Graduation alarmingly looms just ahead for our young, almost official doctors of optometry, like how progressive adds become a nightmare to a 41-year-old. It can be terrifying. 

Will graduation make life better? Will it teach more lessons in the first year than any optometry school or residency can teach? Yep. That’s also very terrifying to admit.

The Doctor of Optometry degree is certainly a well-earned honor. When I went to Pennsylvania College of Optometry 100 years ago, we only had to learn one thing:

You can’t hurt someone if you make them see better. Took me all four years to get that. (OK, and five years of practicing.) The rest of what I learned was way less important than that one thing.

I was licensed in West Virginia in 1979. Everyone wanted a West Virginia optometry license because we were the first state in the union to permit optometrists to treat medical conditions of the eye with eye drops. That’s right, North Carolina! You heard me. There’s no shame in being second.

Hundreds of young graduates flocked to West Virginia to take the state board examination. Florida even offered reciprocity. This was unheard of in those days and, of course, West Virginia turned them down because everyone knew that all the Florida optometrists living on the beach in paradise would immediately move up to the Mountain State and the 300 ODs already in West Virginia would be put out of business. (I know… that was stupid and it would probably have been the other way around as the 300 ODs moved to retirement at the beach.) 

Dr. Montgomery Vickers

Just try to get a Florida license now. I hear they require an MD degree to get an OD license or something. Probably just a rumor?

So, what’s your plan, young optometrist? I used to believe that now you guys would have to put your cell phones down, missing the ceaseless wisdom of TikTok dances and you would have to see patients… i.e., actual humans right there in front of you. The horror…

But will you?

First, you have to pass the State Board of Optometry and they will ask you questions about some new technologically advanced gadget that was just invented three months ago that apparently does something vaguely related to seeing said patient…  i.e., the actual human sitting right there in front of you. Then comes the ever-important chemical composition of some new medication that might be approved by the FDA someday. Then, their most important concern: Are you on mood-altering substances? For example, peanut butter cookies. 

After that, you will still have to find a position unless mom or dad wants you in their hopelessly outdated practice in the worst part of town where you will have to convince them that, sure, that carpet was great in 1973, but…

Now, you only compete with yourself. OK, that’s a lie. You compete with the 42 million underpaying vision plans, not to mention the offices where the doctor is in Topeka virtually snatching up your patients when they didn’t even have to take your state board because they are owned by an ophthalmologist or by one of the 42 million underpaying vision plans where they do eye examination on their cell phones in between getting CE full of ceaseless wisdom through dances on TikTok. 

Does this sound bleak? Hey, here’s the secret, my young wonders:

Make them see better. You are ready. No one but you can mess it up. When you think about it that is also terrifying… but pretty damn exciting, too!

Dr. Vickers received his optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1979 and was clinical director at Vision Associates in St. Albans, WV, for 36 years. He is now in private practice in Dallas, where he continues to practice full-scope optometry. He has no financial interests to disclose.