Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Battle Creek, MI, the home of Kellogg’s. [Laughs] I spent my entire life in Michigan all the way through college. My husband Mike and I had gone to college together. We got married two weeks after I graduated from optometry school and a week before he graduated from med school, and we honeymooned in Michigan.
After Mike finished residency, I opened my own practice in Sylvania, OH. Ohio didn’t have the same scope of driving licensure regulation that Michigan had. I felt my patients were at a real disadvantage in Ohio compared to what they could do if they moved half a mile over the border. I worked with the state of Ohio on expanding Ohio’s driver licensure regulations to be more in alignment with what other states like Michigan were doing. That led to getting involved with Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps-ODs were not authorized in Ohio to see kids on Medicaid the same way that ophthalmologists were, so we changed that. There was a lot of, “Why can’t I do this?” My passion for health care, health delivery science, and health policy drove me to the public health area known as health services research and policy; that’s where I ended up finding a home.
I don’t know if you can be an effective optometrist without understanding how we contribute to advocacy every day. It’s what do you do when you’re with patients in your office, how you interact with your community, and how you to promote the health of school children in your area. Are you involved with helping people understand the necessary care for their older parents? Advocacy is important because we have that limitation on what we can do because our scope is regulated. If you’re trying to even out the playing field, and you have a state next door to you where the scope may be a little greater than where you’re practicing, that’s like a thorn under your skin. It gets you going to say, “There’s got to be something I can do to help raise the bar in my state.” We not only have to fight to support the value of optometry and the care we provide, but we have to fight against it being chipped away.
You mean all the volunteer work I’ve done? [Laughs] I enjoy writing, and I’ve realized in the last decade if you don’t write it down, it doesn’t happen. As optometry representatives and healthcare professionals, we need to be able to communicate what we know that somebody else doesn’t know, making sure people understand evidence that supports what we do and that policy accurately reflects what ODs provide and the value and the scope of what we bring to the table. One of the more important ways to do that is writing, whether it’s policy language, reviewing road-map language, or grants. Words matter. Sometimes it’s one word or the way that something is defined that makes a huge difference and has huge downstream impacts.
That was one of the biggest challenges I had when I arrived [at Salus University]. I think that one thing all programs need to have is transparency, especially from executive leadership on down. There has to be a team approach to looking at costs, class size, and the curriculum. With technology, it’s looking at what traditional ways do we need to teach and how we can take advantage of virtual classrooms and hybrid education to alleviate cost. Education certainly has challenges it needs to address in how to utilize these technological advances to effectively train both didactically and clinically the future of our profession. My pet peeve is we need to have a focus not just on optometric care. We need to build in from Day One a fundamental knowledge base of healthcare delivery as a whole because without understanding the greater healthcare arena, it’s very difficult to know how you can evolve into it when you’re coming out of school. This is important as well for continuing education for people who are already practicing, helping them to understand how we can prioritize a global view of health care.
I give them the same advice that I was given when I got out of school: Experience everything. You don’t want to narrow what you want to do, you want to experience as many different settings as you can because it will help you refine your focus on how you want to move your career forward.
I never had to leave what I would consider academia behind. I’ve been able to continue to work not only with our optometric institutions but also other healthcare institutions. I saw this as an opportunity to combine all of the passions that I have. As you get older, you start seeing in much clearer, sharp focus what you want to do and how you want to get there. You start appreciating certain pathways more than others.
How the nation perceives doctors of optometry. What I mean by that is after 27 years of practice, a week does not go by where you see someone equating doctor of optometry with glasses or refraction. Not to minimize that; refraction is just as important as any surgical procedure for many people. The way that we’re perceived as someone who is just prescribing glasses is not comprehensive enough. How health care, especially the rest of medicine, sees and understands what doctors of optometry do-that I would love to see changed to accurately reflect our role. We are the only ones who have the didactic and clinical training to follow from birth to death, from the beginning of primary care all the way to tertiary care and improving quality of life through vision rehabilitation. We own that entire spectrum-that’s what I want the nation to know.
I love antiquing. I love old medical and optometric equipment. My daughter and my nieces would tell you that I love to collect dishes, and they’re right about that. [Laughs] I like to collect things that I can actually use.
I don’t think anybody would argue if I told you it’s a really good chicken wing or a really good guacamole. I’ve lived in seven different states, and one of the things we’ve always valued is eating locally. When we travel, I don’t want to be where the visitors are-I want to go where people who live in this area go. But guacamole and chips, I don’t know if you’re going to find anything really better than a homemade salty chip and fresh avocado with some lime juice and a little cilantro and the trick is a little bit of olive oil. I learned that in Mexico.
No, I really don’t. There are always pros and cons with every choice that you make. I’m an incredibly fortunate person. I love my life, and even though I’ve got a lot of wrinkles, I love them, too. I feel they are a badge of honor that I’ve earned. [Laughs]
I decided when I was 40 years old that in order for me to go where I wanted to go, I needed to find a way to build my credentials in health policy and public health. I decided that I would pursue National Institutes of Health funding (K series) to do this. I never would have thought in a million years I’d be able to do it. I took a year to write a grant, I got it funded, and it gave me an incredible stretch of time where I was able to be on faculty, be on the medical staff, and at the same time earn my PhD. I didn’t have any role models to follow in optometry at the time. That made it more crazy, but it also made it more exciting to say, “If you do this, you’ll be able to help others do this down the road.” That would have to be my craziest thing.