Linda Casser, O.D.,  may have co-written  the equivalent of  optometrys official clinical atlas, but her latest book is a little more personal.

She is co-author of the Atlas of Primary Eyecare Procedures, second edition, (Appleton & Lange, 1997), which has become a must-read in most optometry schools. Doctors Orders, a Guide to Living, her current endeavor, is a little lighter reading, with physicians writing different chapters, in which they offer their advice on how to live the good life. Whether Dr. Casser tackles a clinical book or a breezier how-to guide, she pursues each with the same mindset, which is summed up in the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: The quality of a persons life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. 

Appropriate words for this Wisconsin native to have framed in her office at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore. After all, Mr. Lombardi made his legend coaching the Green Bay (Wis.) Packers of the National Football League before his name was given to the Super Bowl trophy.

Throughout her 25-year career, which has led to her current position as associate dean for academic programs at PUCO, Dr. Casser has committed her professional life to the pursuit of that philosophy.

From writing books to receiving the AOAs Optometrist of the Year award, she raised the bar for herself during each step of her career. She is our fourth in the series Profiles in Excellence.
Pursuing Academic Excellence
Some optometrists choose private practice, but Dr. Cassers goal of a life in academia has been an unwavering quest. She knew she had a knack for helping others learn when she taught sailing lessons on Lake Michigan as a teenager, after catching the love of sailing from her father at the age of 13.

Her instructors at Indiana University School of Optometry noticed this natural ability to teach in her second year at the school, when they invited her to serve as a teaching assistant.I felt like I had a knack for explaining things in a helpful way, she says.

Dr. Casser is always there to help her students, but she equally has great expectations. This demand and tenacity as a professor resulted in a living legacy of successful students who have become successful O.D.s, says colleague Louis Catania, O.D.

The High-Power Residency
While many of her classmates opted for private practice after graduating from IU in 1978, Dr. Casser decided on a two-year residency program in primary- care at the Joseph C. Wilson Health Center in Rochester, N.Y. One of the first of its kind, this post-graduate program included intensive training in all aspects of primary care optometry.

Dr. Catania headed the program, which he des-cribes as one of the most high-powered residency programs that existed.

She was the finest resident I had, Dr. Catania says. During the second year, she was chief resident, organizing programs, overseeing three residents and four externs. She juggled all these duties while taking graduate courses and handling a full patient load.

After finishing her residency, Dr. Casser knew her first love was still not private practice. She was drawn to the promises of a life in academia: decision making, leadership, being part of an administrative team and a variety of opportunities across the country.

On to Academia
Her first move after her residency was to serve as assistant professor at the Eye Institute of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia. She stayed on there for four years until her alma matter came calling.   

She became director of the Walker Eye Clinic at IU in 1984. It was a new facility in an area of urban renewal. Dr. Casser was faced with attracting a new patient base in downtown Indianapolis.

It was like having my own private practice, she says. From day one, we had no patients, so I had to connect to the community.

Connect she did, reaching out to social service agencies and various community groups. As a result, the  clinic eventually became a helpful haven for those in need. One early morning, Dr. Casser opened the clinic to encounter a patient who had recently become homeless waiting by the door. He knew he could come to us for help, she says.

That"s a piece of advice she offers to any new O.D.: volunteer and become part of the community. Throughout her career, Dr. Casser, along with her students, provided free vision screenings to seniors, community groups, local businesses and homeless shelters. She obtained a grant from the Indianapolis Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans to provide eye care at the Indianapolis Eye Care Center, where she was made director in 1992.

After 13 years at the Eye Care Center, it was time for a career change and a new challenge. So, five years ago, she moved to Forest Grove, Ore., and Pacific University.

A Blue-Ribbon List
As Dr. Casser pursued excellence, her achievements did not go unnoticed. Her honors make for a long laundry list awards and accolades she refers to as humbling. She is the past president of the Indiana Optometric Association, past chair of the primary-care diplomate program for the American Academy of Optometry and a member of the board of directors for the National Board of Examiners of Optometry, of which she was president from 2001-2002. The AOA recognized her achievements in 1997, naming her Optometrist of the Year.
She attributes her success to her husband Keith Locke.  Without his support, I would not be able to make these moves, she says.
Whatever the endeavor, Dr. Cassers own personal philosophy remains housed in the Lombardi quote that reminds her of her goal daily. Excellence is embodied in good leadership, she says. Good leadership doesnt apply only to the organizations you are involved in. It also impacts how we interact with our families and our communities. With integrity and through honest and effective communication, effective leadership and a commitment to excellence are important goals for us all.

It would bring a smile to Vince Lombardis stern mug.

Vol. No: 140:04Issue: 4/15/03