A public health focus on pediatric care

June 27, 2023
An AOA Leadership Institute graduate is striving to improve pediatric vision health literacy and address disparities nationwide.
Erica Shelton, O.D.

Photography by Steve Craft

Excerpted from page 56 of the May/June 2023 edition of AOA Focus

Erica Shelton, O.D., is a Ph.D. candidate in the vision science program at The Ohio State University College of Optometry (OSUCO). Recipient of the 2023 Arene T. Wray Fellowship, Dr. Shelton strives to improve pediatric vision health literacy to address disparities nationwide.

AOA Focus caught up with Dr. Shelton to ask about her career path and where her work is taking her.

How did your path align to pursue a Ph.D. in vision science with a pediatric vision health focus?

I decided to become an optometrist when I was in high school after shadowing my own optometrist and deciding it was the perfect combination of patient care, science and math. I really became passionate about vision science and research after being a part of the T-35 program after my first year at OSUCO. I enrolled in the joint O.D./M.S. program, which allowed me to continue research while completing my optometry degree, and when I graduated (2018) I spent a year completing a pediatric residency. I learned so much but found myself having many questions of my own throughout my patient care experience.

How have you looked at pediatric vision through a public health lens?

Throughout most of my Ph.D., I have primarily looked at large data sets tracking health access and vision impairment statistics across the adult and pediatric population. In the short term, I am evaluating a pediatric vision program and the variations of vision care access in the pediatric population. In the long term, my research focuses primarily on improving visual health literacy in the pediatric population through public health principles and strategies.

What drives you to maintain that focus?

I want to help myself and other optometrists better understand what our patients know and what they value so we can best address their vision health needs. Also, I’ve been frustrated that preventative vision care is not part of the mainstream pediatric health care conversation. A 2016 NASEM report showed that upstream preventative vision health programs are lacking, and it’s resulting in many health inequities within the treatment or tertiary prevention levels. As optometrists, we have so much knowledge to share with our patients, and public health has the strategies and framework to allow us to evaluate and implement vision care programs that are effective and evidence based.

In addition to the Arene T. Wray Fellowship, you’re now also involved with the AOA Leadership Institute. How do these opportunities help you progress in your career?

When I think about the future, I like to reflect on the past. I am humbled by the opportunities I have earned and how those have allowed me to achieve my goals, especially honors like the Arene T. Wray Fellowship. Awards like these make me so grateful and energize my progress, really making me think about my future as a female optometrist in an ever-changing world.

Where do you go from here?

My short-term goal over the next 18-24 months is to graduate and publish a paper or two along the way. Long-term, my career will focus on teaching the next generation of vision care providers about the importance of public health in optometry and to grow an interdisciplinary relationship between optometry and public health through research collaborations.

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