The Unconventional Optometrist: Forensic Optometry

I know what you’re thinking.  “Forensic Optometry? What???”

That was my reaction too when I first heard about this field during my undergraduate years at the University of Waterloo (UW) followed by an overwhelming sense of excitement.  You see, I was and still am a little infatuated with forensic sciences.  Television shows like CSI, Dexter, and Bones fed my frenzy.  And back when I was still on the chartered accounting route, I wanted to pursue an Investigative and Forensic Accounting (IFA) designation, just because I thought that would be the closest I would ever get to being a forensic investigator of some sort.

What I found out was that there is currently only one court-recognized forensic optometrist in Canada, Dr. Graham Strong, who is also a professor at the School of Optometry at UW.  I learned about Dr. Strong’s involvement in homicide investigations and the existence of Forensic Optometry from a 1999 school news release that I stumbled upon some time during my bout of procrastination in third year.  I found it fascinating how Dr. Strong was able to link a pair of glasses — the only physical evidence left behind at the scene of the crime — to the suspect in question-based on how the glasses were made and how they were worn.  You can read more about Dr. Strong’s experiences in the article he wrote for Optometric Management.

By now, you’re probably interested and wondering, “How do you become a Forensic Optometrist?”  It’s really easy — relatively speaking — and I have the steps listed out for you below:

Step 1:
First and foremost, and probably the most obvious, you need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from a school that’s accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE).  You should have also successfully passed the board exams set by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) and/or the Canadian Examiners in Optometry (CEO).

Step 2:
Become licensed to practice in your state or province by passing the required licensing exams.  Check your state or provincial optometric association for more information.

Step 3:
Join the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI) and apply for the Certified Medical Investigator (CMI) program.  On the application form, there is an option for you to specify “Forensic Optometry”.  The program consists of five level requirements, each requiring successful completion of an exam before proceeding to the next level.  However, Doctor of Optometry degree holders are qualified to take the fifth and final level requirement and write the level 5 exam without having to complete levels 1 through 4.

The optometry arm of the ACFEI was founded by Dr. Robert E. Bertolli, O.D.  who also established and taught several of the Continuing Education (CE) courses.  Some of these courses include “Forensic Optometry Crime and Disaster Scene Identification” and “Behavioral Optometric Techniques for Profilers.”

Step 4:
Once you’ve earned your Certified Medical Investigator, Level 5 (CMI-V) designation, you need to complete fifteen hours of forensic-related CE credits a year to maintain your status.

Step 5:
Get in touch with your local law enforcement office to let them know who you are and that you’re available to offer your services.

That’s pretty much it!  So, if you’re like me, always striving to do something a little differently, and you have a strong penchant for forensic sciences with a desire to incorporate optometry with the law, then maybe Forensic Optometry is for you.

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