Change agent

May 9, 2023
There is more than one way to advocate, a member of the AOA Leadership Development Committee explains.
Helene Clayton Jeter Headshot

Photography by Kevin Garrett

For Helene Clayton-Jeter, O.D., her optometric career has not been a straight path to where she is today.

Dr. Clayton-Jeter has navigated her own path. That route has taken her to a top federal government position and state-appointed and community-chosen executive leadership roles, which enabled her to start her own health care consulting firm, educating the next generation of science and health policymakers. She formerly served as president and chair of the Virginia Boards of Optometry and Health Professions. At the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in the Commissioner’s Office of Health and Constituent Affairs, she was a patient and health professional liaison as FDA director of the Cardiovascular and Endocrine Liaison Program.

Along the way, she received the inaugural AOA Leadership in Public Health Award and the President’s Award for Distinguished Service to Optometry.

Her path has not been straight but rooted in population health, diversity, equity and inclusion. “I want to be involved, move the needle toward health equity and make a measurable impact on health quality,” says Dr. Clayton-Jeter, who was recently appointed to the AOA Leadership Development Committee.

What do you hope to accomplish on the Leadership Development Committee?

I hope my inherent diversity as a seasoned, female entrepreneur of color will assist with leadership development of optometrists and promote the differences in backgrounds, cultures, genders, ages, career trajectory, etc.

Your career has taken you on a mixed journey. How are you practicing today?

I’m currently a mobile/tele-optometrist planning to enter back into sole proprietorship in a hybrid virtual and in-person clinical setting. Recently, I have examined patients in senior living facilities, mostly nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. We perform comprehensive eye examinations. It’s mostly medical eye health care, given the patients’ age and health status. If I am unable to treat or co-manage a patient, I refer them to fellow optometrists or specialty ophthalmologists. There are some patients who have never received an eye examination in their lives, so providing optometric services to them is especially rewarding.

What do you like about being a mobile optometrist?

Bringing mobile eye health care to people who are sometimes forgotten in nursing homes is fulfilling. I have always been an advocate for optometry and underserved populations.

Although my career path has been “nontraditional,” there is more than one way to advocate. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is huge for me, especially as it relates to socioeconomic/ethnic/racial health-related disparities.

And you still find time for consulting through the company you founded, HealthScape LifeSciences?

I’m consulting on Mondays and Fridays, which end up being appointment days. I love research. I am always thinking of the next innovative idea. Mobile optometry is opening doors to some research possibilities.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in optometry?

It was my personal experience with my optometrists. My first optometrist was Sen. Benjamin Lambert lll, so I was fortunate enough to have a Black optometrist as a kid. Later, I saw Dr. Allen Cohen to be fit with contact lenses. I questioned him about my sudden vision change in high school that required correction—questions like why and how I became myopic when neither of my parents nor grandparents wore glasses. He knew I was planning to go to medical school and asked if I’d ever thought about optometry, saying we need more minorities in optometry. Through my college interviews for medical and optometry school, I learned something more about myself and optometry became more appealing, especially because of the lack of women, specifically women of color, among optometrists.

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