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Retired practitioners remain ambassadors for optometry

May 4, 2012

From left, Will Lyons, O.D., and wife Joyce, who still writes feature articles for the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA) Journal, and Past IOA President Allen Baker, O.D., with wife Stella.

The latest 3-D movies and video games, high school sports injuries, infants and children with vision problems, the prospects for health care practice in a reformed health care system – just the kinds of topics a gathering of retirees, most over 70, might be expected to talk about, at least at the Irving Bennett Retired Optometrist Luncheon.

Two to four times a year, for the past 20 years, 30 to 40 retired optometrists have gathered near Sarasota, Fla. to renew friendships and share practice stories, according to Floyd Mizener, O.D., the 87-year old Illinois Optometric Association (IOA) past president who organizes the event.

However, they also review recent health care developments and discuss their continuing efforts to ensure top-quality eye and vision care for Americans, he adds.

“Optometrists by and large tend to be highly dedicated to their profession and very often remain highly effective ambassadors for eye and vision care after their retirement from active practice,” said Dr. Mizener, who helped lead efforts to enact Illinois’ 2007 mandatory school eye examination laws and still sets vision standards for the Illinois State Police.

Far from intimidated by new developments in eye care or the health care system, attendees at the “old timers” luncheons are “excited” about emerging practice opportunities – notably renewed interest in the “functional optometry” most practiced over most of their careers – and “enthusiastic” about recent AOA initiatives to advance the profession, Dr. Mizener said.

Of particular interest at the January meeting was the AOA’s new 3-D Vision Initiative to encourage greater public understanding of vision problems associated with three-dimensional media, Dr. Mizener said.

Semi-retired Georgia practitioner Bill Sharpton, O.D., who authored “Public education on three-dimensional (3-D) media” in the March 2010 edition of Optometry: Journal of the American Optometric Association, flew down for the luncheon in January to discuss his community outreach efforts on 3-D vision and other eye care issues.

“I’m as fired up as ever about optometry,” Dr. Sharpton said in a recent email to AOA News. “It was a real thrill for me to be in the presence of so many retired and prominent optometrists whose various achievements over the years are a big part of the reason that the profession of optometry is what it is today.”

Dr. Mizener recently enlisted a former patient, who operates a 14-location Illinois movie theatre chain, to garner support within the National Association of Theatre Owners for an AOA-backed plan to show standardized on-screen notices regarding binocular vision problems prior to all 3-D movies.

Retirees at the meetings are equally enthused about the emerging field of neuro-optometry and the growing role optometrists can now play in diagnosing concussions in a range of patients from school age-athletes to military veterans, Dr. Mizener said.

Among the AOA-backed federal legislation drawing praise at recent meetings: The Harkin Amendment that was enacted as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and, beginning in 2014, will prevent public and private health plans from differentiating among licensed and certified health professionals with regard to health plan participation or coverage.

State laws mandating eye exams for children entering schools or for driver license renewal, have also been well-received at the meetings.

Most of the regular attendees at the Florida luncheons were active at various levels of organized optometry during their years in practice, according to meeting namesake and well-known practice management author Irving Bennett, O.D. Among those who have “dropped in” are AOA Past Presidents Al Bucar, O.D., and Howard Winton, O.D., he says.

“They continue to be interested in the politics of the association and in the laws being enacted on behalf of their profession at the national and state level,” Dr Bennett said.

Because the meetings often center on current events, they now occasionally draw practicing optometrists. Illinois College of Optometry President Arol Augsburger, O.D., is among the recent attendees.

Although he serves as meeting host, Dr. Bennett says he feel “undeserving” of the recognition afforded by the gathering’s name, noting that Dr. Mizener organizes the event. The meetings began 20 years ago when then-recently retired Chicago practitioner Lawrence Vogel, O.D., who had just relocated to Sarasota, ran into Dr. Bennett by chance and proposed a “get together” for retired optometrists who had moved to Florida or spend winters there. He called his old friend Dr. Mizener to help organize the event.

Dr. Bennett notes that the luncheons have no “official” name and are often simply referred to at the “old timers” meetings.

However, Drs. Bennett and Mizener agree that, whatever the event may be called, it appears to demonstrate a lasting commitment on the part of optometrists to their profession.

“In a time of tremendous change in both eye care and the health care system, retired optometrists can make very important contributions. Generally free of the responsibilities entailed in maintaining a practice and raising a family, they have time they can devote to advocacy for worthwhile causes. Moreover, having developed the community relations skill necessary to build a practice and the understanding of the legislative processes necessary in a regulated profession, they have the expertise to be effective,” Dr. Mizener said.

“Does optometric life exist after practice?” Dr. Bennett asked rhetorically. “It does.”

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