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    Q&A: Justin Schweitzer OD, FAAO—Cataract, cornea, refractive, and glaucoma surgery specialist

    Ocular disease, Australian licorice, and running 36 miles in 24 hours

    Where did you grow up?

    I grew up in Jamestown, ND, and spent the majority of my early years there. I left Jamestown to attend optometry school in Oregon; that’s the first time I left my hometown. My dad was the administrator at North Dakota State Hospital, and my mom was a physical therapist. My childhood optometrist influenced me as well. I had a very myopic prescription. I spent some time with him through my high school years and then spent time shadowing him in college as well, and that’s really what piqued my interest in pursuing optometry.

    Why ocular diseases and surgical care?

    I started out of optometry school in private practice and in private practice, there’s a variety of things we see. We’re not only fitting contact lenses and glasses, but we’re getting patients who walk in due to corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, whatever it may be. So, I began to enjoy the ocular disease side of things and found out after four or five years in private practice that I wanted to pursue more the surgical side of how an optometrist can contribute and work closer with ophthalmology. An opportunity opened itself at Vance Thompson Vision, and I jumped at it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life from a career standpoint. 

    What makes optometry in Sioux Falls different from bigger metropolitan areas?

    The biggest thing is our patients travel from rural areas. A lot of our patients are traveling 200, 300 miles to see us. That can be a challenge when you’re dealing with ocular disease, especially when you have a patient who you need to see frequently. A bacterial corneal ulcer you want to see in the initial phase once a week. And surgical care, as well. They need frequent follow-ups after surgeries, whether it’s cataract surgery, full-thickness corneal transplants, glaucoma surgery. In a metropolitan area, you’re attracting patients from a much closer radius than what we see.

    Previous Q&A: Michele Andrews, OD—Senior director, North America, Professional and Academic Affairs, Cooper Vision

    What’s your guilty pleasure food?

    Australian licorice. Can’t stay away from it. I don’t eat sweets, never have, but that is something I cannot stay away from. It’s so thick, the flavor of it is much thicker. Wiley Wallaby Australian Style gourmet licorice, that stuff is my weakness.

    What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

    My team knows I’m one of the most competitive people, and I’m competitive in many different ways. I still do a lot of endurance running and triathlons and things like that and that’s to make sure I’m not a bearcat at work all the time because I need to get that competitive urge out of me.

    How can optometry and ophthalmology better partner to improve patient care?

    I think it’s already happening to a degree, and I think everyone is making an effort to make it happen. A lot of integrated meeting are popping up. That’s so important because we’re able to share ideas amongst each other and maybe squash out any myths or perceptions that are inaccurate. Try to get more attendees on both sides so it’s not strictly 80 percent ophthalmology, 20 percent optometry. If we can get it to be more 50/50, that’s one way we can work more closely because sharing ideas is the way to get that moving forward. I don’t know the percentage, but there’s more and more optometry working with ophthalmology within clinical practice than ever before from what I understand. I think that’s a positive showing that things are moving forward with collaboration between the two.


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