Meet Edward S. Bennet, OD, MSEd, FSLS, FAAO.
Where did you grow up?
Terre Haute, IN. It was more or less the law that when you grew up in Indiana, you go to Indiana University, so I followed the law. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, my dad was a beer distributer. My dad always wanted a doctor in the family. My older brother unfortunately had a congenital heart defect and died suddenly in his junior year of medical school. All that combined for me to look for some medical profession.
Everybody said optometry sounded good, so I went into it as the most naïve person in the world. Two weeks before optometry school began I got an interview with the head of admissions. He had this laugh whenever saw something I didn’t do well in undergrad. My self esteem was somewhere near the core of the earth by the end. So he goes, “Ed, what are you going to do?” I figured this wasn’t going to work out, and I replied, “I don’t know, all I want to do is be an optometrist.” And he looked at me and says, “You will be. Somebody dropped out today, and I’m gong to recommend you take their spot.”
Previously by Vernon Trollinger: Q&A: Optometric physician at McDonald Eye Associates in North West Arkansas
Why contact lenses?
So, here I am voted most likely to be a mediocre optometry student [laughs], and I’m a third-year optometry student taking Contact Lens I course. The instructor started going through his hard lens design philosophy. Bells went off, it was just an “ah-ha” moment for me. At the end of the semester, a contact lens research rotation externship started under the guidance of Dr. Irvin Borish. I really wanted that externship.
My contact lens instructor said, “Ed, you have to be in the top 20 percent of your class.” But he knew how much how I loved contact lenses. He bumped somebody and put me in there. That was a tremendous life-changer. I was involved in five clinical studies. I got to look at the first extended-wear lenses before they were FDA approved, the first soft lenses to correct for astigmatism, the first gas-permeable lens which turned out to be very, very important to me because I was given this opportunity. And from that point on I was hooked. That whole year I did research for Dr. Borish and Dr. Sarita Soni, and it ultimately opened the door for a faculty position at IU.
Why stay in academia for 40 years?
I had looked at a couple of practices when I was a fourth-year optometry student. One was a beautiful contact lens practice in Indianapolis. As I recall, I think they offered maybe $15,000 or $14,000. If they would have offered $17,000, I would be there today. Because of that, I didn’t know what to do the next year. And Dr. Soni whom I worked under arranged for me to have a faculty position at Indiana.
When you’re in academia a while, it’s hard to switch gears and go half time or full time into a practice. I love teaching, I love students. You lose something when you’re not involved in clinical practice but I did the next best thing. One of my study patients when I was a fourth year student was a second-year student who seemed to be real nice. So I ended up marrying her. She owns a private practice, so I live it out through her.