The Tale of Two Ph.D.s From Princeton

I love Princeton University.  It is a venerable institution in the state in which I reside and practice.  It is home to the Institute for Advanced Study that attracted such luminaries as Albert Einstein.  Its Ph.D. programs have produced such literati and cognoscenti of vision as Susan R. Barry, who revolutionized our understanding of Optometry and Vision Therapy from both a patient’s perspective and a scientific foundation.

Thank goodness for Sue Barry’s book, because there is another publication by a Ph.D. from Princeton who does a brilliant job of explaining vision, but a poor job of explaining Optometry.  I’ve had my eye on this book since its publication in 2004, but never got around to reading it. After seeing it cited in a seminar I attended a couple of weeks ago, I ordered it.  Its author, James T. Enns, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada with a Ph.D. from Princeton, and a Distinguished University Professor at the University of B.C. in the Psych Dept. and Grad Program in Neuroscience.  The book begins brilliantly, stating the case forcefully that the process of vision is a totality in which the distinction between eye and brain is an artificial one.  It is a perfect complement to the guide I co-authored for the AOA on Vision as a Collaboration of Eyes and Brain.  We wrote that paper as an antidote to the misinformation from organized and dys-organized ophthalmology, essentially dismissing much of vision therapy because it addresses functions in the brain rather than in the eye.  Much of the book will take your breath away in a very positive sense, its insights into the visual brain quite illuminating.  On pages 18 and 19, however, comes a distinction for the public between ophthalmology and optometry that is virtually out of the dark ages.

Page 18 begins with the heading “Ophthalmologists and optometrists”.  After two paragraphs explaining what ophthalmologists do in detail, Enns writes: “People are often confused about the relation between ophthalmology and optometry.  The main difference is that ophthalmology is a specialty of medicine whereas optometry addresses screening for vision problems and prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses.”  So much for clearing up the confusion. As much joy as I have in celebrating revelations like Katie Johnson’s book touting the phenomenal work done by developmental optometrists, there is the reminder of how even highly educated people in the field of vision with their Ph.D.s from Princeton can be highly myopic about what we do.  Is it any wonder the public is confused?

4 thoughts on “The Tale of Two Ph.D.s From Princeton

  1. Dr. Press,

    Fully agree that degrees do not equal enlightenment, or awareness. It is possible, however, that the author’s own experience with optometry and optometrists would lead to this rarified view and definition (not all ODs provide the comprehensive care or service offering that behaviourists tend to do). Would you do us all a favour and provide your own thoughts on a better definition of optometry? Many thanks.

    Dr. Charles Boulet

  2. Sure, Charles, though I suspect you’re getting testy because I called a fellow Canadian on the carpet. Here’s a simple definition of Optometry: “A Doctor of Optometry is a healthcare provider who examines, diagnoses, treats and manages diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eyes and associated structures as well as diagnoses related systemic conditions.” That’s a defintion readiliy available to Professor Enns at:

    • “I suspect you’re getting testy because I called a fellow Canadian on the carpet” Not at all, Len, evidence shows even Canadians can be deficient – let me know if you need the reference! (I’m actually a little embarrassed that someone so well educated yet so lacking in awareness can be on faculty in such an esteemed school. How could he be so limited in his view when clearly there was some research put into the book? Having said that, Princeton IS an American school… ;-) )

      Truth is truth and knows no borders.

      Keep up the great work, Dr. Press.

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