Today, the face of optometry continues to change as more women leaders rise to top of the profession. More females are graduating from optometry school than their male counterparts, and those females already established in the profession are firmly grasping brass ring opportunities.

Today, women are leading experts in specializations that were once predominantly male dominated. Women are now influential researchers. They champion childrens vision issues on the national level. And, some have blazed trails by overcoming issues of race and discrimination, while others have dedicated their lives to helping minorities gain access to eye care. Here, Review of Optometry takes a look at some of todays top female optometrists who are leading the way in the profession.


Academic Researchers

Karla Zadnik, O.D., Ph.D.

It was her 91-year-old grandfather, an optometrist and inventor who died in his sleep after he saw his final patient that morning, who first inspired Karla Zadnik to pursue a career in optometry. At the impressionable age of 14, I thought that seemed like a pretty good gig, says Dr. Zadnik.

Today, Dr. Zadnik is associate dean and the Glenn A. Fry Professor at the Ohio State University College of Optometry. In addition, she is the chair of the American Optometric Associations (AOAs) Council on Research and the study chairman for two multi-center studies funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI): the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study and the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) Study.

My experiences chairing both these studies have been life and career altering for me, she says. I learned about research, keratoconus, myopia, recruitment of patients, biostatistics, epidemiology, leadership and collaborationin two large laboratories. I made lifelong friendships and, hopefully, have generated and will continue to generate published papers that have an effect on the practice of optometry and on optometric patient care.

Research remains a passion for Dr. Zadnik, because she believes that for optometry to be a true profession, it must have its own independent, ongoing research that informs patient care. The new buzzwords to describe this are evidence-based optometry and translational research in optometry, but the idea is the same: Scientists, basic and clinical alike, conduct investigations of ideas that will ultimately allow the practicing optometrist to take better care of his or her patients, she says. The loftiest goal for optometric research is to influence how the individual doctor of optometry delivers care to the individual patient.

Dr. Zadnik stresses that optometrists must keep current on research that affects their patients. They should not hear about a new development in eye care from their patients reading of USA Today or a download from Wikipedia! Continuing education is one thing, but the really great optometrist needs to know about results from the scientific literature long before those results make their way to the podium at the average continuing education meeting.


Kelly Nichols, O.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

A turning point for Kelly Nichols happened when she was doing a residency in ocular disease in Colorado. During this period early in her career, Dr. Nichols saw many dry eye patients and began reading papers to determine what research had already been done on this condition.

She came across The Report of the National Eye Institute/Industry Workshop on Clinical Trials in Dry Eyes, which outlined the status of dry eye research so far and created a blueprint of research that could be done in the future.
Optometrists encounter dry eye almost every day in their practice, and any advances could be very beneficial, Dr. Nichols says.

Today, she is considered a leader in dry eye research. In fact, this associate professor at Ohio State University is the lead investigator in a $1.7 million, NEI-funded study of dry eye disease in postmenopausal women. The five-year study involves 500 women, ages 50 and older, and is one of the largest efforts to uncover the causes of dry eye.

Every investigator hopes to have an NEI-funded project, says Dr. Nichols. It is considered the golden ring. It is especially exciting that this is in dry eye, which is of extreme interest to me, and a challenging area in which to receive funding. Ultimately, these contributions will help optometrists in their daily practice.

Dr. Nichols is also involved in industry-sponsored research and is part of a recently funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) planning grant for a multi-center clinical trial of omega fatty acid supplementation in dry eye.

Recently, Dr. Nichols career came full circle. She is on the steering committee for the 2007 Report of the International Dry Eye Workshop (DEWS). The groups mission: to update the information and concepts presented in the 1995 NEI reportthe same one that inspired her to pursue dry eye research more than a decade ago.


National Leaders, Champions for Children

Dori Carlson, O.D.

Immediately after optometrist Dori Carlson and her husband Mark Helgeson accepted an opportunity to open a practice in a tiny North Dakota town, Dr. Carlson knew that she wanted to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.

With that goal in mind, she went to her first state affiliate meeting. I told them, if you ever need my help, let me know, Dr. Carlson says. They werent stupid by any means, so they put me to work.
Dr. Carlson quickly gained leadership roles on the state level, eventually becoming the first female president of the North Dakota Optometric Association. This experience prompted her to pursue a new role: AOA Trustee, a position she has held since 2004.

Dr. Carlson describes her schedule as an AOA Trustee as demanding. This includes 90 days of travel a year, constant conference calls and daily e-mail communication. But she considers the time commitment worthwhile for the betterment of the profession.

This month, Dr. Carlson hopes to take her role in the AOA to a new level as she runs for secretary-treasurer. Eventually, she plans to run for AOA presidenta role that has yet to be filled by a woman.

Dr. Carlson has been a strong leader at the state and regional levels of optometry organizations. Her willingness to commit to the highest volunteer role in optometry, trustee of the AOA, has been exemplified by the success of the programs that she has served as board liaison, says Wisconsin optometrist and AOA InfantSEE Chairman Scott Jens. In particular, she has served InfantSEE as a very strong messenger. She has delivered the InfantSEE message inside of the AOA family to an incredibly large number of AOA volunteers and membersto the Ophthalmic Council, Industry Relations Committee, Congressional Conference and the Presidents Council, just to name a few.

Whether its her work with InfantSEE or partnership building with state affiliates, Dr. Carlson continues to make an indelible impact on optometry. I believe strongly in our profession, and I truly believe in the idea of leaving things better than how you first found them.


Andrea Thau, O.D.

Every week, optometrist Andrea Thau has a mother crying in her office. Although many parents of Dr. Thaus young patients are well educated, they are often not educated enough about their childrens visual needs. A typical scenario in Dr. Thaus Manhattan practice is when a mother brings her 8-year-old child in for a first eye exam, only to find that this third grader has been failing in school because of serious unchecked visual problems.

Childrens vision is a great passion for this AOA Trustee; she is the vice president of the New York Childrens Vision Coalition and a founding member of the InfantSEE Committee.

When you examine a child, you can change their life forever, she says. For children, they dont realize they have a problem. You give them the tools to be more productive members of society and to excel and do better in school.

Dr. Thau has achieved many accomplishments, including being part of a four-member female practice on Park Avenue, associate clinical professor at the State University of New York State College of Optometry, and as the first woman president of the New York State Optometric Association and the New York Academy of Optometry. And, her future plans include running for AOA president.

But, she is most proud of her work with InfantSEE. When the InfantSEE committee created the program, we thought all of our efforts would have been worthwhile if we could just save one life, says Dr. Thau.

Then the call came  inthe one that still gets her choked up whenever she listens to the saved message.

The message was left by a mother of a 6-month-old who had taken her baby in for an eye exam after watching a segment on the Today Show featuring the InfantSEE program when she was pregnant. The mother took her baby in for a vision assessment through InfantSEE, and the results were life changing. The baby had a cancer that wasnt caught in a pediatric exam, and this early diagnosis saved the childs life.

Giving back to the profession is in Dr. Thaus blood. Her father was an optometrist, and she saw firsthand the changes that took place in the profession as a result of the efforts made by volunteers at the local, state and association levels.

I have an obligation to pay it forward, she says. Its my way of saying thank you to all of those O.D.s whose dedication and work brought the profession to where it is today.


Marcela Frazier, O.D.

Optometrist Marcela Frazier knows all too well how one pair of glasses can change a life forever. She grew up in Columbia, and her mother didnt have the means to buy her young daughter a pair of glasses, even though her first eye exam, in a free clinic at the age of 13, revealed she was -12.00D in both eyes.I was actually hit by a car when I was young because I couldnt see, Dr. Frazier recalls.

Today, Dr. Frazier, an assistant professor of optometry at the University of Alabama, has made it her personal mission to offer free screenings to children and members of the Hispanic community in her area, and to educate parents on the importance of eye exams for their children. I wanted to do something to help children who couldnt get eye care and help educate parents as well, she says.
Since 2001, Dr. Frazier and a group of volunteers have helped 3,000 Hispanic patients in Alabama by offering eye exams, glasses and referrals.

No matter her endeavor, colleagues praise Dr. Frazier for both her drive and compassion. Dr. Frazier is one of the hardest working women I have even met, says UAB Assistant Professor Wendy Marsh-Tootle, O.D. She goes the extra mile for anyone who needs her help, whether for a patient, a colleague, a friend or an agency seeking to improve health for children.

Early in her community work, Dr. Frazier encountered a challenge. The University of Alabama was donating the exams free of charge, but Dr. Frazier discovered that parents werent bringing their children in for vision screenings. She launched a study to find out why, and the results were surprising.

The parents said they didnt think their children needed eye care because their eyes were new and not broken yet, she says. Also, they said that in their country, people didnt need glasses; they were not necessary. The parents told Dr. Frazier that it was something in the United States that was causing their childrens vision problems.

In an effort to better educate parents on the need for their childrens vision screenings, Dr. Frazier created a video that is shown at screenings and distributed among schools so that children can take the videos home to share with their parents. We have seen a huge increase in the number of parents taking children in for exams as a result, she says.

Besides giving free screenings to children, Dr. Frazier frequently participates in mission trips through VOSH/International (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity) to Central American countries. She hopes to continue to help change livesjust as her life was changed by just one pair of glasses.


National Board of Examiners

Linda Casser, O.D.

After being a leader in academia for 30 years, it might be considered a bold move to venture on to a new, untried career. But, for optometrist Linda Casser, embracing new challenges is an easy choice.

For nearly three decades, Dr. Casser held prestigious academic positions at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, Indiana University and, most recently, at the Pacific University College of Optometry, where she was the associate dean for academic programs. Dr. Casser was on her way to becoming a lifelong academic when she decided to switch gears and become associate executive director of clinical examinations for the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. In her new role, she is responsible for Part 3 of the exam, which focuses on patient care.

It seemed like a great opportunity, Dr. Casser says of her new position, which she describes as both exciting and time intensive. This new role also provides an opportunity for her to make an impact at a critical time for the National Board of Examiners, which is currently undergoing a major restructuring of its three-part exam.

Dr. Casser has always strived for personal excellence in all facets of her career, including co-authoring the second edition of the Atlas of Primary Eyecare Procedures (McGraw-Hill Medical, 1997).

She also encourages students and faculty to achieve their own personal excellence. What is most fulfilling to me is to provide support and mentoring to students. This is my crowning achievement, says Dr. Casser. I see them today making many contributions to the profession, and hopefully, I have contributed to their development in some small way.

Dr. Cassers students would strongly attest to her influence on their careers. In fact, one former student endowed a scholarship in Dr. Cassers name at the Indiana University School of Optometry.

Colleague Kristin Anderson, O.D., of the Southern College of Optometry, describes Dr. Casser as a role model for all optometrists, especially women in optometric education. Her own professional career has placed her as a content expert in ocular disease management, clinical care, and administration, Dr. Anderson says. Her contribution to optometry is broad-based, and always delivered with the highest sense of professionalism. She is gracious in sharing opportunities with developing optometrists. She is a mentor.

Dr. Casser offers these words of advice for future women leaders in the profession: I encourage the next generation of female optometrists to do their best on behalf of the patients, have good confidence in what they are doing and look for opportunities to get involved. One of the many positives of our profession is that it is small enough that anyone can make a difference.


Promoter of Women 

Rhonda Robinson, O.D.

In August 2004, a group of 10 female optometrists at different stages of their professional careers went on a fact-finding mission in Rochester, N.Y. Led by Indianapolis optometrist Rhonda Robinson, their mission was to exchange ideas about what it meant to be a female optometrist and how to better promote and support females in the profession today.

At the end of the two-day fact-finding mission, it became obvious that optometry needed a professional organization that represented women and that could offer them mentoring, networking opportunities and a place to call their own, Dr. Robinson says.

The result was Women of Vision, an organization aimed at expanding leadership roles in the profession and advancing exposure and choices for women optometrists in areas such as research, industry, academia, commercial optometry and private practice. Today, Women of Vision has more than 200 members who connect mainly through the organizations Web site,  

As founding member and president of Women of Vision, Dr. Robinson recognizes the importance of female mentors. As a result, one of Women of Visions main components is connecting mentors with mentees. Through Dr. Robinsons leadership, Women of Vision provides a forum in which members can talk about issues ranging from low vision to practice management.

As the founding president of Women of Vision, Dr. Robinson has created a forum for women in optometry to connect with each other in meaningful and rewarding ways, says optometrist Jenny Smythe, associate dean for academic programs at Pacific University College of Optometry and vice president of Women of Vision. Women look to each other for mentoring, and Dr. Robinsons leadership has facilitated an organization that is dedicated to that critical aspect of a successful professional career.

Dr. Robinson hopes that Women of Vision will continue to grow and provide value to women in the profession. I personally have gotten so much out of this experience, she says. I have met fabulous women, and everyone there is a phenomenal resource.



Louise Sclafani, O.D.

As chair of the AOA Cornea and Contact Lens Section, optometrist Louise Sclafani and her colleagues in this group keep in constant contact, which in turn keeps them at the forefront of any potential issue that may impact O.D.s and their patient care.

As issues develop, such as the increase in Fusarium or Acanthamoeba keratitis, we are often consulted very early on to see how to handle the situation, as well as to see if these trends were seen in our practices or reported to us by our members, says Dr. Sclafani.

Collectively, Dr. Sclafani and the other memberswhom she fondly refers to as big talkersgive more than 150 lectures each year. This makes them the source and voice for contact lenses and a valuable resource for doctors.

This year, Dr. Sclafani will end her term as chair of the AOAs Cornea and Contact Lens Section. In October, she will step into a new role with the American Academy of Optometrys Cornea and Contact Lens Council, where she will continue to provide her expertise.

Colleague and friend Paul Karpecki, O.D., describes Dr. Sclafani as one of those truly outstanding individuals in everything she does.

Whether its her leadership role in the AOA or as the only full-time female optometrist on the faculty at the University of Chicagos Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Services, Dr. Sclafani has made constant contributions to the betterment of the profession for the past 15 years.
Her longevity and expertise at the University of Chicago has made her someone to turn to for optometric care.

On a typical day, she sees a wide variety of patients, ranging from international princesses, senators and professional hockey players, to a decade-long patient who suffered a retinal detachment following an altercation with the police.
Dr. Sclafani views cornea and contact lenses as an area of optometry in which an O.D. can make a differencenot just a diagnosis. We can provide both medical and contact lens treatment and see an immediate benefit in vision and health, she says.

Its also a specialty in which the patients have chronic conditions and become lifelong patients. I have been seeing some patients for over 15 years, and they say they would follow me anywhere, she says. You build up that trust.
One particular patientan 18-year-old male with keratoconusbrought his entire family in to see Dr. Sclafaniincluding his non-English-speaking mother. Dr. Sclafani was doing everything she could to keep the young man from needing a corneal transplant.

Its a huge responsibility that we carry, and we try our best to avoid surgery for our patients, she says. We must keep in mind that they depend on us to know the latest in technology so that their vision can be saved or restored.

Christine Sindt, O.D.

If you think of a leader in cornea and contact lenses, chances are that Dr. Sindt will come to mind. She is a recognized speaker, author, editor, professorand the vice chair of the AOAs Contact Lens and Cornea Section. She recently became co-chief clinical editor of Review of Optometry.

After completing a Veterans Affairs residency in Ohio, Dr. Sindt moved to Iowa to be near her stepdaughter. When I started at the University of Iowa, I was an optometrist-of-all-trades, including low vision, primary care and contact lenses, she says. Over time, it was clear where I was most needed. I truly love my career, and I think I picked the right specialty.

Now an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology and director of contact lens services for the university, Dr. Sindt does more than just see patients. Being at a world-class institution offers me many opportunities, like research, teaching and working with new technology.

Despite her project at hand, Dr. Sindt remains focused on her clinic. If I just had eyeballs sitting in my chair, I could make a lot more money; but, there are people wrapped around those eyes and lives wrapped around those people, she says. Its about quality of life, not just eyes.

Its that mix of passion, professionalism and caring spirit that has made a significant difference in the lives of those she encounters in her clinic. Some have turned into lifelong friends, such as Kristy Rodgers, whose daughter had been diagnosed with a degenerative corneal disease. Ms. Rodgers and her daughter traveled 900 miles to see Dr. Sindt.

I will never forget the first time my daughter and I sat in the exam room waiting for her to deliver what I feared would be a blow to any mother, says Ms. Rodgers. She walked in, and instead of sitting across from me on the small stool, as most doctors do, she sat down in the chair next to meas if she wanted to talk to me as a friend and mother rather than just as our doctor.

The combination of being a doctor and a devoted mother is seldom a conflict for Dr. Sindt. My priorities are very straightforward, she says, My family always comes first, and everything else falls into place.


The Trailblazer

Paula Newsome, O.D.

Its safe to say that optometrist Paula Newsome is not afraid to speak her mind, especially when it comes to prejudice.

Today, Dr. Newsome runs a $2 million practice in the heart of Charlotte, N.C., but this road to professional success was not always an easy one. When Dr. Newsome first looked for an optometry job more than 24 years ago in Charlotte, she got many interviews.

From my resume, people knew I was a woman, but not that I was African-American, Dr. Newsome recalls. During one particular interview that lasted only a few minutes, Dr. Newsome was told there were no suitable positions for her. I asked them why did they tell me to come if they didnt have any openings?
Encounters such as these kept Dr. Newsome even more motivated to succeed. And succeed she has.

Dr. Newsome says she is the first African-American female optometrist to open a practice in North Carolina and the first African-American woman to become a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry. She was also one of the first students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry to receive concurrent masters and optometry degrees, which she achieved in just four years.

Even as a student at UAB, Dr. Newsome spoke her mind when her instinct told her something was wrong. During one lecture, a professor made a derogatory racial comment. I went to the dean and told him no one else in this class is paying money to be insulted. The professor in question soon was no longer teaching at the school.

Today, whether she is offering free vision screenings to children in her community or pushing her younger staff members to do better, she continues trying to make a difference.

Dr. Newsome is one of the most accomplished femaleor maleoptometrists I know. She has extraordinary energy and drive and has been a trailblazer within our profession, says Melvin Shipp, O.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., dean and professor of The Ohio State University College of Optometry. She has overcome barriers and obstacles with sheer will and determination. On the basis of her extraordinary academic and professional achievements, she is an exemplary role model to individuals from all walks of life.

Vol. No: 145:06Issue: 6/15/2008