THE ENTERTAINING SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
O.D. Scene creator, writer and editor Jack Schaeffer, O.D.
One of the highlights of my career is when my daughter, Brooke, and son, Mark, informed me they wanted to pursue a degree in optometry. I was just as excited when my third child, David, began optometry school last year. Brooke and Mark now practice with me. (I’m sure David isn’t far behind.) It’s been a great pleasure to see them interact with patients and staff. This constitutes a real dream come true for any parent to practice with their children.
There are so many “optometry families” that are shaping our profession. In the first of this series, we talk with some of these families. Keep in mind that optometry is still a very young profession, so multigenerational practices are a major part of our future. And speaking of the future, if you’re currently planning a future vacation, be sure to check out the Travel, Food & Wine section where columnist Kirk Smick discusses a recent trip to a place in East Asia.
Family Co-Workers Weigh in…
Linda Bennett, O.D./Rebecca Maida, O.D., Belmont, Mass., and Robert A. Davis, O.D./Stephanie Davis, O.D., Pembroke Pines, Fla.
Q: Why did you decide to become an optometrist?
LB: After teaching elementary school for seven years, I decided that it was not a career I could still be doing as I aged. My uncle, who was an optometrist, recommended I go back to school and become an O.D. As my father was an optometrist, I knew it was a career I would enjoy. When I graduated high school, girls did not usually become doctors. Just seven year later, a career in optometry was not that unusual for a woman.
RM: If you had asked me when I was growing up, I would have told you that I would never be an optometrist. I was revolting against the thought of doing what so many others in my family had done. Of course, you cannot escape genetics. And it seems like being an optometrist is in our genes. As I grew up, I realized what a wonderful profession optometry is. Like my mother, I taught school first (middle school), and then I went to optometry school.
RD: When I was growing up in the Bronx, I visited a local optometrist who greatly influenced me in the profession. He was kind, treated me like a family member and fit me with contact lenses that made me feel better about myself. He even helped me do better in Little League Baseball. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
SD: When I was in high school, I always favored math and science and did well in them. Therefore, I considered a career in the medical field. There were many options available to me, but after spending a summer working in my dad’s office, the field of optometry appealed to me. I also met many of my dad’s optometric friends who were happy, sincere, hard-working people. Since I wanted to raise a family and be there for my children, optometry was a good choice.
The Davis’ at work.
Q: What was the biggest issue facing the profession when you graduated from optometry school?
LB: Everyone was concerned with commercial optometry. In fact, many commercial businesses tried to recruit members of my class to practice with them. Also, many O.D.s were concerned about how women optometrists would impact the field.
RM: We practice in Massachusetts, and that remains the only state where optometrists cannot treat glaucoma. That was a problem right out of school, because in school we learned about and treated glaucoma. As soon as I graduated, I could no longer do this.
RD: Being able to use drugs to treat patients. When I graduated in 1970, we couldn’t even use drugs to help diagnose eye disease in New York. Florida had a better drug law than New York at that time, and that was one of the reasons I decided to go to Florida to practice.
SD: When I graduated, commercial optometry was growing in South Florida. There was more price advertising, and big box stores were becoming more popular. My father had a more personalized practice and emphasized treatment of ocular disease, specialty contact lenses and vision therapy. This was the direction I wanted to follow.
Q: What did your schools focus the most on, in terms of education?
LB: There was a big emphasis on medical optometry and systemic disease.
RM: Medical optometry and disease was also big during my education.
Stephanie Davis, O.D., with her children, Jordana and Lucas.
RD: The Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University focused on teaching us how to make sure our patients were able to see as sharply as possible with the most comfortable glasses or contact lenses. We also focused on vision therapy. We have interns in our practice every quarter, and this part of our wonderful profession is not emphasized as much in my opinion. The vision therapy education helped get me interested in sports vision, and that lead to my affiliation with the Miami Dolphins.
SD: The Nova Southeastern College of Optometry primarily focused on clinical care and treatment of eye disease. I felt we didn’t get enough training in fitting contact lenses and practice management. I was fortunate enough to learn more about the practice management and fitting of specialty contact lenses in my dad’s practice.
Q: What was it like growing up with a parent who is an optometrist?
LB: I will answer this question also since my father was an optometrist. My father was a much-respected member of our small community. Everyone one in town knew him. I loved that. It is one of the reasons I decided to practice in the community where I live.
RM: I, on the other hand, greatly disliked when my mother would know everyone around town. She once even saw a patient at Disney World! Now, she thinks it is hilarious when patients see me and say “hi” around town.
Drs. Bennett and Maida call each other “Dr.”
SD: It was great. My dad was home early enough so we could have family dinners together. Because he was the owner of the practice, he had more time to take family vacations with us. I always enjoyed hearing about his interesting cases and finding out ways he would help build his practice. I especially liked the sports vision aspect and how he used technology to test the athlete’s eyes.
Q: What was your reaction when your child told you he/she wanted to become an optometrist?
LB: I suggested that Rebecca become an optometrist when she went to college. At the time, she was thinking about becoming a pediatrician. I was delighted when she finally decided to go to optometry school. Optometry is a terrific profession.
RD: I was surprised at first because I never pushed her into the profession. Once I found out she was interested, I was very supportive and very happy that one day we would be working side by side.
Q: What is the best advice your optometrist mom or dad gave you about practicing?
RM: Treat every patient like a member of your family. Giving the same caliber care I would give to a family member is apparent and appreciated by our patients. It is what keeps patients coming back for years; it’s what grows a practice, and it’s what makes you sleep easy every night.
SD: To get out there and network, being active in local associations, join organizations, speak to schools (career days), be a part of rotary clubs, etc. He also told me to always be sincere and straightforward with what you could do for the patient. Let the patient feel free to call the office with questions/problems. Try to remember names and faces; ask about family members and to give back to the profession.
Q: What individual concerns did you each have about working together?
LB: Although there are many optometrists in our family, we were the first relations to work together. I did not want work disagreements to affect our family relations. So far, that has not occurred.
RM: Working with any family member means a lot of time together, as you are together in work and out. You can get tired of being with someone that much. Turns out most days we can be in the office and almost never see each other. In fact, it is surprising how much time we spend under the same roof and never see each other.
Drs. Bennett and Maida assessing an optical.
RD: I was concerned that Stephanie might not appreciate all the hard work it takes to build a practice. That is one reason she spent almost two years practicing in New York City in all kinds of practice modalities before coming into practice with me. It is the best advice I could offer optometric families.
SD: My only concern was that patients and staff would not treat me like any other doctor in practice because my dad worked with me. I wanted to be treated like my own person. Fortunately, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be working together, and none of my concerns have come to fruition.
Q: Were you ever worried that other optometrists would mention nepotism when you told them you work together?
LB: No. I have always considered my patients members of my “family” of patients. I felt that bringing in my daughter would reassure patients that the quality of care would be continued.
RM: No. We both work very hard.
RD: We never had that problem. We’ve always been well respected in the community because of the way we practice our profession. I have tried to give back to the profession by being active in local associations, being an adjunct clinical professor at Nova Southeastern University and Salus University, writing articles for our professional journals and lecturing all over the United States and in many countries throughout the world.
SD: That was never an issue for us. As my dad said, we got involved in giving back to our profession and are respected in the community.
Q: What kinds of things do you do to keep your relationship professional when in the office?
LB: We address each other as “Dr.” in front of staff and patients.
RM: We act like coworkers, not like family members.
RD: We make sure our patients understand which Dr. Davis they are seeing, and we consult with each other in front of the patients in many cases to show the professional respect we have for each other.
SD: We call each other “Dr.” at all times. Not only do we make sure we are professional in front of patients, but with our staff as well.
Robert Davis, O.D., “hooding” Stephanie.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise about working together?
LB: Rebecca is very organized and great with people. She has taken over managing the staff. It has made my workday much more enjoyable and reduced my stress immensely.
RM: We are a good team. We complement each other.
RD: My biggest surprise was how much I have learned from Stephanie. She has a special way of caring for each patient. She has an understanding of how to easily find the reason the patient is in the chair. The way in which she educates the patient as to why she is prescribing the glasses, contact lenses or treatment is remarkable.
SD: My biggest surprise is how hard working and easy going my dad is with his patients and staff. His business sense is also quite impressive. It is always so nice to hear our patients’ reactions when they learn that we work together. Some patients say, “I wish my son and/or daughter could work with me,” and that “your dad must be so happy and proud that you can work together.” That always puts a big smile on my face.
Q: How do you determine work responsibilities, in terms of how many patients you see, etc.?
LB: Our office offers open exam slots to patients, as they are available. The other optometrists in the office generally have openings before me. The patient has the choice of waiting to see me or seeing one of the other O.D.s. If I happen to see the patient in the office at the time of the visit, I generally say, “Wow! You have a really good doctor taking care of you!”
RD: I see the patients who have been coming to me for more than 40 years, so they tend to be older. Stephanie examines the younger patients for the most part, but we do share patients of all ages. After seeing me for so many years, it is so nice to see how easily patients are willing to see Stephanie for their comprehensive eye exams.
SD: I see patients of all ages. However, I do tend to see the younger patients. I am a mother of two and enjoy working with children. I also love to fit specialty contact lenses for patients of all ages.
Q: What have you learned about each other since you’ve been working together?
LB: I have always enjoyed being with Rebecca. Working together has brought us closer together. I have great respect for her knowledge of optometry, business sense and ability to work with people.
RM: My mother is a great teacher, which her patients really appreciate. She cares greatly for them, and they are very devoted to her.
RD: Stephanie has two children, and I know how well she can combine being a wonderful mother while still being a great optometrist.
SD: My dad is very easy going. I am just so amazed at how calm he is while running a busy and successful practice. He is an inspiration to me. I would love to someday take over the practice and to continue to keep it in the family … Maybe one of my kids will fill our shoes and become an optometrist if they so desire!
Q: What is your favorite book, movie, band and adult beverage of choice?
LB: Book: “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition”; Movie: Fiddler on the Roof; Band: The Beatles; Adult Beverage of Choice: Bombay Sapphire on the rocks.
RM: I have two young children, and I work full time. I can’t even remember the last book I read, movie or band I saw. As for my adult beverage of choice, I love champagne, and I’m starting to like some specialty martinis.
RD: Book: “A Tale of Two Cities”; Movie: Midnight Cowboy; Band: Chicago; Adult Beverage of Choice: Vodka and pineapple juice.
SD: Book: “The Storyteller”; Movie: An Officer and a Gentleman; Band: Aerosmith; Adult Beverage of Choice: Vodka and tonic with two limes.
Travel, Food & Wine
Myanmar: Where Time Stands Still
Kirk L. Smick, O.D., F.A.A.O., Morrow, Ga.
I challenged my virtuoso travel consultant to send me someplace really unusual. Recently, I had been to the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and Morocco. I was ready for more of an adventure. She recommended Myanmar (Burma), a country west of Thailand and China. I was game.
My wife and I took a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, then to Bangkok and, finally, to Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Myanmar’s capital city, which has 4.5 million inhabitants. (In total, it took 19 hours.) The only way to enter Myanmar is by air. No bus or train service exists.
A religious experience
The vast majority of Myanmar citizens are Buddhist, so temples can be seen everywhere. We spent three days in Yangon visiting several shrines, including the most famous Shwedagon (Golden) Pagoda. This huge, gold-layered pagoda is said to house eight strands of the Buddha’s hairs. It is 2,500 years old and, thus, is the oldest historic pagoda in the world. It stands 350 feet tall, and one can easily spend a couple hours walking around it.
We also visited a Buddhist monk school while in Yangon where people from around the country send their eight-year-old boys to live and study for eight to 10 years. Apparently, most families here are too poor to send their children to school, so they send them to learn to become monks. The children, and all monks, eat two meals a day, with lunch being the last meal. We watched them eat a lunch that consisted of a bowl of rice and a small sweet cracker.
Fields of dreams
From Yangon, we flew to Bagan, which is home to more than 2,200 pagodas in large fields. It is just amazing to look out and see hundreds of these large structures dotting the landscape. The most famous, the Shwezigon Pagoda, is located in a town near Bagan called Nyaung-U. It is completely covered in gold and is thought to contain the tooth and a bone from Gautama Buddha, a wise man who is credited with Buddhism’s teachings.
From Bagan we flew to Lake Inle (see photo above), where we had our own boat for the three days we were there. (You need one, as traveling is only done by water. Even the children travel to school by boat.) The lake is 44.9 square miles, and several thousands of people live on it in stilt houses. Also on stilts: restaurants and several Buddhist temples. Further, the lake contains floating gardens where thousands of tomatoes are grown.
For a very unique trip, I recommend spending a week in Myanmar. The culture is so different, and the people are very friendly. Don’t, however, expect the creature comforts you are accustomed to. Myanmar is definitely third world, but you will be glad you went.