A Sit Down – with Dr. Ida Chung

This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.

A Sit Down with – Dr. Ida Chung

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For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?

After obtaining my doctor of optometry degree from the State University of New York College of Optometry, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in vision therapy/developmental vision. Because of my desire to teach, I enrolled in a pediatric and vision therapy residency program at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University.

What led you to Developmental Optometry?

My interest in developmental optometry probably started with my own functional eye problem that progressed into development of myopia (nearsightedness) when I was a teenager. I had a condition called convergence insufficiency, an inefficiency in the ability to converge the eyes while performing near activities. Because I was not diagnosed and treated until actually when I was attending optometry school, I compensated to some extent for this functional deficiency and now I am quite nearsighted as a result. After receiving vision therapy, I was able to read more efficiently and even enjoyed reading! And since I had wanted to be an elementary school teacher, I knew developmental optometry, which includes many pediatric patients, was the right specialty. Developmental optometry is taking care of people’s eye and health needs while also evaluating how they effectively and efficiently use their vision.

How did you become a professor at SUNY?

Teaching is something I knew I wanted to do. Teaching the next generation of optometrists is one of the most rewarding experiences, right up there next to the fulfillment gained from helping patients see better or helping patients utilize their visual system more efficiently. How did I end up teaching at SUNY? Actually I was recruited to join SUNY upon completion of my residency. SUNY was expanding their pediatric services, building on their existent vision therapy services, and they were looking for a full-time faculty member. I had the privilege to engage in various activities as a faculty member, including provision of developmental optometric services in community and school-based facilities, and doing pediatric research. Next year I will be joining Western University Health Sciences, College of Optometry (WUCO) in Pomona, California. I look forward to continuing my clinical and didactic teaching at WUCO.

What is the University Eye Center?

Doing research at SUNY is made easy with the large number of patients who are served at the University Eye Center (UEC), the patient care facility of SUNY College of Optometry. The UEC is one of the largest patient care facilities housed in an optometry school, with over 70,000 patient visits annually. Located in the heart of New York City, the UEC services a diverse patient population, including providing developmental optometric services and vision rehabilitation services.

After graduating from SUNY in 1993, why did you choose the area of Pediatric Optometry as your specialty?

Pediatric optometry allows me to help children. What can be more rewarding than to help a child who can’t help themselves? I enjoy playing detective since most pediatric patients don’t know they have a vision problem.

Since you’ve lectured extensively within the topic of pediatric vision, I’d like to ask you a few questions in that area.  First, can you explain your thoughts on the need for early detection and intervention with newborns and toddlers?

I believe every child should have a comprehensive eye evaluation by the age of 12 months. Our understanding of eye and vision development tells us the major visual processes are well developed by 6 months of age, including visual acuity, accommodation, binocular vision, and normal refractive status. The issue we have is families do not know that young children should and can be examined at an early age. That’s why programs such as InfantSEE® exist to educate the public that optometrists are primary eye care providers and stress the importance of early detection and remediation of eye and vision problems.  Since the program’s inception in 1995, over 100,000 infants have been examined by optometrists, many of these by COVD members. Optometrists recognize the need for public health advocacy and education for the need of comprehensive eye exams, which is why optometrists volunteer their services providing a free one-time assessment of infants from 6 months to 12 months of age through the InfantSEE® program. To locate a participating doctor, log onto http://www.infantsee.org.

Questions often arise on the ideal age for Vision Therapy candidates. Many parents will ask if their two year old is too young or if their teenager is too old. What are your thoughts?

If there is a vision problem, it is never too young (or too old) to treat. Prevention of vision problems is key. Early, comprehensive eye exams allow for prevention. A comprehensive eye examination checks not only for the health of the eyes and a determination if corrective lenses are needed, but must include an evaluation of functional vision. Often a functional vision problem found lends itself to treatment with vision therapy. For example, if a child has amblyopia, strabismus, or a convergence insufficiency, the earlier the treatment the faster the resolution of the problem because the visual system is more malleable at a younger age. However, if the vision was not identified or not properly treated when the child was of a young age, then this child should and can be treated at a later age. We now have research demonstrating treatment of amblyopia in older children, such as teenagers, is still a viable option, though the success rate of treatment may be less than if treated at a younger age, and the duration of treatment may be longer.

Strabismus surgery tends to be a polarized topic between Developmental Optometry and Pediatric Ophthalmology.  Some view surgery as a valuable resource if done in conjunction with Vision Therapy, and some view surgery as the only viable option in treating strabismus. Do you feel there are times this type of surgery is warranted? As a doctor, where do you draw the line? 

I recommend the most appropriate treatment for my patient’s particular condition. When a patient presents with strabismus, a thorough evaluation provides the information to determine the best treatment. I will recommend the treatment that is best for the patient, basing my recommendation on the available evidence. Patients may require only vision therapy, or they may require surgical correction alone, or they may benefit from pre and even post-surgical vision therapy. Putting patients first, it is important for all doctors to recommend that best available treatment options. It is unfortunate when doctors don’t recognize and therefore don’t recommend a treatment that is shown to be more effective; surgical treatment or vision therapy are each viable options depending on the patient’s particular condition.

Your passion for Developmental Optometry has taken you beyond your exam room, and even beyond the classroom. Can you tell us more about that?

As a developmental optometrist I find myself in places where there is great need for optometric services. Even in a New York City, where there are plenty of doctors, there are still underserved children. There is not a week that goes by without a request for an optometrist to provide vision screenings to preschool children. Head Start programs require vision screenings for all enrollees. Since pediatricians sometimes can’t properly screen some of these young children, the schools are left to carry out a mandate and thus they seek services. My solution is to have each child go to an optometrist for an eye exam, rather than a screening. What I’ve learned is that parents may not see a need to take the time to bring their children for an eye exam. Why? – Because they don’t see a vision problem. Since some vision problems are hidden, education on the need for eye exams is critical to ensure children receive the care they need.

You have been in practice for close to 20 years.  What advice would you offer new graduates looking to make their mark in Developmental Optometry?

The need for developmental optometrist services is increasing, offering a wonderful future for new graduates with interest in providing these services. Developmental optometrists working with optometric vision therapists provide services in rehabilitation hospitals, private practices, community-based centers, and in academic-based clinics. Beginning in 2014, as part of the Affordable Care Act, a pediatric vision benefit to include a comprehensive exam and glasses will be included in the new plans. This will bring many children into optometrists’ practices. Thus my advice to new graduates is to provide developmental optometric services because patients need you.  Being board certified in vision development and vision therapy as a fellow of COVD will allow you to be recognized for your expertise. As a member of COVD, doctors are listed in the doctor locator section of the website where patients can find developmental optometrists. Go to www.covd.org for more information on the certification process.

At COVD’s recent Annual Meeting in Orlando, you were appointed as President of the organization – a position deserving of incredible congratulations! Why are you so passionate about COVD and why was serving on the Board of Directors so important to you?

COVD provides education and certification for optometrists and vision therapists, ensuring provision of the highest level of functional services. COVD also supports the next generation of providers through its programs for students and residents. COVD is now over 4200 members strong. There members are serving patients every day. Serving on the board of directors allows me to appreciate the passion and volunteerism of the many dedicated optometrists and vision therapists, over 250 of them serve on COVD’s volunteer structure. Like each of them I serve for the same reason – to continue this great organization that started in 1971.

What exciting happenings can COVD’s members look forward to in the next year or two?

COVD will continue with several initiatives, making stronger the board certification process, establishing international chapters to increase patient access to developmental services around the world, and expanding support for research in the area of developmental vision. This year 14 optometrists and 27 vision therapists were inducted as board certified fellows (FCOVD) and certified optometric vision therapists (COVT), respectively. Next October, COVD looks forward to inducting even more FCOVD and COVT candidates at its annual meeting in San Diego, CA.

Beyond your duties as a Board Member, what do you enjoy most about COVD’s Annual Meeting?

I truly enjoy seeing my colleagues and meeting new ones. COVD’s annual meeting is a great meeting for networking. People with a common interest in developmental optometry come together in one place at COVD’s annual meeting. That’s what the meeting is about–people sharing and learning from each other to improve lives. 

Some Closing Thoughts: A great thanks to Dr. Chung for this interview, and again, a large congratulations on her appointment as President of COVD!  Dr. Chung clearly possesses a great passion for optometry, and an even greater passion helping others.  She truly is a class act! Please join me in wishing Dr. Chung and her family the absolute best! 🙂

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Posted on November 15, 2013, in Sit Downs. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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