The women of optometry see a bright future
Excerpted from page 18 of the March 2016 edition of AOA Focus.
When Dori M. Carlson, O.D., was in optometry school 26 years ago, only about 1 in 10 students were women. At conferences, people assumed she headed a state association because there were so few female doctors of optometry.
"Doors open. And when they open, you should walk through them."
"I remember being told to my face that women were going to ruin the profession," says Dr. Carlson, who became AOA's first female president in 2011. "What's actually happened is proof positive that you can have a female doctor of optometry rise to the highest level of AOA leadership and help move the profession forward."
Now, about 70 percent of optometry classes are female, and the field is changing rapidly. When Andrea P. Thau, O.D., is sworn in as AOA's new president at the 2016 Optometry's Meeting®, she will be the association's second female president.
In honor of Women's History Month, AOA Focus asked female doctors of optometry to weigh in on where optometry has been, where it is going and why optometry appeals to women.
"A better mom and better optometrist"
Back when Tara DeRose, O.D., was trying to choose a career, she consulted an optometrist named Denette Eisnach, O.D., in her hometown of Pierre, South Dakota. Dr. DeRose, who is now in private practice in Littleton, Colorado, says she'll never forget what Dr. Eisnach told her: "I'm a better mom and a better optometrist because of the balance available in optometry." When Dr. DeRose graduated from optometry school a decade ago, she discovered that balance would allow her to achieve her "desire to work hard and be fulfilled in a career," while still having time to devote to family.
Dr. Eisnach's promise, it turns out, came true. Dr. DeRose thinks that's part of why women are filling optometry schools today. "I love my life. I love my career," says Dr. DeRose, immediate past president of the Colorado Optometric Association.
Finding your niche
There was a time when Lilien Vogl, O.D., thought she might leave optometry. Dr. Vogl, who graduated from optometry school in 1988, went from practice to practice, but she couldn't find the right fit.
In one practice, she watched her boss struggle with the business side. In another, her medical optometry focus didn't find a good use. Finally, a business consultant told her, "You will never be happy working for someone else."
So she took a chance, opening a practice in Avondale, Arizona, in 2003. The gamble paid off.
Her combination of medical practice and business acumen, and her mentorship of young, often female, technicians and optometrists, made her a sought-after doctor.
Dr. Vogl retired two years ago, but now teaches business management at Midwestern University Arizona College of Optometry and serves as president of the Arizona Optometric Association. Finding her footing in her business, she says, made broader leadership the next logical step.
"I never worked so hard on anything in my life," she says of her practice. "It was the best thing I ever did."
Laughing all the way to the top
Dr. Thau remembers attending a local society meeting of the New York Optometric Association (NYOA).
"The next thing I knew," she says, "I was on the board." There was a point at which she was simultaneously president of the Optometric Society of New York, president of the New York Academy of Optometry, and NYOA's vice president.
That level of service is a testament to Dr. Thau's passion for optometry, one taught to her by her father, also an optometrist. Watching him love his profession taught her how important love of one's work is.
He also taught her that if you love something, you give back to it. That's why she's happy to contribute-and encourages other women of optometry to do the same.
"Doors open. And when they open, you should walk through them," Dr. Thau says. "Now when I go to state meetings, women optometrists laugh as they say to me, 'I'm here because you told me I needed to do it.' But I'll tell you something: They are laughing all the way to the top."
Click here to read more about the lasting impression women have made on the profession.