#113 Optometry Career Close-Up with Ted McElroy, O.D. Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  01:05

Today, we have another career close up episode to help give students and their parents a glimpse of a possible path. We’re shining a spotlight on a profession that touches lives in a profound way. Optometry. Joining us is Todd McElroy who brings years of experience and a passion for eye care to our conversation. Ted will share what it means to be an optometrists from the daily joys of improving someone’s sight to the rigorous path of becoming one. optometry is not just about prescribing glasses. It’s a career that enhances people’s quality of life. Ted will walk us through a typical day in his clinic, the essential skills and qualities that make a successful optometrist and his own journey to become one. We’ll also discuss the vital collaboration between optometrist and ophthalmologist, the competitive nature of optometry school and the state specific regulations, aspiring optometrist must navigate. Whether you’re a student fascinated by science and eager to make a difference, or you’re a parent supporting your teen in their career exploration. This episode offers valuable insights into the world of eye care. Plus, Ted has some crucial advice for anyone considering this path. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a crate conversation with my friend Dr. Ted McIlroy. Welcome,


Ted McElroy  02:43

hello, Lisa, how are you?


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:44

I’m great. I love doing these career close ups. And they frequently end up being people that I know. Because I learn about their jobs as I get to know them. And you taught me a lot about optometry and getting my eyes examined, which I was guilty of not doing. And so I thought well, who better to come on and talk about optometry and careers and how you get there and all the things. But you straight from Tifton, Georgia. So welcome.


Ted McElroy  03:18

Thank you. I’m flattered. I’m really excited to be here. And, you know, I don’t know what I’m going to say. But I can’t wait to hear what comes out of my mouth. Well,


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:26

you know what, that’s what I love about this podcast, because it’s never scripted. We just know in this case that we’re talking about optometry and educating parents and teens and young adults who think that this could be or maybe they’re clueless on whether it could be a direction for them. So let’s just start out with what it what does it mean to be an optometrist? What does a day in the life of tad look like?


Ted McElroy  03:53

Well, I It’s really cool, because I have a great job. I mean, I get to help people see all day long. And it’s really empowering to take someone from not being able to see things. I mean, think about all the things you do in life. I mean, yeah, it’s you know, watching your friends, you know, cut up, it’s watching your your siblings playing a ballgame. It’s you know, seeing your parents do things when you grew up your your children and watching what they’re doing and just, what would it be like if you couldn’t see that? Or even for that matter, just couldn’t see it? Clearly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been sitting in front of this chair behind me talking to an eight year old who’s never had any prescription before. And they think that everybody sees like that. And when you put a pair of glasses on him for the first time, the change in their countenance and how they view the world literally looks way different. They talk about I can see the leaves on the trees I can see these individual blades of grass when I look at it and He kind of take that for granted. I had a child who I saw many years ago, she’s very much an adult now. And she was really really farsighted meaning that her vision was focused beyond infinity, way, way out. If you think of a, like you’re doing a projector screen, all the light was focusing behind her eye, so she could not pull it into focus to make it clear. And she had always had glasses before she was five years old. And her mom and dad because of how far sighted she was, had heard the possibility of looking at contact lenses, and they just want to ask me at church one day, hey, do you think that would be okay for her? And I said, Yeah, I said, actually, when I was in school, I got a chance to do a contact lens fitting on an eight month old who had had cataract surgery. Yeah, the child had had cataract surgery. And, you know, you don’t want to have an eye that’s going on blind or it’s not going to dislike hearing doesn’t develop when they do cochlear implants is really confusing for the brain, the same thing happens with vision. So we wanted to get this child having the best vision possible. And we decided to look at contact lenses because it was going to give her a better correct vision. So she gets these contact lenses, you can see her looking around and just really absorbing things. And it really felt special to me. But what really sucked in on this whole thing was Monday morning, and this was on a Wednesday, the following Monday morning, I get a phone call from her mom. Through this shaky kind of conversation, almost crying. And Santa just want to tell you what kind of experience you had given my daughter in this life now, because we were at lunch on Sunday yesterday. And she was talking about all these bugs that were crawling around on her Sunday. And um, we didn’t know what they were talking about, and what she didn’t realize what she had never seen strip seeds in a strawberry before. No way. Think about that, you know, think about having that kind of impact, you know, from something as simple as a couple pieces of plastic you stick on somebody’s eye, and what that does for the rest of their life. And it really does give you a lot of fulfillment, having this kind of experience that you get to give to other people.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:13

That’s so I’ve always had great vision, as I’ve told you, and then you’re like, go get your eyes checked. And everybody needs to get their eyes checked. But, you know, I think oftentimes we think about these, you’re doing eye exam so that the day in your life is really you’re doing eye exams and figuring out how to correct vision. Right.


Ted McElroy  07:36

Right. Right, exactly.


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:39

And so one thing that comes to mind when you just told those stories, is like, how do you figure out that an eight month old or you said this little girl was five? And she was already wearing glasses, like how do you know that they somebody that age has a vision problem. A


Ted McElroy  08:01

lot of times it’s just goes undetected. And that’s one reason why it’s so important that parents consider getting eye examinations done really early. The American Optometric Association has a program called infancy, where we will see an infant between age six months and one year at no cost to the parent. You know, it’s basically when you’re talking about relying on the pediatrician and I’m not knocking pediatricians but it’s not their gig. This is not what they do, you know, and unless they’re looking at this, this baby and they see a white pupil, or they noticed the pupil is not functioning or they see this eye that’s turned out. There’s not this big red flashing sign saying hey, this is really farsighted. And this one’s not this one is not going to develop. So you have to have that ability to test those kinds of things. We had a we had a very emotional ploy. But in front the American Optometric Association when infancy got started by former President Jimmy Carter, who actually lives not too far from where I’m standing right now. And he had a granddaughter who was amblyopic, she was had uncorrected vision at a very young age, it never got caught in time. And so she had an eye that really didn’t see much better than 2050 or 2060 instead of 2020, like her other eye. And he said, you know, had this just been caught when she was very young, this would have never happened. So, you know, that’s the importance of having that kind of intervention. But truth of the matter really says, it doesn’t happen for a lot of people, a lot of people they don’t know that they’ve got a problem.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:36

And so I gotta get I


Ted McElroy  09:40

gotta get him. Okay, so


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:42

you’re describing what you do now and like the amazing impact that you’re having on people’s quality of life. Our listeners are primarily parents of teens and young adults for those that are working with them. And so we went back in time you went Higher the same age over 50 is all we’ll leave that with. And if if you went back in time, and I’m talking to Ted, the high school or the college student, what, what were the qualities or the interest? What made you even start to consider this path? And what have those qualities made you has made you successful in this career?


Ted McElroy  10:27

Well, part of it was the nerdiness side of me knowing that I wanted to do this, since I was pretty young, I want to get my eyes examined, since I was like six, my dad kind of nearsighted, you know, so I had seen it. And it was always really cool. And the doctor that we saw, always had all these really cool gadgets, I love gadgets, you know, and I like all the widgets and the tools and the instruments and all that kind of stuff. And that was really neat to me. But then as I grew older, I kept thinking, you know, this is a, this is really had a science, more of type of background, I really understood that a little bit more. Truth be told, if I could have figured out a way to make a really good living in history, I might have gone into that. And you and I might not be having this conversation right now. But it required a lot of reading. And I don’t like to read. So beside the point. It’s just a matter of the fact that I knew the science side of things really appealed to me. And there’s a lot of really cool intricate stuff inside an eyeball that you don’t think about is there. It’s a very small structure. But there’s so much that’s going on there. And to know some of those things early on, I think part of it, too. Lisa was doing a shadow, which was something that really wasn’t done when you’re our teenager. I


Lisa Marker Robbins  11:41

preach that all the time now. But yeah, we didn’t do this.


Ted McElroy  11:46

I begged kids to come in and just sit with me for the day, just watch what I did. And without fail, it always happens. I always get like this really crazy, unusual thing that happens when that person is sitting here watching us it’s some kind of, you know, retinal detachment, a melanoma, some kind of other really high level problem that doesn’t walk in here every single day. But it seems like more often than not, when that shadow or you know, person who’s interning for the summer is here, they see those kind of things. And so they see that side of it, but what they also get to see is the drum quotidian every day how, you know, how are you seeing any contact lenses, glasses, and that’s another part of my business too.


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:30

So you’re looking for diseases in the eye, you’re you’re looking for how to correct vision, things like that, you know, when you just said the things about like, you might see a retinal detachment, or we have a mutual friend who has recently dealt with some retina issues. I remember a couple years ago, so I guess we didn’t say really like we are in a mastermind of business owners together. Eight fantastic people, we are so lucky, and very different industries. And we we’ve been meeting monthly for three and a half years. And I remember at some point, when we were meeting you, I think you like had to leave early or something because it was somebody that you knew that actually had melanoma in their eye. And one of the things I remember and I want to talk to you about this, it’s like you got them referred to somebody in Atlanta, in Emory. So because at that point, they’re going to need that an MD, right. And so one of the questions I like to ask people is in your career, you know, who else are you working closely with? Who who are you associated with? And so I guess an up the mala just in some people probably might not know the difference between optometry and ophthalmology. This might be a good time to talk about that. Because I would say that’s probably some field you work very closely with, and maybe some others that I’m missing.


Ted McElroy  14:00

Yeah. So ophthalmology, and I guess I’ll put out some of those. The biggest. I think the craziest thing I ever got was when I came home from school one time and someone asked me when I was going to start delivering babies and I go, No, that’s a obstetrician. But, you know, the ophthalmology side of things, it does require an MD degree, you’re going to medical school there, as opposed to optometry school. Now, the curriculum and the rigor is very, very similar. In fact, it’s almost identical. It’s the matter of what happens on some of the back end side of things, the externships, the residencies, the fellowships and things like that. That’s where you see a lot of divergence, ophthalmology, they do surgery, they are cutting on people. They are, you know, removing tissue and as optometry has changed, and what you’re also seeing is ophthalmology as a profession is not growing. They are staying flat. They have been flat for the last probably 20 years. There’s some of the hardest progress aims to get into medical school. And because they are not growing, there is a growing population and a not growing population about them ologists. So that is going to require the need for those people to be taken care of somehow and optometry has continued to grow in what we do in our scope of practice. When I first started practicing, I couldn’t treat glaucoma I knew how to have been trained to in school. I had done it on my externships. But I’d graduated and went to a state where that wasn’t part of our law. And through legislation, we were able to change those kinds of things. Those same kinds of legislative changes are taking place with things like laser surgery. There are currently seven or 10 states, I believe, where laser surgery is completely legal to be done. I’ve got a colleague friend of mine who lives in Texas and has a practice in Louisiana and Texas. And Louisiana, he can do laser surgery in Texas, he cannot, you know, so he refers all of his patients that need those procedures to his practice in Louisiana. Wow.


Lisa Marker Robbins  16:03

Okay, so that’s fascinating, because it brings up something that’s really important that we talked about inside my launch Career Clarity course, where we’re helping students figure out that right college major, that right future career, there are many professions that are licensed by the state, because we don’t really license nationally, so licensed by the state, and it’s gonna vary. And it’s interesting, I say to kids, like, if you’re going to college, let’s say, you know, I live in Cincinnati. And let’s say that a kid here is going to go to Indiana University. And they intend afterwards to come back to Ohio. If you’re in a profession, that is that they’re going to licensed by the state, you need to make sure that you’re meeting the requirements of the state in which you intend to live in practice. Yep, sounds like for him, he lives in Texas, and Louise in Louisiana is probably in the part of Texas that’s close to Louisiana, right.


Ted McElroy  17:11

He’s got a dual member, he’s got a dual licensure. And I mean, and I held I held for a long time, a license in South Carolina and a license in Georgia. And finally realized there was no time I was going to South Carolina, that lapse. But you know, the the fact is, there are lots of people who have multiple license, here’s in different states. A good really good example for literally your geographic geography. There’s a school in Pikeville, Kentucky, which is not terribly far from where you are. Kentucky is a laser state. You know, my son goes to school with this college, he will graduate from there in two and a half years, and come back to Georgia where he will have had all this education and done probably more procedures, more surgical laser procedures than many resident ophthalmologists would have done in their residency, and not be able to do when he gets back to Georgia, because we don’t allow it in Georgia. So that’s


Lisa Marker Robbins  18:05

something else to consider then and really educate yourself on anything that’s licensed by the state, really educate yourself on what will you be able to do what limitations? So one of the things that I love about you coming on to talk about this is you’ve been practicing for a long time, and you have a son who’s studying. So I’m sure things have changed a little bit between when you went to optometry school. One question I have, like, what did your son study for undergrad? Or, you know, is it a graduate program? Like what what are the degrees? What do you have to study? We already know, we heard you have to be good at science, I would assume you have to have a strong stomach for things that could be gross, which I do not have. Somebody walks in with something wrong with their eye. So talk about like, your son’s journey, what’s different, what that looks like?


Ted McElroy  19:07

One of the things that is different, the rigor is different. The thing that he has encountered, and he we have had this conversation where he said, you know, yeah, but you don’t understand, you know, the grade point average that existed for you is not the same as for me, it’s a tighter grade point average to get from A to F. And I said, Well, that’s fine. But the game that I was playing was with the rules that I was given the game that is you that you’re playing or the rules that you’ve been given, and those are all in wet cement, and they’re going to change. And that’s something you need to know going into it. And this is not just optometry school, this is undergrad, this is any level of of education, because you play by the rules that you’re given. And those rules are always in wet cement. They’re going to change from time to time and when they do you have to be prepared for that sort of thing. Going back to the issue with Hank When he comes back to Georgia, I wouldn’t steer someone away from going to a particular school because you’re going to go back to a state that doesn’t allow, quote unquote, what you’ve been taught. In fact, I think that’s a plus. Because it puts the the legislative pressure to really help to support what you’ve done. I mean, you went through a lot you suffered, for the betterment for the people of that state that you’re going back to, to take care of them. And now you can’t even do what you’ve been taught to do. And I think that’s a very powerful statement to go back into a legislature with and say, Look, this is crazy. And it’s it should stand.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:39

Yeah. So what is his education? Since high school? What has his path been?


Ted McElroy  20:45

We had a similar background, we both went to undergraduate for four years. And at one period many years ago, you probably could have gotten into optometry school without completing your four year degree, you could have, you know, taken the prerequisite record courses, which were mostly science, math, those kinds of things and gone on now, it’s virtually impossible to do that. optometry schools are very, very competitive. To get into, there’s at least two or three other people trying to get the seat you’re trying to sit in? And the the, I would say probably the better shot you have is looking at some sort of either biology degree, some sort of math degree, or physics or or, which also would be math, basically. Or chemistry. I think those are the stronger MathType I mean, science based type programs. I had a classmate that had early early childhood education degree.


Lisa Marker Robbins  21:46

And well, I was gonna say, Yeah, I you know, we had a previous podcast episode, which actually, it makes sense to link to in the show notes. And it was really about for students who were thinking about med school, but we sort of turned it into healthcare careers period, which this would qualify. In the woman I talked to her she’s an independent educational consultant that support students in applying to medical school. And she made the point, you know, these days, which is this wouldn’t have maybe flown earlier for medical school, school in particular. You can major in anything, but you’ve you just have to get those prerequisites and get in earn the grades. So if you want to get a music degree, then you could do that. So it works the same way. Really? Exactly. Yes. So like, what advice do you have you gave some advice, like, do a job shadow? I would say, keep your grades up in math and science. Yes. What other advice do you have for somebody who’s considering it? Or are there particular challenges that you encounter that you’re like, you know, if this doesn’t sit well with you, then you might want to think twice.


Ted McElroy  23:04

So if I remember correctly, I’ve heard you speak on your shows before about making sure some of the courses that you need, and may not necessarily be prerequisite courses, but courses that would be really helpful for you are offered in your place you’re planning on going to, and you know, making sure you have an opportunity to get those. A mistake both Hank and I made was not taking anatomy in undergraduate. And it made it wicked hard when you got into optometry school. I mean, that was probably when, quite frankly, it almost cost me my education. Because of some of the challenges that I had my first year in optometry school. I, you know, got dangerously close to looking at not being able to stay, because I had such a rough time with it, because it was just not part of, you know, the education that I’d had it was a foreign language almost like for me going through. And that sounds silly. No, so much.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:03

I don’t think it does. I mean, I was recording another an earlier episode today. And we were talking about great GPAs and how colleges or college admissions look at GPAs. And the IEC that I had on she made the point of like, a lot of kids are applying to college with only three sciences in those three being biochem and physics. Anatomy and Physiology would probably be a really great one to even start in high school if you’re thinking of any career in healthcare, but it sounds like it’s not a prerequisite to go into optometry school. And then but it’s like I had somebody on recently, she was talking about careers and social work. And so being a licensed clinical social worker, which is a master’s degree, and I said how you know, do you have to get an undergrad and so Social Work to get into a master’s in social work. And she said, know that you’re going to have a lot easier time. So it’s really the same thing like what are you going to be expected to do? So that’s really great advice on the anatomy piece. And


Ted McElroy  25:15

the other thing I would say is, and this didn’t happen to me quite as tough as it did to Hank. But I mean, your advisor is your advisor, your advisor is not going to school for you. So make sure that you are looking at what’s required of you not expecting your advisor to tell you what is required of you, because they’re not just dealing with you. They’re dealing with every other student, they got to take care of too. And stuff just gets missed. And it’s not their fault. I mean, it really isn’t it is, it is your fault for not seeing those kinds of things, I think went into his one of his interviews with one of the schools and he came out saying, you know, well, they were said I was I was missing this course, my buzzer never told me about that I go, man, your advisor is not the one that’s going to school. You are that’s kind of on you. You got to figure that out. Yeah.


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:05

Is that common? I know, for students heading into medical school, it’s common to take a year off between undergrad and medical school, and actually a lot medical schools almost expect that to happen. Most students take that off. Do you know or through Hanks experience? Do you know, like our students going straight from undergrad into the is three years of optometry school or which is for


Ted McElroy  26:35

four years? Yes, four years ago, just it again, it is literally just like medical school, you know? And that’s been the case? Well, as long as I’ve been involved with it, so at least 30 plus years. I mean, I know it’s been longer than that, actually that but yeah, it’s, you know, you got to know that kind of stuff. Right?


Lisa Marker Robbins  26:53

You have to go and I was recently talking to a student who’s getting ready to graduate with a business degree, and thought she had everything covered for her minor and wasn’t going in and meeting with her advisor at college. And now she’s going to have her degree, but she’s not going to have the minor that she thought that she would have. So yeah, that’s a universal no matter what, what career you’re thinking of.


Ted McElroy  27:21

So at least when it comes to gap years, that is something that is becoming very much like med school and law school where they’re asking students to consider doing that it is not a requirement. My son was asked to do a gap year from one of the programs he checked in with and he didn’t want to do it. He went straight in and that first year was hard, you know, and I think he might have had a little bit easier go at it. I know I would have had a much easier go at it. That was definitely not something that was going through the minds of our professors when we were going through school. But so I graduated from undergraduate from Georgia Southern College, not University, as it is now now, in the summer of 1989. And I started optometry school in the summer of 1989. I had a week I break between graduation and starting optometry school. And that’s a lot. That’s


Lisa Marker Robbins  28:21

a lot. Ted, any parting words of advice or words of wisdom?


Ted McElroy  28:29

You know, it’s this is one of these things that if you’re planning on doing this, I would do it because you love it. optometry is not going to make you rich medicine is not going to make you rich. You know, a Hertz. You know, you’ve heard this phrase before, people say, well, they don’t ever, they don’t pay me enough to do that job. There’s never a job they will pay you enough to do. You know, it is about doing it. Because you care about people because you want to take care of people. Probably some of the biggest things that I’ve done in this exam room had nothing to do with their eyes. It was sitting and listening to them talking about, you know, the loss of their spouse, or, you know, the excitement they had watching their son graduate from high school or this trip that they took. Those are, those are probably some of the bigger things. And that’s really what keeps bringing people back into this exam room. For me, it’s because we have an opportunity to become, you know, brands so to speak. I don’t you know, go out and have dinner with him. But once a year, we have a great conversation about what’s going on with our life. And sometimes that involves their eyes


Lisa Marker Robbins  29:32

out you’re, I know you’d be a very caring friend and individual and I know that is why they come back and they and why you’re working so hard. You’ve talked about how busy you are at work and it’s like because, of course they would want to come get their eyes examined by you. So thanks, Dad for making the time and just shedding some light on a new career for students to think about. My pleasure. Thank you As we close out today’s career close up on optometry with my friend Ted Miguel Ray, it’s evident how much optometrists contribute to our well being and quality of life. Ted’s journey and insights have illuminated the rewarding, yet demanding path of becoming an optometrist. From the academic rigor to the joy of enhancing a person’s ability to see the world more clearly, for parents and students. Inspired by today’s conversation, and seeking further guidance on navigating the journey toward finding the right career major in college, we have a free resource designed just for you. Our free on demand video offers comprehensive guidance on supporting your team in these pivotal decisions. You can find this valuable tool at flourish coaching co.com forward slash video, and I’ll put the link to it in the show notes. It’s a step toward empowering your team with the knowledge and confidence to pursue a career path. Thank you for joining us on College and Career Clarity. Sharing this episode following the podcast and leaving a review helps us reach more families like yours, equipping them with the insights to launch into a successful future. I’m Lisa marker Robin’s reminding you that guiding your team toward their ideal career path can be a clear and rewarding journey with the right support and resources. Let’s continue to explore and discover together