Interview with Dr. Glen Steele: The Future of Optometry and InfantSEE

Curious about what the future of pediatric optometry may look like? Curious to hear what the chair of the InfantSEE program thinks of the future of optometry? Want some advice from a leader in optometry on how to succeed as optometry students?

Dr. Glen Steele, OD, FCOVD, FAAO is the current chair of the AOA’s InfantSEE program, which promotes eye health in infants 6-12 months old through no-cost examinations by optometrists. He is also a professor of pediatric optometry at the Southern College of Optometry. Due to his expertise and leadership in pediatric optometry, I invited Dr. Steele to an interview at Optometry’s Meeting to share his thoughts on the future of optometry.

Dr. Steele explained the benefits of InfantSEE in catching infants at-risk for vision loss and in building a practice by bringing families in. He emphasized the role of the AOA in preserving and improving the future of optometry. Dr. Steele showed great optimism for the future of optometry and wanted all students to realize the opportunities that they have in building the future.

Thank you to Dr. Steele for taking time out of his busy Optometry’s Meeting schedule to share his thoughts with us!

Read the full interview here for more advice and thoughts on the future of optometry:

Q: Dr. Steele, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself, where you practice, and what it is you do.

A: I’m Dr. Glen Steele, and I’m a professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. Was in private practice for a number of years. In addition to being on the faculty at the college, I’ve been actively involved in AOA, COVD, OEP, APHA, a number of different organizations involved in optometry. I would encourage all students to be heavily involved in the profession of optometry. It will become what we make of it.


Q: Can you tell me more of what you do for InfantSEE?

A: At current time I’m national chair for the InfantSEE committee, and our goal is to oversee all the processes that go on with the committee. We started in 2002 or 2003. We launched in 2005. Since the launch, we’ve seen and documented over 100,000 babies that optometrists have seen. In the 85 years prior to that, there were very few babies seen by optometrists. We are bringing that level of care to a population that has never had it before.


Q: What are you most proud of with InfantSEE so far in its young age?

A: I’m most proud of InfantSEE just because we have been able to introduce the care of younger children to the American public. That is huge, because we’re seeing so many babies that have risk factors, many more than we ever expected. You take half of the high risk factors of prematurity and those kinds of thing that go to pediatric OMD right off, and you assume all the risk factors are gone. We’re finding 1 in 10 babies now has a risk factor that needs to be addressed, either followed or through intervetion at that time. So finding those babies who need intervention and need guidance is really a hallmark of our program.


Q: How would you like InfantSEE to grow and what are your goals for it in the next 5-10 years?

A: In terms of growth over the next 5-10 years, we would love to see more providers, and that’s why I encourage all students to transition membership into AOA to become an Infantsee provider. We don’t necessarily know what Infantsee will look like 5-10 years from now, and that’s a good thing because we have the opportunity to create that. I would like to see a more comprehensive childcare program with Infantsee as the respected and known portal of entry, of course with Infantsee being managed by primary care optometrists. That becomes the portal of entry into the eye health system.


Q: We would love to get more students involved with InfantSEE. Can you tell us more about how new graduates can benefit from being an InfantSEE provider?

A: Certainly a new graduate can be involved in Infantsee just as soon as you go into a practice, transition your membership, become an AOA member, and now you bring something that is very unique. Many practitioners, particularly the senior ones, have focused on a complete different level of care. They will be looking to you to bring something new and different into the practice. This is something new and different you can bring in. You bring in a population that you grow with over the course of a lifetime. They don’t come see you now just for a 15 minute exam, they start a process of being with you through their lifetime and your lifetime.


Q: What are the new steps for a new OD to join?

A: As far as being able to sign up to be an InfantSEE provider, the main thing you need to do is simply to contact InfantSEE in St. Louis (part of AOA Optometry Cares foundation), and say I want to be a provider. They will then send you an agreement, you sign that agreement that says at this time that basically if you want to be a provider, you must provide that service for all babies, not just pick and choose. You provide the service. If you want to get education, there are many venues for education throughout the country. It is simply a matter of saying I want to be an InfantSEE provider, and then you agree to see all babies that come in between 6-12 months of age without charge.


Q: As a professor of pediatric optometry, what are your recommendations for students to get more involved within the field, learn more outside of the usual coursework and become excited for InfantSEE in general?

A: There are two things I encourage you to do. One, learn to interact with your patients. Learn what their needs are, learn what they do. As you learn what they do, that will help you begin to prescribe to them differently. Be able to achieve the level that some of the senior docs have because they know and understand patients. The second thing is be involved in organizations. You have the opportunity to shape how optometry will be practiced, but you can’t do that if you’re not involved. There are so many organizations, besides AOA that involved pediatrics. OEP, COVD. There are a number of different organizations that you can be involved in. Get involved. You’ll find your niche. It’s finding what you enjoy doing. Make that commitment, that’s the hardest part for students because you’ve been fed for so many years in an educational process, and now you have to step out and be involved and take a leadership position.


Q: Do you find that optometrists who are more involved tend to be more successful financially, in personal life, and overall happiness?

A: It’s like anything else you do. Yes, I find them to be more successful, more wiling to be able to help, to help students, fellow practitioners, their community, more willing to be involved. That gives you a sense of satisfaction that tops anything else that you can do in life.


Q: Things in optometry are always changing. There is a whole health care reform going on. Can you tell us about how Infantsee will change with the new pediatric eye care benefits in this health care reform?

A: I’m pleased that InfantSEE has been a part of, not the whole thing, a part of the presentation that was made to achieve the essential benefits because we see 1 in 10 babies with risk factors, and those babies are being found. How does it go now as we go into the next phases of the ACA? We don’t know how that will shape out, but we are in the process of looking at that. We had a meeting at Optometry’s Meeting to explore a number of options, going forward, looking at an age cohort of 0-3 and then 3-5. Those match where the other organizations that we are collaborating with, that matches the age that they look at. If we look at 6-12 months and they look at 0-3, we don’t mesh very well. We try to get into a position how do we mesh with other organizations.

Two, InfantSEE is now no charge. Now that there is a pediatric benefit for that, do we continue it as a no charge exam or do we you get paid for it? Once we raise the awareness level a bit more to where InfantSEE is part of a culture, then InfantSEE just becomes a portal of entry rather than a specific program. We are looking to how do we extend the whole process beyond just that 6-12 months. We have a whole generation of doctors comfortable seeing babies and younger children, and it is taking those next steps. We don’t know what they are. We don’t know what the ACA will be in 2015, but we are working to make plans to be able to integrate and utilize the promotion they will be making to promote our programs.


Q: How does the AOA plan on increasing awareness of pediatric optometry so that new graduates out of school can rely on having a patient population base that is more infant and children based?

A: What the AOA is doing to be able to increase the awareness to me is what InfantSEE becomes. It becomes  a program whereby we start with that early age, increasing the awareness, and further continue to increase that awareness. We now have collaboration with some 30-40 organizations outside of Dr. Glen Steeleoptometry that we never had before. That is another thing InfantSEE has done. Text 4 baby. Healthy mothers, healthy babies – that was an ad. Zero to Three poster this fall. These organizations we have yet to be involved with. So now as we go to those organizations and the people that attend those meetings are in those communities, they come to you and seek you out as the responsible resource of managing all those kinds of areas. So it not only is promotion through AOA, but in collaboration with other organizations that are not just in AOA, they’re outside of that and they’re in your local communities so you become a local resource for them.


Q: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for students still in optometry school?

A: I have a number of last words for students but primarily it’s that learning never stops. If you stop learning, then the world is going to pass you by. But I find those that are involved, learning is not an issue at all. And then get involved. Get involved in the profession. You have the opportunity to make the profession what it can be and the direction you want it to be. The good news is we don’t know where that will take us. The better news is we have the opportunity to be part of shaping that.


Q: We’ll play a word association game. I’ll say a word, and you say the first thought that comes to your mind.


Future of optometry – future of optometry, the door is wide open for us. We’ve got to walk through it.

Optometry students – the lifeblood of our profession. You are the ones that have the opportunity to walk through that door and shape the future.

AOA – the mother organization. First become a member of AOA. Because regardless of the privileges you have and you think that you have now, those can be taken away, and those should be protected by every means possible, for your patients. You have privileges now that I didn’t have when I started into practice. And you have those privileges just upon graduation. Utilize them, protect them, and that is what AOA can do for you.

Pediatric optometry – so many people think that is a specialty. If you go into a regular, general practice, you have everything from babies to geriatric patients. Think of pediatrics not as a specialty but something I do every day.

Health care reform – the unknown part. It is a big unknown. There’s an opportunity to shape that.

Public health awareness – so important. Be involved in organizations outside of AOA, to raise awareness of what an optometrist does beyond simply selling glasses. Yes, that is a major part of it, but there are so many other things we do that relates to the health of the public.


Thank you, Dr. Steele, for the interview!


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