Black Eye Doctors Examine the Role of Race in Optometry
Webinar hosted by SUNY Optometry is the first of a two-part series focusing on the Black perspective and experience in vision care
Advancing Black student and professional representation in the optometric profession was the focus of “Race in Optometry: An Honest Conversation,” a live webinar featuring an elite panel of Black optometrists covering the issues that impact and impede people of color in academia, industry, and professional associations.
Organized by the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry Office of Continuing Education on July 1, the webinar was part one of two on the topic that focused on the Black experience in optometry featuring expert insight from the founders of the Black Eyecare Perspective, Drs. Darryl Glover and Adam Ramsey; SUNY Optometry adjunct faculty member and attending optometrist at BronxCare Health System, Dr. Joy Harewood; President of the National Optometric Association and Chief of Advanced Ophthalmic Care at Nova Southeastern College of Optometry, Dr. Sherrol A. Reynolds; and Clinical Director of the University of Waterloo College of Optometry, Dr. Andre Stanberry.
“What are the reasons for the lack of representation in optometry,” opened SUNY Optometry Assistant Chief of Primary Care, Dr. Matthew Bovenzi, who served as co-moderator of the forum with Assistant Clinical Professor, Dr. Delaram Shirazian. “We want to amplify that voice.”
Statistics shared at the start of the forum reinforced the call to listen, learn and take action.
Compared to other health professions, optometry continues to lag in attracting underrepresented minorities. Out of 13.4% of Americans who identify as Black, only a little more than 3% of the community is represented in optometry school including just 3.8% of faculty. Outside of academia, Blacks account for below 2% of practicing optometrists. The panelists point to mentoring as a critical factor in boosting Black community reach, recruitment, and representation.
“Much of my time spent in [optometry school] I was the only Black male student…in fact, many people mistook me as staff,” recalled Dr. Stanberry who served as president of National Optometric Student Association while a student at SUNY Optometry. “It is the challenge of being the ‘only’ or ‘other’ going through the program—that’s why representation is important. You believe you can become what you see."
Fellow eye doctors and panelists Drs. Ramsey and Harewood emphasized that not only mentoring but also implementing defined, results-oriented steps for Black inclusion and advancement is vital for success.
“If there is no targeted approach specifically for Black people, we won’t reach them—we need a plan,” expressed Dr. Ramsey. “We have to clearly articulate the problem and clearly articulate the solutions.” Dr. Harewood added: “There is no excellence without diversity. It is not only good for Black students it is good for the entire class. There are different voices and questions in a diverse class, students can obtain a richer experience.”
From the classroom to the clinic, raising the bar of minority representation in the optometric profession also translates to improved patient care, explained the panelists who highlight the importance of having a pool of doctors who look like and represent the community they serve as necessary for better care delivery—cultural competence plays an important role. In fact, research from the National Institutes of Health reveals that health providers of color are more likely to treat minority patients and practice in underserved communities. Sharing a racial or cultural background with a doctor helps to promote communication, compliance, and trust.
“My passion for giving back and caring drove me into the profession. It’s why it is so important to raise awareness by starting young, in middle schools and high schools…we can help students understand what the profession is all about by cultivating relationships with them and their schools,” said Dr. Reynolds, a leader in the field for more than 20 years. “It takes effort and work to make the profession more diverse.”
Dr. Glover, a product of pipeline programming at Salus University (formerly known as the Pennsylvania College of Optometry), agreed. “Without summer enrichment, I would not be here today,” said Dr. Glover, who has held every position in the vision care field including eyewear consultant, optometric technician, office manager and eye doctor. “My skin tone does not mean I am not knowledgeable or do not have what it takes to be a great optometrist.”
To view part one of the webinar series on “Race in Optometry: An Honest Conversation,” visit Race in Optometry (Part 1). For information about the next webinar, contact the SUNY Optometry Office of Continuing Professional Education by emailing email@example.com.