Representation matters in optometry

February 14, 2024
Although about 13% of the U.S. population is Black, they are woefully underrepresented in optometry. They represent about 2% of practicing doctors of optometry and a little over 3% of full-time students in optometry schools and colleges, according to studies. Black doctors of optometry seek to grow those numbers.
Darryl Glover, O.D.

Black EyeCare Perspective is calling on the eye care profession and industry to address the disparity in the number of Black doctors of optometry and students in optometry schools and colleges, according to its co-founder Darryl Glover, O.D., who practices in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and is a member of the AOA Strategic Communications Committee.

Dr. Glover shares more in a Q&A with the AOA below.

What is the Black EyeCare Perspective and its purpose?

Black EyeCare Perspective was founded in 2019 by optometrists: Drs. Adam Ramsey and me. It was designed and created to cultivate and foster lifelong relationships between Black eye care professionals and the eye care industry. Along with Drs. Essence Johnson (executive director) and Jacobi Cleaver (director of program management), Black EyeCare Perspective is redefining the color of the eye care industry 1% at a time by creating a pipeline for Black students into optometry. Black EyeCare Perspective believes you must be targeted in your recruitment and intentional in your impact to increase the representation of African Americans in all areas of the eye care industry. 

Can you talk about the shortage of African American optometrists in industry and why it needs to be addressed?

The shortage of Black representation in eye care, like in many areas of health care, has significant implications for the quality of eye care provided, particularly for Black communities. This impact is multifaceted, influencing patient outcomes, the patient-provider relationship and broader public health efforts. How? Black optometrists may better understand the cultural, social and economic factors that influence health behaviors and attitudes in Black communities. This understanding can lead to more culturally competent care, crucial for effective patient education and compliance with treatment regimens. Also, historical and ongoing instances of systemic racism in health care have contributed to mistrust among Black individuals toward the health care system. Black patients may feel more comfortable and trusting when receiving care from Black health care providers, which can lead to higher rates of seeking necessary eye care and following through with treatment plans. Black communities face specific eye health challenges, including higher rates of certain conditions such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Black optometrists may bring a heightened awareness of these disparities to their practice, advocating for and implementing targeted screening, prevention and treatment strategies. A more diverse workforce can contribute to research that more accurately reflects the needs of diverse populations, leading to better outcomes. Lastly, a more diverse workforce is more likely to practice in underserved and urban areas, where access to eye care is often limited. Increasing the number of Black optometrists can improve access to eye care services in these communities, addressing a crucial gap in health care provision. Representation matters in encouraging future generations to pursue careers in health care.

How does this impact patients?

The shortage of Black representation in eye care significantly impacts Black patients in several key ways. More access to culturally competent care is crucial for effective communication, patient education and engagement. Historical mistrust toward the health care system can be exacerbated, leading to lower rates of seeking care and adherence to treatment among Black patients due to a lack of representation. Black communities have higher rates of certain eye diseases, and a lack of representation can worsen health disparities due to delays in diagnosis, treatment and less targeted prevention efforts. Underrepresentation affects research focus and policy advocacy, resulting in missed critical opportunities to address and improve Black communities' specific eye health needs.

What is the 13% Promise and what is the AOA's involvement or commitment?

The "13% Promise," launched by Black EyeCare Perspective, is an initiative designed to foster diversity within the eye care industry by ensuring that the representation of Black and African American professionals mirrors their 13.4% demographic presence in the U.S. population. This commitment (signed by the AOA in June 2023) is not only about adjusting numbers but also about enriching the profession through inclusivity and equality. The vision of the 13% Promise encompasses creating a robust pipeline for Black students into optometry, connecting communities with Black eye care professionals and businesses, and cultivating relationships between Black doctors of optometry and opportunities within the industry. Black EyeCare Perspective and the AOA are collaborating to increase Black representation within the eye care industry, aiming to align it more closely with the U.S. Census demographics. This partnership underscores a shared commitment to enhancing diversity and equity in the field, focusing on strategic initiatives that promote the inclusion of Black professionals in optometry. Together, they are exploring and implementing measures designed to address the current disparities and create a more representative and inclusive profession, ensuring that the eye care industry reflects the diversity of its community. 

What is the Black EyeCare Perspective Signing Day?

Black EyeCare Perspective Signing Day on April 23 is a momentous virtual event designed to celebrate and recognize the achievements of student members of the Black EyeCare Perspective Pre-Optometry Club who have successfully gained acceptance into a school or college of optometry. This event serves not only as a celebration of these individuals’ academic and professional accomplishments but also as a testament to their dedication and commitment to advancing within the field of optometry. Signing Day symbolizes the transition of Pre-Optometry Club members from aspiring students to future optometrists, marking a significant milestone in their educational journey. It underscores the importance of diversity and representation within the optometric profession. It highlights the role of the Black EyeCare Perspective in fostering an inclusive community that supports and encourages the next generation of Black optometrists to achieve their professional goals.

As a new member of AOA Strategic Communications Committee, what impact would you like to make?

As a member of the AOA’s Strategic Communications Committee, I am eager to harness my diverse perspective and seasoned millennial insight to enrich our messaging. I aim to inject a fresh flare into our communications, ensuring they resonate across generations. Understanding and speaking the language of each generation allows me to bridge gaps, engage a wider audience and reflect the multifaceted nature of our community. I am committed to leveraging this unique skill set to foster inclusivity, innovation, and impact in our communications strategy, making our message heard and truly felt across all demographics.

Opportunities in Optometry

The Opportunities in Optometry grant program, supported by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, was launched to promote diversity and equity within the optometric profession for generations to come. Over 70 grants, totaling over $100,000, have been awarded to students preparing to enter optometry school. Spread awareness of the program and encourage applications.

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