Sondra Black, OD
BMC: When did you decide to pursue a career in eye care?
Sondra Black, OD: I have one of those stories that isn’t the traditional I’ve-wanted-to-do-this-since-I-was-a-child story. But it’s simple: When I was in grade 13 (yes, we have grade 13 in Canada), I told my closest friend that I had no idea what I wanted to do. He told me he was going to the University of Waterloo to become an optometrist. I said, “I think I’m going to come with you.” Honest to God, that’s how it came about.
BMC: When did you realize you had an aptitude for eye care?
Black: I had classmates who did better than I did academically but couldn’t talk to patients. Our clinician-preceptors weren’t happy with their performance, and that’s where I excelled. That’s when I realized that I was in the right field.
BMC: When did you first start collaborating with surgeons?
Black: I had a private practice for 20 years, and, 18 years in, I decided to undergo LASIK. I did a lot of research. I went to all the clinics in the city, and I sat in on a lecture at TLC Laser Eye Centers given by Jeff. After listening to him I said, “He’s going to be my surgeon.”
I began to tell my patients about this life-changing event, and, after hearing it from their primary eye care provider, they decided that they too wanted LASIK. I was referring about a dozen patients per month to Jeff’s practice. I took an extra step by being present with my patients during their surgery, and Jeff noticed things flowed more smoothly when I was there. He called me one day and said, “You’re taking too much time out of your practice to be here, but I don’t want you to step away. Let’s change things around a bit.”
At first, Jeff scheduled my patients on the same day of the month. I could make one visit for a half day per month and still be with all of my patients. He gave me the tools—a pachymeter and topographer—to do complete preoperative workups in my office.
When the first custom LASIK procedures were about to be done in Canada, Jeff asked if we could start working together 2 days a week. In March 2000, I worked up 135 patients for custom procedures, and he operated on every one. After that, we knew we needed to work together full time. No one else was doing this in the early days except for TLC.
BMC: Did you encounter any resistance to this model?
Black: Jeff in particular encountered ophthalmologists who didn’t think working with optometrists was the right way to go, that ODs and MDs were in competition. In reality, we specialize in different parts of eye care, and we do much better when we work together.
BMC: What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
Black: I would tell myself that it is very important that optometry adopt a medical model. I would also say that patients must understand all options available to them. Optometry should ensure that the ocular surface is healthy before making a surgical referral, and all relevant information about the patient should be passed to the surgeon. And I would tell myself to work with a surgeon who thinks like I do.
BMC: If you had to nominate one creative mind in ophthalmology, whom would it be and why?
Black: I’ve said his name plenty of times already: Jeff Machat. He really started the whole concept of comanagement and changed the face of ophthalmology and optometry. n
Sondra Black, OD
• Optometrist and Independent Consultant,
• Financial disclosure: Consultant (AcuFocus, Johnson & Johnson Vision, Labtician Ophthalmics, VGH Canada)