After owning a solo private practice for 33 years, selling it to private equity a few years ago and then leaving that practice—not to mention downsizing her home and becoming an empty-nester— the past decade has been “a journey of self-discovery,” Dr. Valella says. She’s been able to reinvent herself at America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she says she’s “found a new scope of practice that aligns with my values.”
This wasn’t the way she planned her career when she started her practice in 1989. After about two decades of private practice, and in her experiences as a patient herself, she says she noticed that “companies seemed eager to prescribe drugs to treat problems, rather than finding the root cause.” She realized she needed to do something different for her own health, so she began seeing a nutritionist who taught her a new way to look at health care. She realized this perspective could also help her patients.
Soon, her decision to tackle eye care with a more holistic approach was set in stone. She was eager to work with patients to improve their eye health and their overall nutrition. “I just couldn’t keep this to myself, and I didn’t want to keep practicing the same way anymore,” Dr. Valella says.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Before joining America’s Best, Dr. Valella sought out ways to “change everything,” she says, and took it upon herself to become certified in Integrative Holistic Health and Wellness through Western Michigan University’s College of Health and Human Services. It took her two and a half years while working full time to complete the courses, earning her certification in 2018. “With every course, I found value in applying what I learned to my own daily life and my patient care,” she says. “I learned to rethink everything and find better ways to provide patients with solutions to their concerns.” She renamed her practice IRIS Holistic Eye Care: integrative ● restorative ● intelligent ● spiritual to be more in line with her new philosophy.
After the challenges from COVID-19, it was time for her to take a sabbatical and focus on herself. “I spent 10 weeks journaling, reading and reflecting, days of waking up with no agenda, just allowing it to unfold,” she says. “I realized how stressed I was while practicing, and I wanted to better my own health. I knew if I wanted to treat patients again, I had to use my certification to first heal myself.”
When she felt ready to begin practicing again, she heard about America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, one of National Vision, Inc.’s retail brands. At first, she was hesitant about working for someone else. But the more she heard, the more excited she became. “I quickly realized National Vision’s mission is an honorable one – to help people by making quality eye care and eyewear more affordable and accessible. This creates an environment for those without good healthcare access to see their best to live their best,” she says.
She’s been with America’s Best for two years and says she still relishes the change and the challenges. She has flexibility and is no longer “handling literally everything at the practice,” she says. Instead, a great deal of stress has been taken off her shoulders as America’s Best handles administrative tasks, inventory, staffing, scheduling and equipment maintenance. She has been able to focus more on what matters most to her in this season of her life.
Dr. Valella encourages her patients to take the same steps she did to not only support the health of the eye but also the overall body. “I no longer look for a drug as a first choice of treatment,” she says. “Instead, I ask about the patient’s overall lifestyle choices and look for ways to make positive—but realistic—changes. You meet the patients where they are to move forward.”
Now, her patients range from young families to the elderly, those re-entering society after incarceration, unhoused folks and immigrants, “some who have never received an eye exam or prescription glasses,” she says. “During my sabbatical I felt a call to work with the underserved population.” She has embraced the change “whole-heartedly,” she says. “I’ve found something that aligns with my new inner calling.”
Three Tips for Healthy Living
Dr. Michelle Valella’s offers these three tips toward a healthier lifestyle.
- “You cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. You cannot pray your way, supplement your way or meditate your way out of a bad diet. But you can eat your way out of a bad diet. The best medicine always starts with food.”
- “Long-term drugs do not make diabetes better. Use a continuous glucose monitoring system and see what foods make your blood sugar high and then use your diet and lifestyle choices to manage it. This also allows you to see how exercise lowers your levels.”
- “Sleep is when your body heals and detoxifies.”