The Rural Optometrist – Part 1- Tips4EyeDocs Weekend 28-29 Jan 2012 – No 38.

Rural or country optometry may look different in any state of the United States or any province in the world.  In many respects, what someone thinks is rural in one part, another might think it is big city. There is no getting around it, though, if there is farm land or pasture as far as the eye can see, then it’s rural.  This is the first of a series of what rural optometry may look like and how it may be an attraction for future optometrists.

To begin, rural optometry is a lot more varied than probably any suburban and many urban practices. Problems range from the common to the uncommon. The opportunity to manage trauma will vary but most of the time, a patient with trauma will be in the office at least once a day. Whether it’s a cow hoof hitting the face or wild grape machine running amok and hurling grapes at unaware workers, being able to manage these different kinds of trauma is key.  And don’t think that rural patients are immune from glaucoma or diabetes. It occurs there too. Of course, they also need glasses and contact lenses.

Secondly, intraprofessional relationships between optometrists and physicians are also diverse. There are a few physicians who will openly welcome another health care provider. And yet there are still also a few physicians and ophthalmologists who will continue to avoid working with an optometrist. The reasons are secretive and navigating the relationships to produce even a neutral and begrudging acknowledgement of your skill will take patience.  There are few alternatives and getting off on the wrong foot unnecessarily will make for long summers and longer winters.  Meticulous care of your patients will always stand you in good stead to any physician who hasn’t seen what an optometrist can do.

Lastly, patient management and control requires a understanding of the everyday life of a patient. Their visual demands may be new to you, but understanding them will prevent unnecessary visits or complaints. About follow up visits; some patients don’t live five minutes away.  Therefore, frequent follow up appointments with no particular design or purpose will produce skepticism on the part of the patient; a sure fire way to obstruct good doctor-patient relationships.  So long that the relationships is not taken for granted; a rural patient will always appreciate the care and attention they receive.

In summary, rural optometry, professionally, is challenging and yet quite satisfying.  If relating to a patient is important, there is no better venue than rural optometry.

About Richard Hom OD, MPA

Dr. Hom holds Doctor of Optometry and Masters in Public Administration degrees and practices family eye care and consults on public policy, health information technology and program evaluation.
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4 Responses to The Rural Optometrist – Part 1- Tips4EyeDocs Weekend 28-29 Jan 2012 – No 38.

  1. A very astute summary of rural practice Richard. I’m the only OD in a town of 1400 and keep busy with 6000+ population nearby. The nearest OMD or OD is at least 50+ miles away. Two local medical clinics with MDs and NPs send over red eyes or FB injuries. It is about time to retire and I’m finding that most practice buying ODs have a phobia towards rural practice. Maybe your series will encourage more ODs to consider of the advantages of a rural practice.

  2. stlueyedr says:

    What’s your opinion on “rural” in different parts of the country. For example, would you equate southern rural with similarly populated areas in the eastern, western and northern parts of the country? Would the type and extent of their eye care needs vary given that their daily activities might be different? For instance, you mentioned a grape machine accident but in the south different crops and the methods of tending them could lead to fewer or more injuries.

    • Bob,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I know that rural means a bit different in different parts of the country.

      By the way, I was born in Mississippi and spent a year in rural Georgia (peanuts and paper} so I’m familiar with at least three kinds of rural life.

      Rural doesn’t have to mean farming. It could be forestry, fisheries, etc. It really means where a lot of civilization isn’t. There isn’t a four-year college within one hour of where I practice. The hospital is 25 beds.

      It is true that the kind of work will dictate the kind of patients one will see. If there are a very large farms, then there is likely to be a lot of machinery. If there are a lot of delicate farming where machinerhy is not likely then there are a lot of potential injuries related to personal action.

      Hope this answers your question.

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