Get to Know Josh Johnston, OD, FAAO

We asked a panel of thought leaders from AOC’s editorial board to nominate optometrists whom they consider to be “Rising Stars.” We tallied the votes and will feature these up-and-comers in every issue.

Please share a little about your background.

I grew up in Austin, Texas. I earned my undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University and then graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry. While in optometry school, I completed rotations at Omni Eye Services in Atlanta, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in San Diego, and the Illinois Eye Institute in Chicago. These rotations gave me the opportunity to gain experience in all areas of eye care.

What drew you to optometry and, specifically, to your field of interest?

I first became interested in and developed a love for health care while in high school. I had occasions to go to the operating room at a local hospital to observe surgeries performed by a friend’s father who was a thoracic surgeon. I entered college knowing I wanted to do something in health care. A friend of mine was pursuing a career in optometry, and I thought it might be a nice career path. After I graduated from college, I took a gap year and worked for an optometrist to see if I would like it. And I did!

Please describe your current position.

I am the clinical director and residency director at Georgia Eye Partners in Atlanta, Georgia. I also oversee and run our dry eye clinic . I am also the founder of Oculus Consulting Partners, which helps doctors and practices develop and improve their dry eye practices. Additionally, I am an adjunct clinical professor at Southern College of Optometry, and I regularly lecture on dry eye disease and refractive surgery.

Who are/were your mentors?

Optometry is a career of learning, and I have always tried to surround myself with outstanding people in our profession. Eugene Gabianelli, MD, the founder of Georgia Eye Partners, was an early clinical mentor. In addition, Kirk Smick, OD, helped me learn much about the professional side of optometry, and Paul Karpecki, OD, encouraged me to get involved with peer education through speaking and writing opportunities. I am also a member of the Optometric Cornea, Cataract, and Refractive Society, and there are so many mentors within that large group who have helped and inspired me.

What was a turning point in your career?

I spent the early part of my professional career in Atlanta in an inner-city hospital setting where I had a lot of exposure to pathology and disease. My wife and I moved to Newport Beach, California, where I served as clinical director of optometric services for the largest ophthalmology group practice in Orange County. Within that practice, I did not have as much exposure to the types of patients I had seen in Atlanta. Not having that type of access to the medical side of our profession left me feeling unchallenged. My interest in dry eye led me back into treating medically. Later, I pursued a fellowship at the American Academy of Optometry and sought opportunities to educate my colleagues by speaking at conferences and writing for journals. My interest in dry eye really resurrected my career. It became a passion, my niche.

What are some technologic advances that you have found particularly exciting? Which advances in the pipeline are you most enthusiastic or curious about?

For years, patients and doctors have been looking for innovations and new therapeutics in the dry eye space. I am really excited about the work being done with neurostimulation through an intranasal device that stimulates a reflex pathway that produces natural tears for dry eye patients. This is a technique common in other areas of medicine, such as pain control and movement disorder treatment, but represents a breakthrough and paradigm shift for dry eye treatment. I hope it will receive FDA approval sometime this year.

What advice do you have for your colleagues who want to enhance their dry eye practices?

Awareness of dry eye has increased, yet many patients remain unaware of the seriousness of the condition and the availability of new treatments. In my clinic, I see many patients who delay treatment or try to self-treat. Practitioners can improve patient care and their practice revenue by taking more direct action in examining for dry eye disease and looking beyond artificial tears to prescribe a therapeutic solution that will treat the disease day-in and day-out. When it comes to dry eye disease, I have found that when I provide the education, rather than my staff, patients are more likely to comply with my prescribed treatments because I am the expert. Carve out some time in the examination lane to educate patients about their dry eye disease diagnosis, and allow them to ask questions.

What advice can you offer to recent optometry school graduates who are in the process of choosing career paths?

The best advice I can offer new graduates is to find a good mentor or several mentors. You can accelerate your learning curve by learning from the mistakes and successes of other people. Find good leaders in your community, whether in your office, your town, or your state organization. Try to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, and as early as you can from them. Be engaged. I did not attend a lot of conferences in my first few years after graduating from optometry school. Do not make the same mistake. Try to stay ahead and be on the cutting edge of new technologies and treatments.

Josh Johnston, OD, FAAO

• Clinical director and residency director, Georgia Eye Partners
• Founder, Oculus Consulting Partners
• Adjunct clinical professor, Southern College of Optometry
• Financial disclosure: consultant to Alcon, Allergan, Bio-Tissue, Johnson & Johnson Vision, and Shire; speaker for Alcon, Allergan, and Bio-Tissue