We’ve done a lot of Q&A posts here at Double Vision Blog, but this is our first interview with an eye doctor. I’m pleased to introduce Dr. Kierstyn Napier-Dovorany, OD, FAAO, Associate Professor, Western University of Health Sciences, College of Optometry I didn’t just choose a random eye doctor to interview. This is “Kier”, a dear friend going all the way back to our days at Naperville North High School. I love that I can ask her anything eye-related and she will respond with experience, research, and honesty. She has even offered to do the same for our readers. If you have questions for Dr. Kier, post them under comments or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I am an optometrist who works primarily in geriatrics and vision rehabilitation (aka, low vision). I’ve been working in vision rehabilitation for 8 years. Currently, I work at a university and I also teach the courses for vision rehabilitation and geriatrics, among others, and I do research investigating people with visual impairments and their balance.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue optometry?
A: I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into healthcare because I liked helping people and solving problems. I decided on optometry because it seemed like a good fit for me. I became interested in vision rehabilitation during optometry school because it is a unique and challenging field. I’m so glad that I chose this field because it is so rewarding. It completely fulfills my career desires from when I was a kid!
Q: What is the most challenging part of what you do?
A: The most challenging part of my job is helping patients who have not yet accepted their vision loss. These patients are still trying to regain vision that just won’t come back. Another similar challenge is reaching out to patients who are not aware of vision rehabilitation and are under the false impression that “there is nothing more that can be done.” These patients are typically older adults who have recently become visually impaired. It must be very frustrating for your vision to work in a certain way most of your life and then to have it suddenly change. My least challenging patients are often those who have had vision loss since childhood. They usually teach me something that I didn’t know: a new modification, a different use for a device, or how to use a smart phone as an all-in-one low vision device!
It’s nice to have a variety of patients that I see so that I can continue to learn the best way to work with patients with visual impairments.
Q: Is there anything that working at a low vision clinic taught you that you didn’t expect?
A: It taught me that I have a lot more patience than I thought I did. I’m generally a fast paced, hurried person. But I can spend hours with a patient evaluating their vision and solving their problems. I love the relationships that I develop with patients.
Q: What would you say to someone who does not want to return to the eye doctor b/c they’ve had a bad experience? (i.e. a doctor has pitied them, shown ignorance about their eye condition, etc)
A: Find a new doctor!!! It should never be acceptable to see a doctor that you don’t like. I, myself, have changed doctors because I didn’t like the way one treated me. Some eye doctors aren’t very comfortable with diseases that don’t have a clear treatment, which is usually the case for someone who has a visual impairment. Most low vision eye doctors would make a good new eye doctor. They are experienced with working with people with visual impairments; they know about a lot of rare eye conditions; they know how to empathize with patients and mirror their feelings; they truly want to help their patients get through life, not just to manage the disease; they don’t get frustrated when something fails, or a patient isn’t ready to face their vision loss, they just work through it. Ultimately, the patient-doctor relationship must be about mutual respect.
Q: What do you wish more eye specialists / doctors would tell their patients about losing vision?
A: I wish more eye doctors would consider the person behind the eyes. Losing vision is a significant factor in someone’s life-but it does not define a person. Losing vision is distressing-but rarely is it life threatening. Losing vision will cause significant changes to a lifestyle, but it does not limit the individuals potential. I have heard some terrible stories from patients. One that stands out is a mother of a girl with optic nerve hypoplasia from birth who was told when her child was an infant “well, at least you can hold her and love her”. I worked with this young lady when she was 18 years old to help prepare her for the elite college she was about to attend across the country. Thank goodness the mother saw and encouraged the potential of her daughter. Most eye doctors do care about their patients, but sometimes they just don’t know what they can offer to patients with visual impairment. I wish they would offer hope. Share stories of patients with similar conditions who go on living life. Give referrals to vision rehabilitation, mental health, orientation and mobility, etc. Be the advocate for the patient. Give hope for a happy and successful life.