OD Q&A Melanie J. Denton, OD

March 25, 2014

I am myopic, and I’ve been seeing an optometrist since I was in fourth grade. When I was in college and deciding among dentistry, medicine, and optometry, my dad said I should talk to my great uncle. His name is Oley Olson and he practiced for 30+ years in Charlotte, NC. He not only influenced me to go into optometry and what a great field it was but to come to North Carolina to practice as well. And that’s where I am today.

Why choose optometry?

I am myopic, and I’ve been seeing an optometrist since I was in fourth grade. When I was in college and deciding among dentistry, medicine, and optometry, my dad said I should talk to my great uncle. His name is Oley Olson and he practiced for 30+ years in Charlotte, NC. He not only influenced me to go into optometry and what a great field it was but to come to North Carolina to practice as well. And that’s where I am today.

How did you get interested in eye disease?

I have always been interested in diseases. I really don’t know how to answer that-even in school that was the one class I got really excited about. I got very excited about dry eye because I realized so many people are affected by it, and I have found that so many of my patients feel frustration that it hasn’t been dealt with in the past. It was a really easy niche to fall into because I had so many patients who were concerned about it.

What excites you about dry eye? 

Dry eye has such an adverse impact on people’s lives that when you’re able to help them and relieve their symptoms, it just makes such a difference not only how it makes their eyes feel but how they look at life. So, to me, there’s nothing better than to get somebody from being miserable and having dry eye all the way back to being able to wear contact lenses and enjoy the things that they want to enjoy. I really see results happening. I’m able to help people. 

What do you do to relax?

I’ll always be a country girl. I’ve got a house out in the country even here in the mountains of North Carolina. I do a lot of gardening during the summer. I really enjoy running, that’s what relaxes me more than anything. I enjoy traveling, hanging out with my dog. Uh, what else? I don’t get to relax very much, I’m taking MBA courses. I’m about three quarters of the way through my MBA. [Laughs] Uh-I don’t relax a whole lot.

From missions to InfantSEE, how did you get involved in optometric volunteering?

I volunteered in optometry since I was in school. Like many students, I was in the SVOSH chapter at our school. It was very active, and I became part of that. You want to be able to give back to others whether it be on a mission to a foreign country or even missions here in the US and be part of any program that’s going to be good for people. InfantSEE is the same way. It made total sense to me to give back where ever I could, especially in such an important program.

How did you get interested in pediatric optometry?

The pediatric thing is interesting because it came more out of necessity. When I first got out of school, I ended up in a practice where the disease aspect was already covered. So, I decided to fill that void for the practice. Christine Sindt told me once that, “Your patients will mimic you.” So your patients when you’re young are going to be young. I found that to be true, I see a lot of younger patients. I trust that someday I’ll get to use my disease knowledge a little bit more, but for now I definitely get all the kids and lots of young, healthy patients-but for the same reason I get women, and women have dry eye more then men.

You're currently vice president of Women of Vision. How do you see mentoring and networking helping women optometrists succeed?

Networking for me has been the single most important aspect of my career trajectory thus far. Basically, everything I’ve been able to do I can trace back to the contacts that I’ve made. Establishing a professional network is absolutely vital for young optometrists. An organization like Women of Vision does that so well. We provide a place for women optometrists to meet others like them and scan their professional network, and who knows where that might lead. For me it’s meant getting into the speaking world, it’s meant opportunities to write articles, it’s just meant everything to me. So, if possible I want to give back to new women as they come out as well. It’s an organization that’s near and dear to my heart, for sure.

What's one thing most people don't know about you?

I’ve gotten into wood working. One thing I’ve really picked up doing is  building furniture. It started with viewing antique furniture, I’d just review pieces. Then I got comfortable enough with how things were built that I started to delve into building my own furniture. The last couple of Christmases, I’ve asked for power tools.

What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

I saw that you asked this of other people, I’ve been trying to think about it. [Laughs] I think the craziest thing I’ve ever done is I ran a marathon just to prove that I could. Someone had told me that they didn’t think I could do it without any training, so I signed up and did it a few weeks later. It was a very painful point to prove. [Laughs] One of the craziest things I’ve ever done.

What would you change if you had it to do over?

I would change my high expectations of myself. I would allow myself a little bit more time to breathe and relax rather than always being so concerned about doing things perfectly. If I had to do it over again, I would probably just relax more and enjoy the process.ODT