By Norma Bowyer, OD, MS, MPH, FAAO—This column originally appeared in our September 2011 issue.
Change ignites a reaction and discussion. That’s surely been the case with topics such as optometric board certification and the push for comprehensive eye examinations for all the nation’s children. Although there is tugging from all directions, this give-and-take is simply an evolution. It’s pushing optometry forward. We can’t be stuck in our ways, and we must realize that change is good.
Even I wasn’t always gung-ho about change. As one of six women in my optometry school class, I imagined myself moving into a stable career, settling down in a small town with an underserved population and taking care of the community in my own private practice. Instead, I haven’t seen a traditional patient in nearly 20 years. That’s not to say I wasn’t busy; my work weeks often averaged 50-80 hours. But I saw a greater need outside of the traditional setting.
While clinical care in a traditional practice setting is a great career and the foundation of the profession of optometry, it’s not the only venue or choice. For example, in my career, I have developed children’s vision programs and worked in mobile vision clinics on freezing winter days and under the scorching summer sun as a public health officer with the Indian Health Service. That federal program is responsible for providing health care to Native American and Alaskan Native peoples. I helped establish primary eye care clinics in rural Appalachia at a time when the mining industry reduced its support of health care for miners and their families. I also developed comprehensive primary care, quality assurance diabetes programs funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for high-risk populations. My mother’s professional work with early stages of what became HeadStart programs prompted my own fascination with child development. I was fortunate to encounter the late John Streff, OD, DOS, FCOVD, FAAO, a committed educator ahead of his time with his appreciation for the visual processing system.
My career has brought me into contact with others who changed the course of my life. An adjunct faculty position lead to a role as director of off-campus clinical programs at Southern California College of Optometry. That experience served me well when I was a practicum coordinator for a newly developed Masters of Public Health program that I helped shepherd through to accreditation at the
Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center. The energy, motivation and dedication of students are inspiring.
My career may seem complicated. It has become a far cry from the 9-to-5 day that I once sought when first considering the profession of optometry as a career choice. Now I balance the demands and opportunities of related work: consulting, working on dissemination plans for Healthy People 2020, reviewing federal grant applications, serving on state and national boards and advisory panels and attending meetings such as the National Rural Health Association Annual Meeting or the American Public Health Association’s first midyear meeting. Looking back, each of the places I stopped along my career’s journey could have been a lifelong pursuit on its own.
But I’ve adjusted my plans and changed course accordingly when and where there was a need. Not everyone embraces change. I didn’t settle into the practice I once envisioned, but I have had other opportunities to help practitioners in rural areas better serve their patients. I’ve been able to see and cultivate interests and excitement among students. I’ve been able to advocate for underserved minority populations and the elderly. These opportunities were available to me because I was willing to challenge myself and to embrace change.
The idea of change can be intimidating, but don’t let it overpower you. It’s important to face it and move forward for the future of our profession. Optometry is changing, and so are the people in it.
Dr. Bowyer coordinates her many roles from Morgantown, W.V.