight grandchildren — we have three sons, and their families are spread out from Ohio to Arizona — and some just for fun. Also, we enjoy exploring new restaurants .

RN: I am an instrument-rated private pilot, and I enjoy flying my own airplane. I also enjoy oil painting and playing jazz guitar. In addition, my wife, Debi — the other “Dr. No,” — and I enjoy dining in our favorite restaurants, accompanying each other to professional meetings and talking about, “You won’t believe what happened today.”

RP: Fun? I’m a college president. I have no time for fun (chuckles). Actually, my wife, Lucy, and I are HUGE Memphis Grizzlies (NBA) fans and watch several games. We also like college football and the NFL. In addition, we maintain an annual membership in the Memphis Zoo, we love to attend plays, we sing in our church choir, and we look forward to spending time with our daughters Melissa, a lawyer, Sarah, a college junior, and Richard, also a lawyer. We don’t get to see them or our grandchildren NEARLY enough.

Q: If you could have dinner with anyone, living or deceased, who would it be and why?

AA: Since Stephanie and I really love fine dining, it would have to be Julia Childs. Bon appetite.

RN: Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King. They were inspirational leaders, great intellectuals and willing to sacrifice for others.

RP: Abraham Lincoln. I lived for several years near Springfield, Ill. and have always been fascinated by his life, his legacy and the Civil War itself. I have so many questions for him, and would love that opportunity to share a meal and try to learn more about the man who was a visionary during a time of blindness.


Dr. Phillips (right) with wife Lucy at a Memphis Grizzles game.

Q: What kind of music do you have on your iPod or iPad?

AA: My job requires a lot of travel. I usually listen to a news talk station on the car radio, but I also listen to Sirius FM Classical Pop and Classical Jazz in the car. I stream WCPE FM, Great Classical Music on my office computer.

RN: I have an iPod with hundreds of songs, and it has mostly jazz, but there is a fair mix of country, oldies and others.

RP: I have very broad interests in music… from classical music to classic rock and roll. I probably enjoy the music of the 70s and 80s the most. I suppose that the only two types of music I don’t appreciate are heavy twang country and disco.

Q: What is the last book you read?

AA: After seeing Lincoln, I dusted off my old copy of Lincoln: A Novel, by Gore Vidal, and re-read it cover to cover.

RN: The Hunting Wind: An Alex McKnight Novel, by Steve Hamilton. It’s part of a series, so you need to read them in order. If you like mysteries, you won’t be disappointed.

RP: I have read every John Grisham novel written, but also listen to Michael Crichton novels on CDs when I travel.

Q: What is your prediction for the future of the Optometric profession?

AA: Optometry is positioned well to provide outstanding primary eye and vision care under the evolving organizational structures defined by the Affordable Care Act.

RN: The future looks good for those who adapt to a changing landscape. I see optometrists providing more services from an expanded scope of practice that will include diagnosing and treating selected systemic conditions.

RP: The demand for optometric serves will continue to be high for the next several years, as healthcare reform enables more individuals to obtain eyecare services. However, as the baby boomers “exit the system” through the next two decades or so, technology enables increased efficiency of optometric services and O.D.s increase their level of delegation, an oversupply of optometrists at this time is possible. I think the natural path is for greater collaboration with other healthcare professions, which will significantly benefit the patients we collectively serve. I would also expect scope-of-practice evolution to significantly increase the legislative authority to perform minor surgical/laser procedures on a much wider base throughout the U.S.

Travel, Food & wine

A Taste of Wine Country

Spending time in Sonoma Valley and a yummy pasta recipe


Kirk L. Smick, O.D., F.A.A.O., Morrow, Ga.

Sonoma contains some fine wineries and restaurants. If you’re a rookie wine country visitor, don’t visit more than four to five wineries in one day. You don’t want to over do it. Also, take time to enjoy each winery, and learn a little about each varietal you taste.

Uncorking Sonoma

California Hwy 101 is the main road through the Sonoma Valley. I typically divide my wine visits into lower Sonoma and upper Sonoma. In the city of Sonoma itself, you can visit the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, makers of fine sparkling wine. Go next door, and try the pinot noir at Schug Winery. It’s their specialty.

Now, have lunch at Maya, which provides delicious Mayan cuisine. When you’re finished, head to the Deerfield Ranch Winery, which has a 23,000 square-foot wine cave — allow an hour for this stop. Next, visit Ledson Winery and Vineyards, known as “The Castle,” Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood Vineyards, and end the afternoon with the tram tour of Benzinger Family Winery (the last tour is at 3:30).

Have dinner at The Girl and the Fig, which provides French-infused country food (make your dinner reservation early). Or, check out Sante Restaurant (Calif.-French cuisine) at the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. If you’re still standing at meal’s end, head to the Robert Hunter Winery (RHW) for a tour of their botanical gardens. A reservation is a must, and you will want a mixed case of their wines sent home. (RHW wines are not available in any stores or restaurants).

Head to Healdsburg, and stay at the Healdsburg Hotel. It is a very contemporary facility located smack in the middle of the town.


Pappardelle with Duck Ragu

Chef Mario Batali

This recipe, which can be found at, is a true delight. Although the recipe calls for freshly made pappardelle noodles, they are not necessary. The meal is fine with store-bought noodles. In terms of the canned peeled whole tomatoes, I highly recommend the San Marzano brand. For the addition of 8 oz. red wine and for the wine pairing, although Chef Batali recommends Chianti, I suggest the 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir from Schug. Its flavors suggest black currant, strawberry and cherry and has a pleasing texture. Bon appetite.


Hopping around Healdsburg

For wine tasting, I recommend Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, A. Rafanelli Winery, the Rochioli Vineyards & Winery and Kendall-Jackson for an illuminating winemaking process tour. Finally, make time to discover one of your own.

For restaurants, Spoonbar (contemporary American fare) and Cocina Latina Bar & Grill (Latin fusion dining) are two of my favorites.