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    Q&A: Craig Thomas, OD: Optometrist Dallas, TX

    Private practice, diabetic retinopathy, and changing optometric education


    What are the two biggest trends ODs should pay attention to?

    My biggest thing right now is amniotic membrane therapy. It’s growing rapidly, lots of clinical benefits, lots of financial benefits to the provider. My next big opportunity is a different way of diagnosing and treating diabetic retinopathy. I may see 10 patients a day with diabetes. What you also get when you have diabetes is a phenomenon called neurodegeneration. And neurodegeneration is down at the cellular level, structural damage that you can’t see at all, but once the neurodegeneration starts you start to lose visual function. I have begun to teach that there are two kinds of diabetic retinopathy, the vascular kind we’ve been focused on for the past 50 years and the neurodegenerative kind that I learned about six months ago. The only way to assess and detect the neurodegenerative kind is to run a bunch of tests. And you can have neurodegeneration even in the presence of 20/20 acuity.

    How did your CE program come about?

    About 15 years ago, I was sitting at a meeting with Peter Shaw-McMinn giving a lecture. At that time he was the president of the AOA’s Practice Management Committee. After the class I said, “I have a complaint. I’ve been going to optometry continuing education for the past 18 years and not one time have I seen a black optometrist give a class. You’re in charge of the Practice Management Committee. Is there anything you can do about that?” To his credit, he stepped back a second and said, “You got a point here. Let me see what I can do.” He called me a few months later and took me under his wing for a year. That’s how I got started.

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

    [Laughs] I was a Burger King manager for eight years. [Laughs] I would say I’ve been arrested but then people start asking, “Why?” [Laughs]

    Related: Q&A: Rohit Sharma, OD: President, Southern Eye Specialists, Atlanta, GA

    What’s your guilty pleasure food?

    Blue Bell Ice Cream. I eat a cup every night. [Laughs] I grew up on that stuff. It’s like drinking milk. [Laughs]

    What’s one thing you would change about optometry as it stands now?

    Got to change the education. Got to increase the number of patient exposures and the variety of eye disease that the students are consistently exposed to. They come out book smart, but they don’t know anything and they haven’t done anything. Have you heard the saying, “Never be the last eye doctor the patient sees before he goes blind”? That statement when I was in optometry school was pervasive. They would teach you to be scared and to refer to an ophthalmologist. If I was a teacher there, I’d be teaching these guys how to make $2 million a year. They’re afraid to talk about money. If you start talking about money or filing an insurance claim, then some OD will go, “What if you get audited?” You learn not to take responsibility or not want to treat glaucoma in optometry school. You learn to charge extra for dilation in optometry school. In the real world, you can’t survive like that.

    Do you have any regrets?

    That I didn’t get a better education in the beginning and it took me so long to figure it out. If I had to do it again, and I tell students this, rather than buying an existing practice, I would open cold and press my will on my people from Day One.

    What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

    My best friend and optometric mentor Mike Hammond asked me to go to Las Vegas to a contact lens conference. I said, “Mike, I’ll go next time.” Tuesday morning comes and one of my opticians says he was killed in Vegas. He was in a taxi and a drunk guy ran a red light and T-boned them. I’m thinking, There’s no way he would have been running around Vegas without me in a taxi. I had a little Ford Mustang. In this little bitty car if I get hit by some big car, I’m dead. I left the office and drove the Volvo dealership. This is not me. So then I drove to the Jag dealership. I drove a sapphire blue XK-8 convertible right off the lot. It was a big, heavy car. They break down, they’re fragile. So I’m driving my Dodge Challenger now.

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