Get to Know Leslie O’Dell, 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 York, Pennsylvania, where I now live and work. I graduated from Salus University's Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 2003. Following graduation, I completed a hospital-based residency at the Baltimore Veteran Affairs Medical Center, where I gained valuable experience in ocular disease with a strong focus on glaucoma. I am a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry; a diplomate of the American Board of Optometry; and a member of the Optometric Glaucoma Society; Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society; American Optometric Association; and Central PA Optometric Society (CPOS). In 2008, I was named CPOS’s Young Optometrist of the Year. I recently was appointed to the board of directors for the Optometric Glaucoma Foundation as well as chair the Clinical Practice Committee of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association.

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

I was on a premed track in college and thought I was going to be a pediatrician. As I got closer to taking the MCAT exam, I started giving more thought to the time and financial commitments that come with medical school and began looking at other specialties in health care. Optometry seemed like a good fit for the work/life balance I wanted in my life.

During my residency at the Baltimore Veteran Affairs, I observed a lot of glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy cases. Following residency, I worked with an ophthalmologist specializing in cataract and LASIK surgery and began to establish my niche in the diagnosis and treatment of dry eye disease. Recently, I transitioned into a group OD practice and focus on diagnosis and treatment of dry eye and ocular disease.

Please describe your current position.

About two years ago I started the Dry Eye Center of PA at Wheatlyn Eye Care, where I focus on the management of dry eye disease. We have had great support from OD colleagues in the area who will often refer patients to us when they see a need for a specialist or specific dry eye treatments, ie LipiFlow (TearScience). My goal is to help rehabilitate the patient’s ocular surface, develop a different treatment plan if needed, and send the patient back to the practice that referred him or her to us for ongoing care.

I am passionate about learning all I can about this area of medical eye care, but I also am eager to share what I have learned. I regularly write for online and print publications and lecture nationally and internationally on topics including glaucoma, advancements in dry eye disease, diabetic eye disease, and the management of surgical patients. I also cohost “She Said, She Said” with Whitney Hauser, OD, on EyetubeOD.

I was recently selected to participate in the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society Dry Eye Workshop II (TFOSDEWSII) initiative as a member of the public awareness committee. I also have been working with Amy Gallant Sullivan, executive director and cofounder of Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society, and Laura M. Periman, MD, looking at cosmetics and their potential risks to the ocular surface.

Who are/were your mentors? 

During my residency at the Baltimore Veteran Affairs, Anthony B. Litwak, OD, FAAO, stressed the importance of continuing education. He encouraged the residents to elevate themselves and each other professionally through case presentations to make us better clinicians. Arthur B. Epstein, OD, FAAO, generously provided advice to help me achieve my goal for more speaking opportunities by encouraging me to spend time writing for publications. Milton M. Hom, OD, FAAO, encouraged me to be involved in research, even in a private practice setting. In private practice, you do not often have the same opportunities to do research as in academic or hospital settings, but our collective group of seven ODs from the United States and Canada have published a number of abstracts over the past few years. Paul M. Karpecki, OD, FAAO, has inspired me to want to further the profession and taught me how to work “smarter not harder.”

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

Meibography is an area of particular interest for me. I like two products from TearScience to help me identify and diagnose meibomian gland dysfunction: LipiView II allows clinicians to visualize and analyze gland structure and function as well as use high-resolution images to educate patients on their level of meibomian gland dysfunction; and LipiScan makes it easier and more affordable for eye care practicioners to assess meibomian gland structure during routine workups. The Meibox Meibographer (Box Medical Solutions) makes it even easier for meibography images to be taken right at the slit lamp. I am also excited about the FDA approval of TrueTear (Allergan) to temporarily increase tear production during neurostimulation in adult patients. Lastly, the area of exposure is growing, and better methods to detect inadequate noctural lid seal as well as protect the ocular surface for these patients is an important addition to our treatment plans. Recently, I have begun to retail night shields by Eye Eco with great patient success.

What advice do you have for your colleagues who want to build, grow their dry eye practice?

It is easy to get excited about the newest technology or product, but I believe it is important to do your own research to see if the data behind them are sound and will benefit your patients. I am currently investigating a number of cosmetics and other products that are used on the face to determine which ones will be less irritating to eyes and surrounding areas. As part of my research, I have reached out to dermatologists for their recommendations.

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

I feel very fortunate that I have a job that I love, and I think that is important no matter what you do for a living. My husband would probably tell you that I work all the time, but it is not work to me because I love to learn new things, help educate my peers through articles and speaking opportunities, and help my patients with their eye health and vision needs. After my second child was born, I scaled back my schedule somewhat, but now that both kids are getting older, I will begin to spend some more time in the office while still being able to have the good work/life balance that attracted me to optometry in the first place.

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

Consider a residency. If I did not do my residency, then I am not sure how my career would be right now. Where you go to school often dictates the types of patients and situations you are exposed to, and a residency can offer you new experiences that will further your development. Also, realize that you cannot necessarily be a jack of all trades. If there are some areas that might not be core strengths, do not be afraid to reach out to colleagues within and even outside your practice. “When in doubt, refer out,” is not a bad thing. I think it does not happen as often as it should in our profession.

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

We see so many patients who have no symptoms, but they could have significant gland loss, so we have been using The Meibox Meibographer, a high-definition slit lamp-mounted meibographer that provides high-resolution images of meibomian glands. It is small and portable, and makes it easier for us to do screenings that I can show and discuss with my patients rather quickly.

Leslie E. O’Dell, OD, FAAO
• director of the Dry Eye Center of PA at Wheatlyn Eye Care in York, Pennsylvania;; Twitter: @helpmydryeyes
• financial disclosure: consultant to Eye Eco and Shire; speaker for Allergan, Genzyme, and Shire