Q&A: Katherine Schuetz, OD Optometrist at Little Eyes, Carmel, IN

March 13, 2017

I have been really fortunate to enjoy every aspect of optometry, truly.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up right in here in central Indiana. We moved from Pennsylvania when I was seven years old, and we have been in “Naptown” pretty much my entire life. My dad is a Presbyterian minister, and my mom has been a secretary. They both went to college in Pennsylvania, then we moved out here when my dad took a church in Indianapolis. Preacher’s kid! [Laughs]

Why pediatric optometry?

I have been really fortunate to enjoy every aspect of optometry, truly. I worked in primary-care practice for the first several years of my career, then worked for a LASIK center part time while I was still working at a family practice. When I came out of school, being the low man on the totem pole, you tend to see a lot of the pediatrics. I liked it. I think it’s fun, and I enjoy kids, so it became a natural niche for me. I felt confident with pediatrics, so when I moved in 2009 to the current primary-care office that I’m in, we talked about doing a spin-off of just a pediatric office. That finally came for us in 2013.

Previous Q&A: Shauna Thornhill, OD, Owner, Amarillo Vision Specialists

What are three things you would advise new ODs who want to go into pediatric optometry?

Have the right motivation. [Laughs] It’s not an easy task. And know your own personality, make sure you can make that work with kids. You have to enjoy them. You don’t have to love kids, I’m not that person who goes up and wants to hold other people’s babies or plays with kids when I’m in a room with adults. Nope, I want the kids away. But I know clinically I can make kids feel at ease, and I can do my job quickly and professionally so that I can be a good doctor for children and make it fun. Number two: Surround yourself with staff who can do it because we went through some different staff members at the beginning who are fabulous staff members or great technicians and opticians, but they’re not meant to work with kids. The third thing would be to be brave and courageous and just go for it because it’s not an easy niche of optometry. People are looking for it, but it’s not selling $700 frames. It’s a very different mode of practice. You have to be prepared to understand what this is going to look like because it’s completely different from a vision therapy practice or very different from a primary-care practice.

How do you go about putting children at ease?

I feel very fortunate that it comes pretty naturally to me. You ask the same questions about themselves, you joke with them and make them giggle a bit, don’t put them on the spot. I don’t like doing visual acuity first thing-we do things so they don’t feel right or wrong at the beginning. We’re just looking at some cool things, I show them my fun flashlights, and I show them everything we’re doing before we do it in a very natural flow. If you can smile a lot and explain what you’re doing in a non-threatening way, it’s easy.

 

What do you do for downtime?

I really enjoy my family, of course. I have two kids, so we enjoy lots of things with their sports and activities. I like to work out. I like to read, and I like a good nap. If I can get those three things on a regular basis, I am a happy camper.

What was the biggest challenge starting up Little Eyes, and how did you meet it?

Awareness. People don’t think about preventative care for their kids. They think about “Oh, my kid complained that the board is blurry, so I’m going to bring him in to the eye doctor.” Our marketing campaign, just like dentistry, has done such a wonderful job of “You have to keep those teeth your whole lifetime. Let’s make sure they’re developing the right way.” That’s been our main focus, letting people know that preventative eye care is just as important as your yearly checkup at the pediatrician or your twice a year visit to the dentist. The public awareness has been huge. The real boost in awareness has been schools, pediatricians, and day cares.

What do you consider Little Eye’s best practices to be?

An incredible dispensary; our optician is wonderful. We have a lot of outside of Rxs come to us because we have a huge selection of frames. You know that most offices have one or two boards of kids’ frames-we’ve got five times that. We have such a great selection that we can fit most kids. Our techs are really good. They’re fast and efficient, and they do a wonderful job at making the kids comfortable. In terms of the clinical stuff, one of the things that makes us stand out is our passion for myopia prevention. All these kids are coming in, and they’re getting worse every year. If we can talk to them about strategies to slow that down, that’s definitely something that makes us unique and is lots of fun.

Related: Carla Mack, OD, MBA; Director of Professional and Clinical Support, for U.S. Vision Care at Alcon

With both monthly and bi-weekly contact lenses available, why a daily disposables-only practice?

The benefits with daily disposables are huge, especially with my pediatric population. Let’s be honest, kids are dirtier than we are because they get in the dirt, they’re outside, they’ve got friends who still pick their noses. There are a multitude of valid reasons why these kids should not be reusing their contact lenses, even with the best hygiene. It just makes a lot of sense for them to be in daily disposables; they reduce the risks so, so much. They patients enjoy the convenience. But the main purpose is to reduce the risk of contact lens-related complications.

Why did you add orthokeratology, and how has it changed your practice?

We added it because we knew the need was there in terms of myopia prevention. We also have a ripe practice population for ortho-k. It’s kids who are getting worse, we’re trying to slow that down, and they’re motivated to try other things. Their parents have been near-sighted themselves-they know what it’s like to be a -7.00D, and they don’t want their kid to be a -7.00 D. I had referred a few patients out over the first couple of years to a colleague locally, and I thought, “This is crazy, I need to learn ortho-k, I need to become an expert and offer it to my patients.” And that’s what we did.

 

What got you started in optometry leadership, and what keeps you engaged?

My passion for the profession. I really do think we have such a fabulous job. I like to lead but not be the leader. [Laughs] The leader is wonderful, but there is a lot of responsibility on that shoulder. I know my personal limit, so I’m careful to help but not be. I encourage those who do, and I will certainly help on a multitude of projects, whether it’s my local society or the state optometric association. I believe in the value, and I appreciate the folks who devote hours and hours of their time to bettering our profession. I’m a member-director of EyeDoc. I feel that anything we can do to help private practice docs make it in the competitive world is a great thing. I like to have a balanced work/life schedule, and I work hard to maintain that. I know that if I try to do some of the other leadership things that I will lose my ability for say, napping [laughs], and that’s not a good deal for me at the moment.

What got you involved in the global myopia problem?

There’s a huge, huge amount of folks in the Asian population who are myopic. Because we see such a large portion of the myopes in central Indiana who are pediatric, you start looking into ways that you can help people. For my whole career, it’s been glasses and contact lenses, which it still is for the most part, but I can look at worldwide trends and ask how I can help my little piece of the world not become so myopic and learn more and do better for them. We do our part in myopia prevention from Indianapolis.

Related: William To, 2016 Doctor of Optometry Candidate, Western University of Health Sciences

What’s something you would change about optometry as it stands now?

I live in a happy bubble, I gotta be honest, I don’t have a whole lot. [Laughs] Certainly I would change the commoditization of contact lenses and glasses. That’s a challenge for every single type of practitioner whether they’re practicing in Walmart or private practice. The more things available online devalues what we’re doing in our offices, and it’s a shame. I don’t know that we can change it, but it’s too bad the trend is going that direction.

What’s your guilty pleasure food?

I have a horrendous sweet tooth. During our CooperVision Best Practices photo shoot, we took a group photo with doughnuts. Like, that’s how we roll here. [Laughs]

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

Honestly, the riskiest thing I’ve ever done was opening Little Eyes because nobody does primary-care pediatrics, that’s crazy. You have to have vision therapy or be part of an ophthalmology practice or surgery. The first day was really busy, it was wonderful. Then a few weeks after that, oh, the crickets were chirping for sure, but it was ok. We were able to figure out our different roles in the office and go through our staffing placement to make that as perfect as possible. Don’t be afraid to open cold because it gives you the time to figure it out the right way and not in front of a whole bunch of patients who are seeing you do it wrong.

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