A Sit Down – with Dr. Carole Burns
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. Carole Burns
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I am blessed to practice in Columbus, Ohio with 8 incredible partners. We staff three locations including a pediatric only practice which offers primary care as well as vision therapy.
My partners each have diverse backgrounds so that we are able to meet the needs of many patient populations. Not only do we treat typical cases including those patients with binocular vision problems, visual perceptual challenges and those needing sports vision enhancement, but we also treat complex cases including those patients with developmental delays, autism, and traumatic brain injury. We are able to offer myopia control including corneal reshaping therapy coupled with vision therapy. At the completion of vision therapy we have the ability to offer processing and cognitive enhancement therapy and phonemic awareness intervention. One of my partners, Dr. Kristyne Edwards, has a background in clinical research and she is now working closely with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Foster Children. This national foundation is based in Columbus and with her help, this underserved population is beginning to receive needed vision therapy. The ultimate goal will be for all foster children in America to have access to a developmental optometrist.
What led you to Developmental Optometry?
At The Ohio State University College of Optometry, Dr. Marcy Rose was my roommate and my best friend. Her father, Dr. Tom Rose is a past president of COVD. Dr. Tom Rose introduced us to Dr. Donald Getz. Drs. Getz and Etting were kind enough to allow us to intern in their incredible practice inVanNuys California during the summer of 1983. This experience included working with Lara McGraw in the therapy room and it not only taught me how to help patients, it also changed my life. After that summer I decided my practice would be centered on vision therapy. The next year I was accepted into the SUNY Vision Therapy Residency and there learned from Dr. Len Press, Dr. Shelly Mozlin, Dr. Harold Solan, Dr. Martin Birnbaum, Dr. Irwin Suchoff, Dr. Nat Flax, Dr. Israel Greenwald, Dr. Elliot Forrest, Dr. Bob Duckman, and Dr. Tim Petito. As a SUNY resident, I was offered two of the most exciting learning experiences, we were invited to “Live a week of Optometry” in the home of Dr. Robert Kraskin and to spend a week with Dr. Bob and Linda Sanet in Lemon Grove California. These incredible opportunities have enabled me to create my own vision therapy model which combines all of my learning experiences.
After graduating optometry school, did you open an office cold?
After graduating from optometry I completed my residency in pediatrics and vision therapy at SUNY. After returning to Ohio, I worked part time for Dr. Mark Wright who had one of the largest vision therapy practices in Ohio. At the same time, I opened a practice cold approximately 30 minutes away. Soon after opening my new practice, Dr. Wright and I combined our two office locations into a single corporate entity which allowed patients to be seen in either location. A few years later, we decided to combine our personal lives as well and we were married in 1991.
Your office is named “The Solution Center”, which is absolutely brilliant! Can you explain how you came up with the name and why it is significant?
Thank you! We opened The Solution Center 10 years ago because we realized we needed more space for our vision therapy patients and their families. Our primary care location had its parking lot filled to capacity and since vision therapy patients bring their entire families to every visit, we soon had no seats in our reception area. When moving pediatric and vision therapy patients two miles from our primary care practice, we wanted everyone to know that this new location was unique. Since we receive numerous referrals from professionals and since we treat all types of challenges, we decided to concentrate on the endpoint and call our center, The Solution Center.
Being a mom and a business owner takes a lot of skill, and probably even more energy. Now that your kids are teenagers, can you describe how you’ve managed those two worlds simultaneously over the years?
We created a private practice where every partner is not only a doctor but also in charge of an administrative portion of the practice. By separating out these two responsibilities, when in the office we are there only to see patients. It is after hours when wearing jeans or even pajamas that the executive functions are completed. This separation enabled each of us to determine how much direct patient care fit into our lifestyle. After our children were born, I elected to see patients 20 hours a week. This enabled me to home educate our children and to be a business owner during the remaining hours in the week. It is a beautiful model that I suggest all optometrists consider. It allows you to meet patient needs and keep your personal priorities a priority.
Aside from running a successful practice, you’re also an assistant clinical professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry. At this point in your career, how important is it to you to teach, and to share the knowledge you’ve gained?
Being affiliated with The Ohio State University is a wonderful gift. I am able to guest lecture in many didactic courses and our office is an intern site for optometry students. By hosting the students in our office we are able to influence the future of optometry in the same way Drs. Getz and Dr. Etting influenced my career choice.
During your recent presentation at COVD’s Annual Meeting, you spoke at length on identifying different personality types and using that information to better place employees in roles which they can be successful. How did you discover this method and how has it helped?
Understanding personalities has been an integral part of our practice and my personal life for the last 20 years. Learning how personalities affect group performance began in a church class and after seeing how it changed relationships and enabled us to achieve goals in our church, it became an essential part of our optometric practice. By placing the person in the position that allows them to utilize their best personality traits, this makes everyone happier and also improves our office dynamic.
With the many different types of patients in your office, all of which have different needs, how important is it that the entire staff is on board and engaged in making these patients feel comfortable and welcome?
It is extremely important for all staff to learn to respect and love each patient and their challenges, be they doctors, opticians, vision therapists, or administrative team members. Personally, I learned how to evaluate patients with autism from Dr. John Streff. The first time I watched Dr. Streff work with a child who had severe autism, I was amazed. Dr. Streff never looked at the child directly. He sat on the floor next to the child and mimicked his actions and demeanor. Soon the child was doing everything Dr. Streff wanted him to do. I learned that acceptance of their behavior and nonverbal communication are key in working with this population. For this reason, when entering The Solution Center, a patient can do what they need to do without critique. If they choose to roll on the floor or make loud noises, no one asks them to stop or to quiet down. They are accepted unconditionally by each staff member. This then helps patients understand that they and their behaviors, as long as they are non-violent, are accepted.
Children diagnosed with Autism, Aspberger’s Syndrome, or other spectrum disorders often times will do very well with Vision Therapy and show great overall improvements. Can you help us understand why VT is so powerful with this particular population?
One of the main concerns for a patient with autism is over-stimulation. Since 80% of what we learn enters in through our eyes, calming visual stimuli gives us an incredible opportunity to make the most significant impact. Altering how visual information enters the eye through the use of prisms, lenses, filters, and vision therapy allows the patient an opportunity to better control his/her visual over-stimulation. The reason vision therapy changes the lives of children and adults with autism is simple: altering visual input helps improve functional output in day-to-day life.
A question often floated by skeptical parents is “Does every kid you see need Vision Therapy?” What’s your response?
We do not recommend that every patient be entered into a remedial vision therapy program. Although most of our patients have been referred to us because they are not performing up to their potential, sometimes other intervention is more important. Some patients need occupational therapy first. Some patients need lenses only. Some patients may need a behavioral therapist. Each child is recommended for the intervention they need at that point in time.
Is there a time when you feel Vision Therapy should be second or third in line to other treatment options?
Yes, as a parent of a child who underwent multiple therapies, prioritization is critical. It was most important for my son to undergo speech therapy and occupational therapy before vision therapy and cognitive therapy were initiated. If my child was best served by therapy in a specific order, it is appropriate that I recommend that to other parents as well.
Lastly, you employ one of the most gifted Vision Therapists and finest human beings in our profession in Jessi Stevenson. I know you think the world of her, as many of us do. Can you try to summarize what Jessi has meant to you personally, and to your practice?
Jess is absolutely gifted. Because of her talents, I am able to recommend vision therapy for the most involved patients and know they will receive the best because they will be working with Jess. She is able to help the infant who has multiple disabilities and the child with severe challenges due to their autism diagnosis. Jess will be able to serve every patient that needs care because of her talent, knowledge and ability to modify any procedure for every child at that exact moment in time. Personally, Jess is a friend, I love her and her family including her two beautiful children and her husband.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to Dr. Carole Burns for this interview. Anyone around Dr. Burns for more than three seconds will quickly realize that she is such a fantastic mixture of motivation, class and intelligence. My good friend, Jessi Stevenson COVT, works at The Solution Center and often shares how blessed she feels to have Dr. Burns as an employer and on her side. Indeed, we are all lucky to have Dr. Burns among us! Please join me in wishing Dr. Carole Burns, her patients and her family, the absolute best! 🙂