Kate Hamm, OD, had a pretty good understanding of the important role opticians play early in her career. Or at least, she thought she did. When she became the senior manager of optician engagement for EssilorLuxottica, she took crash courses to better understand the role of licensed opticians. “My role is to help elevate opticianry within the EssilorLuxottica world and beyond,” she says. As such, she’s working with state associations, regulatory boards and schools to bring communication, partnership and greater knowledge of the EssilorLuxottica retail brands, LensCrafters, Target Optical and Pearle Vision.
The position is a new one, and Dr. Hamm says that the goals are not unfamiliar to the profession of optometry working with ophthalmology. “I’ve seen the importance of eye care professionals coming together, and we all need each other. That applies to the three Os – ophthalmology, optometry and opticianry — as well as industry and all the models of optometry. If we cannot rely on each other, things fall through the cracks.”
To help craft the role, Dr. Hamm began talking with opticians to find out what drives them. “They shared that they love what they do and they’re passionate about it,” she says. But it bothers many that there is not a uniform licensing procedure, much less agreement on whether licensure is needed. Twenty-three U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., and all of Canada require licensure.
The opticians she has spoken with say licensing elevates the profession. “I understand that. As a licensed OD, my goal is to provide medical and refractive care to the best of my ability. Opticians can carry that forward with their guidance to patients. They combine lifestyle issues with safety and vision considerations,” she says.
They’re such an important part of the cycle of care, Dr. Hamm says. “When you have a busy day with patients, it is hard to spend 20+ minutes with each patient explaining progressive lenses and helping with their lens selection. I don’t have the same skills or expertise as the optician does. Having that strong relationship between opticians and the doctor is critical.”
SUPPORT FROM INDUSTRY
Dr. Hamm says that she was pleased when EssilorLuxottica took the initiative to create an optician engagement program. “We’re a big player in the industry. We want to be a leader in supporting the profession itself. We already have a wonderful relationship with opticians on the lens technology side, but the value of good opticians should not be underestimated in our stores,” she says.
Patients don’t see the components of their eye care experience as different but as a continuation of one journey through the precheck, exam itself and shopping for their eyewear. At each step, they form a relationship with the person providing the services, and they are all complementary to each other.
To enhance the relationship within an office, Dr. Hamm says that optometrists can encourage opticians. “Share your cool cases. Show opticians you trust them and put value in that relationship. That’s how we want ophthalmologists to treat us,” she says.
OPEN TO OPPORTUNITIES
Dr. Hamm says she marvels at the opportunity she’s been presented and looks forward to showing others new and unexpected paths. “When I was younger, I thought I’d be an elementary teacher or an astrophysicist. Then when I became an OD, I expected to practice 10 or 20 years before I’d even consider going into industry,” she says. It turned out to be more like three years.
Dr. Hamm encourages WO readers to read Range by David Epstein. “He talks about opportunities that don’t seem to fit with what you envision. When this role appeared, I realized that my training as an optometrist gives me a great range in science, medical devices, technology and the fashion and business components. We’re teaching, educating and counseling. Those are all translatable skills.”
In addition, there’s one other strong skill optometrists bring to the table: organization. “We have the American Optometric Association, the American Academy of Optometry, nationwide, state and local organizations. I can tap into this institutional knowledge from all these organizations I’ve been a part of to help the opticians – and on the flip side, I get to bring back to optometrists the importance of opticians.”