Get to Know Michael S. Cooper, OD

Please share with us your background.

I was born and raised in Long Island, New York. My father was an engineer and my mother was a nurse. This blending of their analytical and clinical personalities has guided me since childhood. Following graduation from The New England College of Optometry, I joined D’Ambrosio Eye Care, an ophthalmology and optometry practice in Lancaster, Massachusetts, that offered me the opportunity to experience a full range of vision and eye care services, such as diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and dry eye. In 2010, I moved to Connecticut to join Windham Eye Group, another ophthalmology and optometry practice, where I assumed a leadership position within the practice.

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

In my senior year in high school, my Human Physiology teacher asked us to write a paper on a disease. I did not know what to choose. So, I closed my eyes, flipped the pages in a disease handbook, put my finger down, and landed on the chapter on macular degeneration. That was my entry to eye care. I developed a greater interest in eye care while doing pedigree and genetic research on macular degeneration as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. Although my initial focus was retina, I developed a strong interest in treating ocular surface disease, and that has become my niche.

Please describe your current position.

I am the medical optometrist/chief of contact lens services at Windham Eye Group, Willimantic, Connecticut, where I run the Ocular Surface Disease department, managing and comanaging ocular disease patients with my two ophthalmology colleagues. In addition, I write for different publications and speak at the podium at national and regional conferences and state association meetings. I am cultivating a relationship on the research front and have lectured at the University of Connecticut. Furthermore, I am actively involved in clinical studies for anti-infective therapeutics, ocular surface diagnostic validation, amniotic membranes, eye-related concussion implications, and age-related macular degeneration genetic research. I am also an adjunct faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and at Midwestern University’s new optometry program in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Who are/were your mentors? 

John Marabello, OD, at D’Ambrosio Eye Care took me under his wing when I entered private practice. Under his guidance, I learned how to bridge the gap between the medical and business sides of optometry and how to work with confidence at a smart and efficient pace that has allowed me to maintain a nice work/life balance throughout my career. I will forever be indebted to him for his tutelage and friendship.

Early in my career, while doing speaker training for a pharmaceutical company, I had the good fortune to meet Walt Whitley, OD, MBA, FAAO. It was a new experience for me so I was very nervous. I felt that I was not as polished as some of my colleagues and wondered if I should leave. Dr. Whitley took me aside and told me, “You know why you are here. You have the knowledge. You have the expertise. Take hold of that and use it.” Having someone of his stature display that confidence in me was incredibly impactful. He has continued to guide and inspire me throughout my career.

You are a founding member of the Intrepid Eye Society. Can you tell us about this group?

The Intrepid Eye Society is a diverse group of emerging thought leaders in optometry with a goal of promoting excellence and growth in our field. Our members are optometrists in the first half of their career, defined as being at least 1 year but less than 20 years into clinical practice. These doctors are experts in their respective areas of interest and emerging leaders in our profession. Our initiatives include advancement of optometry through innovative thought sharing on topics related to future medical therapeutics, diagnostics, practice development, research and development, and collaborative care with ophthalmology. You can learn more about the society at intrepideyesociety.com.

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

I am intrigued by lubricin (Lubris BioPharma), an ophthalmogical protein that has showed potential as a therapeutic approach to the management of dry eye disease in a small clinical trial.1 It is still under investigation but, from what I have read, it shows promise as a potential new approach to preventing and/or reducing ocular inflammation. Novartis recently purchased the in-license rights to the lubricin molecule from Lubris Pharma for future ophthalmic product development.

I am also excited about what the future holds for different delivery platforms, such as injectables and the Helios ring (Allergan), which is designed for extended drug delivery and for reducing IOP in glaucoma patients. If we can mitigate the need for glaucoma drops with safe and effective extraocular drug delivery therapeutic options, I think it will make it easier for us to treat patients with mild to moderate glaucoma as well as better prepare the ocular surface for cataract surgery, if needed.

What advice can you offer to individuals who are just now choosing their career paths after finishing OD school?

Learn something new every day. Do not let your mind go stale. Continuously read journals. Push yourself in practice to experience new things. Go to national conferences. Disconnect from your practice while you are at these meetings and take the time to learn and share information with colleagues. You are in control of your future, so make sure to own it.

Tell us about an innovative procedure you are performing or a new imaging/diagnostic tool that has improved your practice.

We are the only practice in our area employing technology from Outcome Health. Their Digital Waiting Room Screen engages patients and caregivers with eye care and other important health-related content while they are waiting to be seen. Our examination rooms feature their Digital Wallboard, which features an interactive anatomical rendering that we use to show patients what we are looking at and why and how we are treating it. Some conditions are difficult to explain, and we have found that patients are more engaged and leave their appointment with greater comfort and understanding about their diagnosis and treatment plan when we employ this tool. n

1. Schmidt TA, Sullivan DA, Knop E, et al. Transcription, translation, and function of lubricin, a boundary lubricant, at the ocular surface. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013;131(6): 766-776.

Michael S. Cooper, OD

• medical optometrist/chief of contact lens services at Windham Eye Group, Willimantic, Connecticut
coopeye47@msn.com
• financial disclosure: consultant to Alcon Surgical and Allergan