While sitting in on a lecture by Jack Schaeffer, OD, and Robert Davis, OD, last month at Vision Expo East, I was pleased to hear Dr. Schaeffer tell a story about how he took a contact lens manufacturer to task for calling optometrists “fitters” in their internal communications about the profession. It’s a word that brings to mind shoe salesmen, not doctors entrusted with the health of their patients’ eyes.
Dr. Schaeffer felt that sobriquet didn’t do him and his colleagues justice, so he took his concerns right to the president—and got results. The company changed its language to be more respectful and accurate in its depiction of optometry.
“Don’t be a fitter,” Dr. Schaeffer implored the Vision Expo audience, “be a doctor, be a professional.” In all your communications—with patients, staff, colleagues—say, “Contact lens evaluation, not fit.”
War of the Words
Words matter quite a bit in determining how others perceive you, and how you perceive yourself. Consider how optometry gets portrayed in scope-of-practice battles.
As this issue went to press, Tennessee was awaiting the governor’s signature on a law that will allow optometrists in that state to use injectable anesthetics when managing eyelid lesions. While the legislative outcome was successful, the battle was typically messy, with plenty of potshots lobbed at optometry along the way.
One line in a March 13 news story from The Daily Herald of Columbia, Tenn., jumped out at me: “Optometrists examine the eye to prescribe and dispense corrective lenses and perform vision screenings to detect certain eye abnormalities, according to the AAO.”
(Cue Frank Sinatra: “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before. It’s from an old, familiar score.”)
That disingenuous description of optometry would have been outdated in the 1980s, let alone today. Notice how passive it makes your role sound: optometrists examine the eye, perform vision screenings and detect abnormalities. It continues the decades-long narrative from some in ophthalmology about how an optometrist simply “measures” the eye (after all, it’s right there in the profession’s name).
Even the use of abnormalities feels carefully chosen to marginalize your significance. Yes, optometrists detect “abnormalities”—like AMD, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, corneal ulcers, retinal detachments, melanomas and dozens of other threats to ocular and bodily health.
Does that description fairly represent your capabilities, your profession, your role in patients’ lives? Not from where I sit. It doesn’t describe Aaron Bronner, OD, who wrote for this issue a nuanced and scholarly 5,000-word article on how he and other experts treat corneal infections. Nor does it aptly describe Christopher Suhr, OD, who details what optometrists should know about how hypertension and cholesterol can cause RPE detachment and hypertensive retinopathy, not to mention heart attack and stroke. You know—abnormalities.
Nor does it fairly treat the dozens of other optometric educators who share their expertise in Review.
And yet, that characterization persists. Talking points disseminated by the Tennessee Medical Association claimed that anesthetic injections performed by ODs could lead to: (1) a perforated globe, “potentially resulting in catastrophic vision loss,” (2) injection into a retinal blood vessel, “potentially causing immediate and permanent visual loss,” or (3) misdiagnosed cancerous lesions, “potentially resulting in the cancer’s spread.”
Congrats, Tennessee ODs—the TMA sees much “potential” in you. Too bad it’s wholly negative.
In marketing circles, they call this FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt. It sows seeds of anxiety rather than presenting a balanced discussion.
Organized ophthalmology is, ever so gently, making overtures to optometry of late. That’s certainly welcome, but until it comes with a measure of respect, I suggest you hold your applause.
If you don’t like what’s being said about you, Don Draper once told a client, “change the conversation.” Jack Schaeffer did. The Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians did. You can, too. Control your own narrative. Don’t let the FUD persist. And don’t devalue your own role either. Because that just doesn’t... fit.