Get to Know Justin Schweitzer, 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 with us your background.

I grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota. I received my bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Business Administration from Jamestown College. In 2006, I graduated summa cum laude from Pacific University College of Optometry. I completed my residency training in advanced anterior segment surgery care and pathology and glaucoma at Vance Thompson Vision, where I am currently employed. I am a member of the American Optometric Association; American Academy of Optometry; Scleral Lens Education Society; Optometric Cornea, Cataract, and Refractive Society; Optometric Glaucoma Society; and the South Dakota Optometric Association as well as current president of the Intrepid Eye Society.

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

Growing up, I had terrible eyesight. I spent a lot of time in my optometrist’s clinic throughout high school and did some shadowing of his practice while in college. These experiences shaped my interest in optometry as a profession. Upon graduation from optometry school, I started my professional career in private practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After a few years, I knew that I wanted something that would allow me to be more involved in the medical side of optometry. In 2012, I pursued a residency at Vance Thompson Vision focused on anterior segment disease and glaucoma. It included cornea, external disease, preoperative and postoperative cataract care, refractive surgery, and glaucoma. It gave me the opportunity to be integrated into the medical and surgical care of patients.

Please describe your current position.

I oversee and help run a glaucoma and anterior segment clinic at Vance Thompson Vision, where I work very closely with a cornea and glaucoma-trained ophthalmologist in providing specialized glaucoma care and anterior segment care. I am also an adjunct clinical professor at The Illinois College of Optometry, frequently working with optometric interns. I am a frequent contributor to scientific journals and industry publications, and I regularly lecture nationwide on glaucoma and anterior segment surgery and pathology subject matter to my colleagues.

Who are/were your mentors?

There are so many different people who have helped shape my career path through their teaching, guidance, and counsel. John Berdahl, MD, Vance Thompson, MD, and my colleagues at Vance Thompson Vision have taught me so much about anterior segment pathology and glaucoma. I was also fortunate to be trained and educated about pathology by Leonid Skorin, DO, OD, during my internship at the Mayo Clinic. Scot Morris, OD, FAAO, Walter Whitley, OD, MBA, FAAO, and Blair Lonsberry, MS, OD, MEd, FAAO, have all encouraged me to get more involved with peer education through speaking and writing opportunities. Their guidance and friendship have been priceless. Additionally, my fellow members of the Optometric Glaucoma Society motivate and inspire me through their work.

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 very excited about research being conducted to make glaucoma treatment more convenient and efficient for patients. Dosing regimens for traditional eye drops, which have been the go-to medication option for glaucoma, can be difficult to manage or remember for many patients. Different delivery platforms such as drug-eluting contact lenses, punctal plugs that contain glaucoma medication, sustained-release medications, and a bimatoprost-eluting ring insert (Bimatoprost Ring; Allergan), which is designed for extended drug delivery and to reduce IOP in glaucoma patients, all hold great promise to improve patient adherence and quality of life.

What advice do you have for your colleagues about the role of ODs in managing glaucoma?

I think of glaucoma like a large puzzle. We have so many different diagnostic tools available to us today in glaucoma, yet sometimes we fixate on just one puzzle piece: IOP. I encourage my colleagues not to forget about all the other pieces of the puzzle, and to use all the different diagnostic technologies at our disposal such as the visual field, optical coherence tomography images, corneal hysteresis, and pattern electroretinography. We should also make sure our diagnostics make sense with what our eyes are telling us on examination. ODs are equipped better than ever to manage glaucoma because of these diagnostic technologies.

What is a typical day in your life? What keeps you busy, fulfilled, and passionate?

I love the work that I do and the people I get to do it with every day. I am very passionate about collaborative care between optometry and ophthalmology. My colleagues inspire me to work hard and I learn from them every day. The nurses, technicians, and staff who I work with are as devoted as I am about taking good care of our patients and providing them with an amazing experience during every visit. I am also excited by the opportunities to educate other professionals through continuing education lectures and journal articles. Outside of work, I start my day at 5 am with training for triathlons, and I have my wife and children to keep me grounded and fulfilled.

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

There are two pieces of advice I received when I began my career, and I think they are both worth passing on to the next generation of optometrists. First, never stop learning. Things change so quickly in this profession so it is important to be on the cutting edge of new technologies and treatments. Secondly, remain confident when you enter clinical practice. You have been trained and given the tools to take care of people’s eyes. Patients can sense if you are not confident in your skills, so remain self-assured and confident.

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

We see patients who are undergoing various refractive procedures as well as cataract surgery with standard and premium IOLs. We want to address ocular surface disease preoperatively to be sure the ocular surface is in the best possible shape. Being able to image meibomian glands has really changed the way we are preparing patients for their surgeries as it allows us to identify a major component to ocular surface disease, which will affect their outcomes. This has been a welcome addition to our practice.

• cornea, glaucoma, cataract and refractive surgery specialist, Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
• financial disclosure: consultant to and speaker for Allergan