Optometry is growing in the United States, yet it looks different in various parts of the world. In the United States, a Doctor of Optometry degree needs to be achieved in order to practice optometry. In countries such as Italy, France and Mexico, the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree is obtained with options of further specializing by completing the equivalent of a master’s degree. However, the scope of practice in each country looks different, including the inability to perform dilation in some countries something which remains exclusive to ophthalmologists. Given the diverse population present in the United States, understanding these differences becomes important to us given that some patients may have a different perspective of optometry based on where they originate from. If a patient went to an optometrist in their native country for refraction only, then this patient may be surprised when we perform a medical eye exam. It is up to us to try and understand where their understanding of optometry lies, and help educate them about the scope of our profession here in the United States.
Oftentimes, we encounter people who do not seek routine eye care and we think to ourselves the harm that this may cause. However, do we consider the reasons behind this? There could be many, including socioeconomic barriers; but, have you ever considered that perhaps these people were not used to visiting an optometrist, or that they think an optometrist will only prescribe them spectacles the way they would back in their native country? For instance, I have heard stories in which patients do not trust their optometrist with their medical history or question why they need to know about their systemic conditions. There is a strong possibility that in these situations, these patients think optometrists are non medical professionals as a result of how optometry is practiced in different parts of the world. I was once speaking to a French tutor who lived in France. The topic of optometry came up and he shared that he had not been to an optometrist in years. He claimed that with the glasses he had, he could still see perfectly fine, and I mentioned that eye exams look further than just visual acuities. He shared that people don’t seek vision care because it can take up to one year to get an appointment and on top of that, it is often not covered so people are required to pay large amounts to get treated. This made me realize that there are probably people in the United States who have gone through similar experiences, and these can influence their decisions about deciding to get annual eye exams.
Aside from patient education, understanding how optometry looks around the world helps us become united as a profession. Regardless of how the scope of practice looks in each country, we all have one common mission- giving our patients the best possible vision. Connecting with colleagues in different countries opens our perspectives of optometry. Personally, I have been lucky enough to connect with an optometrist in Italy, Dr. Charles di Benedetto. He made a trip to California in 2022 where I organized a visit for him to see my optometry school’s campus. He wished to get an inside look as to how optometry looked in America. In 2023, I had the opportunity to visit Italy where he organized a visit for me to get an insight into how optometry is practiced in his country. I visited his clinic, Centrottica Lucca, in the city of Lucca, located in the Tuscan region of Italy. I found this exchange to be very valuable. I learned new information regarding how vision care is delivered in Italy, where I realized that, similar to the United States, eye care is a team effort between several professionals in order to best serve their patients. In order to learn more about how optometry looks around the world, I often search for information online, read articles, or watch videos that explain how optometry is practiced in a certain country. Given the diversity present in the United States, it becomes crucial for us as future or current optometrists to try and obtain a broader idea of how patients may perceive our profession based on their experiences and where they come from. This way we can understand and better serve our surrounding communities.