While in optometry school, Praneetha Raveendran, OD, often heard that optometrists are among the primary care “gatekeepers” of the health care system.
Now, she experiences that on a daily basis at her current practice in the National Vision Doctor of Optometry network. After Dr. Raveendran graduated from the Rosenberg School of Optometry at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, she practiced in Texas before moving back to Toronto, Canada, where her parents were. “I learned that I appreciate the U.S. scope of
practice more, so I moved back to Austin last year,” she says.
A colleague from optometry school encouraged her to contact National Vision to learn more about the independent optometric practices that have offices inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses locations. “I had thought that corporate optometry was primarily refractive with very little medical, and I wanted to provide medical care,” she says. Despite her initial hesitance, she talked to other friends who had joined the network. “I heard more positive stories from them about the equipment they had and the types of cases they saw,” she says, so she accepted a position with Texas Eye and Vision Associates, which has offices in multiple America’s Best locations in Austin.
Fairly quickly, the enormous demand for affordable eye care in Austin became apparent to her. “We serve a population that many other providers here don’t serve. For these patients, the choice is often between eye care and other necessities. I recently had a patient who was so grateful. She told me that the last time she had gone to an optometrist and bought eyeglasses, the cost was triple the amount,” Dr. Raveendran says. As a result, that patient is now more likely to return for annual exams.
“A lot of patients come in who have never seen a doctor before. I talk with patients who don’t know that they have diabetes or glaucoma. We can refer them to primary care physicians and ophthalmologists, as necessary,” she says. She has built on the initial list of physicians who will see her patients as she develops referral relationships with them.
She manages what she can and co-manages where needed. “I’ve developed relationships with other providers for patients with retinopathy or severe glaucoma, and I’m not losing these patients for their eye exams and primary care. We can do visual fields and retinal imaging here, which is great not only for my clinical decisions and documentation but also for patient education,” she says. “Being able to show patients what I’m seeing with the imaging is very important as they understand the conditions better and are
more likely to be compliant with management.”
She also sees a wide range of issues regularly, such as ocular allergies, corneal abrasions, foreign bodies and other ocular
irritations. “I do as much as I can for my patients.”
Dr. Raveendran started as a float OD, covering a number of Austin-area locations. She became the primary OD in her current
location last June. “It’s great to get to know the patients and their families on a regular basis. I also enjoy working with the same tech whom I can train further and help grow the excitement for optometry,” she says.
What she didn’t realize when she first started was that her practice has a number of leadership opportunities that are available to her. “There are management opportunities, and we’ve started a discussion about the role of the Area Doctor, which I hope to become
someday. I also hope to be an Ambassador,” representing her practice and the National Vision network at schools and amongst
Although perceptions of corporate-affiliated optometry have advanced over the years, Dr. Raveendran is happy to tell as many people as she can about the professional satisfaction she’s found. “Generally, students today are open-minded about a corporate career, but I didn’t realize just how much National Vision is a mission-driven company. I’ve worked in private practices and for ophthalmologists, but there’s something very special about being able to see a patient or an entire family leave with the eyewear they need at an affordable price.”
She emphasizes, too, that the pool is large enough for every mode of practice. “I very quickly realized that I was seeing patients that many of whom other ODs weren’t seeing. Some have never worn eyeglasses in their lives but have needed them, and some are children with their eyeglasses taped up because their parents couldn’t afford to replace them,” she says. “Where would these needs be met if it weren’t for mission-oriented organizations?”
She says that it thrills her to be part of an organization that allows her to help patients in a meaningful way, treat them to the extent that she’s comfortable doing and also provides her with opportunities for growth and leadership. It has been more than she imagined.