Optometry is All in The Family: The Bennetts

The Bennett family has a rich, unique legacy in the profession of optometry.

It all started with Irving Bennett, O.D., who became Dr. Bennett in 1944 and has watched the profession evolve ever since. His career is full of highlights:

  • Stints as a member of the AOA Board of Trustees and the second-ever editor of the Journal of the American Optometric Association;
  • Founder of the magazine Optometric Management and Optifair (the forerunner of Vision Expo); and
  • AOA Optometrist of the Year, National Optometric Hall of Fame member and recipient of the prestigious AOA Distinguished Service Award.

Four family members followed their own paths to eye care: a brother, two children and a granddaughter. His daughter, former teacher Linda Bennett, O.D., and granddaughter, Rebecca Maida, O.D., practice together at Bennett Family Eye Care in Belmont, Mass.

What inspired you to pursue a career in optometry?

Dr. Irving Bennett: My older brother volunteered to pay my college tuition under two conditions: First, that I select a health care profession. Second, that the profession I selected would require no more than four years of college. He suggested optometry.

I started the process of elimination by going to Plattsburgh, N.Y., the closest city and the location of my mother's foot and eye doctors. Both strongly urged me to go into optometry, stating that it was a relatively "new profession with great potential." They were so right!

Dr. Linda Bennett: After years as a teacher, I looked for work outside of teaching, but my skill set would have meant taking a substantial pay decrease. My uncle [Milton] recommended optometry. I recognized that I would have to invest four more years of education, but I knew I would be happy as an optometrist working for myself.

Dr. Rebecca Maida: I decided to become a teacher because I had always enjoyed working with children, and I taught for two years. That gave me time to really decide that I did want to go into optometry. I wanted to select my profession for myself, not because it was the family business.

How has the profession changed throughout your career?

"Optometry became a real health care profession, second to none."

Dr. Irving Bennett: After World War II, myself and other veterans who were allowed to do much more in eye care while in the services were unhappy with being a drugless profession. It took a while—nearly two decades—before my colleagues and I decided we needed to break away from a drugless profession. The path to diagnosis and treatment was through political action.

The profession of today is so much different from the profession of the 1940s and 1950s. The winner is not just optometry; it is the public. In a relatively few years, optometry became a real health care profession, second to none.

How did eye care become a family affair?

Dr. Irving Bennett: My dear wife, Trude, and I never tried to influence the careers of our two children. Both of them went off to college with different career tracks. Looking back, I think that the fact my wife and I had a successful life in optometry made an impression.

Linda has the model private practice in Belmont, Mass., and Donald has a huge ophthalmology practice in Louisville, Ky. The nice thing about Donald's practice is that it is basically a referral practice in which he co-manages most of his patients with optometrists. Donald practices ophthalmology as I always envisioned ophthalmology should be practiced, and Linda practices optometry as I always envisioned that optometry should be practiced. I am so proud of that.

What makes having generations of eye care professionals in your family so special?

Dr. Linda Bennett: My father has been my mentor. Our bond has grown closer since we have shared the same profession. We are able to discuss problems in practice, as well as national issues facing optometry. My daughter and I practicing together has also drawn us very close.

Dr. Rebecca Maida: We 'Bennett' optometrists have a special bond. We always have something to talk about.

What is your No. 1 "tip for success" for colleagues who want to make a go of multi-generational practice?

Dr. Laura Bennett: My daughter and I are the first in our family to practice together. I believe our success is founded on good communication. We have been able to look at each other's strengths and work with those strengths. The challenge of working with a family member is that at the end of the day, you are family. We don't want disagreements at work to affect our family dynamic.

More AOA All in The Family:

Optometry is All in The Family—The Teagues

Optometry is All in The Family—The Heastons

January 3, 2014

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