Groucho Marx famously joked that he’d never want to be a member of a club that would have someone like him as a member. I wonder if any optometrists felt the same way after hearing that ASCRS was going to start letting O.D.s join—but only those employed by a board-certified ophthalmologist who’s an ASCRS member.
At first blush, this move seems magnanimous. ASCRS has had a frosty relationship with optometry for years, so any signs of a thaw in relations should be welcomed. But I’ll bet that employment restriction sticks in the craw of many optometrists.
Do you really want to join a club that is choosy rather than inclusive? Wouldn’t you prefer it if you and all your optometric colleagues were welcomed and respected?
ASCRS has an opportunity to bridge the ophthalmology/optometry divide better than most organizations. Nothing in its marching orders limits its scope to ophthalmology. After all, the name of the organization is the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, not Surgeons. Obviously surgeons will take precedence in the group’s efforts, as they should. But if its organizing principle is “advancing the art and science of anterior segment surgery,” that gives them not only an opportunity but indeed a mandate to educate every practitioner who’s involved in the delivery of eye surgery.
And like it or not, optometrists do participate in ophthalmic surgery. Pre-op testing, patient education, post-op care, long-term follow-up—all the work that goes into ensuring success before and after surgery can’t happen without optometrists. That’s especially clear when you look at the demographics of cataract and refractive patients, and the manpower disparity between optometry and ophthalmology.
What’s the biggest challenge in refractive surgery? Not enough patients. What’s the biggest challenge in cataract surgery? Not enough doctors. Who can help with both? You guessed it, optometrists.
If the long-standing beef ASCRS has had is O.D.s’ lack of formal training—and this organization provides training—who better than ASCRS to correct what it perceives to be the problem? But by limiting membership to M.D.-employed optometrists, is ASCRS really directing its educational efforts to the people who need it most?
Optometrists who practice independent of ophthalmology are, by and large, going to be the ones with the bigger educational needs. By contrast, O.D.s who are employed by an ophthalmology practice already have ready access to the expertise of surgeons by dint of their practice setting. They’re well educated about standards of care, the latest surgical techniques, post-op medication regimens, new IOL technology, and so on. Their techs and administrative staff are on the same wavelength, too—because they’re also the surgeon’s staff.
This olive branch to optometry is a promising first step. But that’s all it is. By supporting optometrists of all stripes, ASCRS would be doing a service to its surgeon members, and to the public. Anything that improves care and allows surgeons to work more productively should be embraced openly and without restriction. ASCRS, don’t make your newest members hide behind a pair of Groucho Marx glasses.