For Julie McLaughlin, OD, optometry is the family business. “It’s a part of my story,” she says. Her grandfather graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry—now Salus University—in 1952, followed by both of her parents who graduated from the same school in 1981. Her father then made a slight career shift to ophthalmology, leading her to be a third-generation optometrist. “It has definitely shaped who I am today,” she reflects.
Following optometry school, she did a one-year residency at the Baltimore VA Medical Center with a focus on ocular disease. “I loved the fast-paced medical environment,” she says. “It was that year that solidified my love for medical optometry.” Following her residency, she had “dreams of working in a private ophthalmology practice alongside a retina specialist,” she says. Her father introduced her to a retina specialist who was open to bringing in an optometrist. While they agreed there was no blueprint and they were navigating uncharted waters, they were willing to dive in.
She joined Lehigh Eye Specialists in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2013, and has remained there since. Her role however, has changed. From predominantly managing retina patients for the first 3 years, shifting gears and seeing more post op cornea and cataract patients, she eventually found her niche in dry eye and ocular surface disease.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
At the office that she shares with retina specialist Masayuki Kazahaya, MD, and cornea and cataract specialist David DeRose, MD, they work on a system largely comprised of referrals. This is a key piece of the practice for Dr. McLaughlin’s busy dry eye clinic as well. “As optometrists we need to think of co-management, and one thing I always stress is that we have so much to offer amongst ourselves,” she says. Co-managing doesn’t always mean referring patients to an MD’s office.
“Whether it’s dry eye, specialty contacts, pediatrics or low vision, it’s important to refer within our own network in order to advance our profession,” she says. The referral flow goes both ways. “I now have not only ODs but MDs as well referring their dry eye patients to me. It’s a testament that times are changing.”
THE VALUE OF TRUST
When it comes to dry eye, many specialists are well aware of the amount of chair time these patients require. There is a level of trust that needs to be met in order for progress to be made. “I wanted to have the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients while staying in the setting I was in. Building this dry eye clinic was an opportunity to do just that.” On top of living her own dream career, she prides herself in being able to offer something new to the Lehigh Valley with the amount of collaboration she offers. “It has been really rewarding,” she says.
When she speaks with colleagues who express surprise at Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. DeRose and Dr Kazahaya’s ability to co-exist and thrive together, she credits their success to two major elements: trust and autonomy, similar to what she strives for with her own patients. She doesn’t think there’s “a magic formula” to the relationship and model they’ve developed, but there needs to be mutual respect. “The MDs I work with give me clear guidance, but they allow me to make my own decisions.” The result? “It has made me more committed and productive than ever. It’s an ever-evolving relationship.”