A Sit Down – with Rich Miller
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 Rich Miller
Interviewed By: Melody Lay COVT
For the benefit of our readers, can you describe how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I first became involved in Developmental Optometry in 2007 when I started work as a vision therapist at The Vision & Conceptual Development Center (VCDC) in Washington, DC. The office was founded by Dr. Harry Wachs and is currently run by Dr. Amanda Zeller-Manley and Dr. Mehrnaz Green. I became a COVT in 2010. In the fall of 2012 I started school at the Illinois College of Optometry where I’ve been actively involved in the Pediatrics and Binocular Vision department as well as other departments and student organizations.
How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry?
I actually had never heard of it until I got the job working for Dr. Wachs, Zeller, and Green. I got the job by accident in a way, ha ha. I was living in Japan at the time working as an English teacher with my wife when I had to move home unexpectedly. My wife was able to find a job in education right away but I was having trouble even getting an interview. I eventually found the advert for a vision therapist position at VCDC. I had the experience working with children and the education background they wanted so I applied even though I had no idea what it was I was applying for – I was getting desperate at this point! Dr. Zeller called me in for an interview, I talked with her for a while, observed a therapy session, and then interviewed with Dr. Wachs. This day I will always remember. It was one of those life changing moments that you don’t understand how important it was until years down the road and you realize everything that you have accomplished professionally was because of this one event.
You described a humorous story to me about how your initial interview went with Dr. Harry Wachs, can you share that with our readers?
Yes, it was at the very end of the interview. Dr. Wachs always gave interviewees a visuo-cognitive test in order to judge whether or not they have the potential to provide therapy. He was a big proponent of the idea that you have to be able to understand a concept with great depth in order to help others into that understanding. As therapists we all went through therapy, performed all the procedures, so we knew what our patients were going through. One of the tasks he set to me was a visual logic and receptive and expressive communication problem. He had 10×10 peg board that he had hidden a peg in and I had only 5 yes or no questions to find the exact location of his peg. It looked at creative thinking, deductive reasoning, and the ability to localize objects from another person’s perspective. I was especially proud of myself when I figured it out until Dr. Wachs unveiled his board and the location was off by one spot. At this point I did something that no one should ever do in an interview: I got into an argument with the interviewer. Anyone who knows Dr. Wachs’ personality knows that he has strong convictions. I claimed that he made a mistake; he said I just didn’t hear him correctly. After about 5 minutes back and forth with me explaining every individual step in the process he started laughing. I don’t know if it was because he finally met someone as stubborn as he was, but that was the tipping point for him – the interview was over and the job was mine if I wanted it.
Dr. Wachs is certainly one of the greats in Developmental Optometry. Can you describe what it was like to work with him?
Dr. Wachs is someone you never forget meeting, even if you only had a 5 minute conversation with him. When I tell other ODs that I worked for Wachs I get one of two reactions. The first is an “oh wow, that must have been great.” The second is always my favorite and it always involved a raised eyebrow with the phrase “how did you survive?” I could always tell which person had only heard of him and which one had actually met him. I had said before that he was a man with strong beliefs and he isn’t shy about telling someone that they’re wrong. I’m not sure whether it was similar personality styles and work ethic or my ability to quickly pick up and grasp his ideas and philosophies, but we got along famously. Some of my best times at the office were sitting with him after hours arguing over different ways to approach a patient, why a particular therapy procedure wasn’t working, or explaining a new technique to him that I had developed only for him to tell me it wouldn’t work. I loved to prove him wrong, and I think he did too at times. It really helped me grow as a therapist.
Discovering Developmental Optometry as a therapist first put you on a trajectory toward becoming an OD yourself. Share with us what influenced your decision to take that step.
I loved being a therapist, I really did and I have to give a big thank you to all of you out there that are lifelong therapists. I am an extremely independent person and while I was given a huge amount of responsibility and independence from the doctors at the practice (much more than most other therapists I’ve talked to), I just wasn’t satisfied being an “employee.” The logical next step was to become an OD and have a practice of my own. The doctors at the practice gave me tons of encouragement and support. I also received an incredible amount of support from the other local VT docs. We would all meet once a month at different offices to discuss interesting cases and would have the occasional speaker. They were thrilled when I was accepted to optometry school.
What encouragement can you share for either a therapist going through the certification process or students entering optometry school?
The answer to this question is very similar to a speech I gave to the new first year class back in august. You started this process for a reason. Before you began certification or applied to optometry school you had some motivation for doing so. Can you remember that reason? It’s difficult sometimes as you’re prepping your open book questions, or filling out applications forms and studying for the OAT. It’s easy to forget and only focus on the frustrations. As you find yourself losing focus I want you to pause and try to remember the original motivation. Whatever the reason, it’s meaningful to you, and let that meaning guide your work. At the end of the day, you can ask yourself “were my thoughts, actions, and habits guided by my meaning, or was it influenced by an external source?” You can watch that speech here:
You are also the COVD national student liaison, what does that entail?
All of the schools and colleges of optometry in North America have a student branch of COVD. This student organizations helps educated and spread the word of vision therapy and rehabilitation to optometry students – a subject that is too often glossed over by both students and faculty due to the ever increasing nature of a more medically centered model of optometry. I was chosen to be the sole representative of every optometry student in the United States and Canada to COVD’s wonderful board of trustees and the group at large. My job is to help the other student leaders at their respective schools build their groups and to relay information from COVD to other students.
Upon completion of your doctorate, you will have a unique perspective of working as a COVT first. Will that change the way you interact with therapists in your future practice?
I think I’m very fortunate in that regard; it’s an experience very few have. Therapists have a completely different set of interactions than the doctor. They spend 10 – 20 hours with a patient for every one of mine and that makes their insight invaluable. I’ve talked with therapists that are in situations where the doctor will re-evaluate a patient after so many therapy sessions and pretty much dictate to the therapist everything that must be done and completely design their therapy sessions for them without any input. To me that’s unbelievable. They know the patient much better than I do. They should be telling me what to do! The knowledge base may be different but a well trained therapist can make or break a practice. They spend more time with the patient and in the case of children, with the parent. The parent will have questions and if the therapist can’t answer these questions or must always fall back on “I don’t know, let me ask the doctor” the parent will start to question whether or not their child is in the right hands. The difference between a therapist and a technician is that a therapist will always be reevaluating and making minute changes in the patient’s therapy moment by moment. Don’t let your therapists be a person who just pushes GO on a machine or task and when the instructions say to stop they stop. Train your therapists and train them well. Cherish them. They are your most important commodity.
You are on track to graduate from Optometry school in May 2016, what can we expect from Rich Miller O.D. after graduation?
At the moment it’s difficult to say – the future holds so much potential. It might seem a little strange, but I’m currently considering a residency in contact lenses. The two worlds of developmental optometry and contact lenses don’t often overlap but I’m hoping to change that. I think they have a lot to offer each other. Developmental ODs work very well with spectacles and prism but often the contact lens gets left in the dust, or it’s only used to correct for a simple refractive error. Technology is on an exponential growth, and our understanding of light and optics and how it all fits together in the brain is becoming more and more evident. I would be on the lookout for some very interesting things coming your way from this future doctor in a few years.
You are the dad to two amazing children, how has becoming a father changed the way you approach therapy and the way you will approach your future patients?
One of the biggest things to come out of having two kids while in optometry school is my concept of time management. In addition to my involvement with COVD I’m also the president of ICO’s Student Association, the student representative to ICO’s board of trustees, and the vice president of the contact lens society. Being able to do all these things successfully while maintaining a decent GPA and being a good father takes some good scheduling, not to mention a great wife. They’ve also taught me about patience and understanding what’s really important. You will always regret not spending time with your children for the rest of your life, but will you regret not studying for an extra few hours for that one exam that could have meant the difference between an A and B for more than a few weeks? Always remember that you have an obligation to help your fellow human beings first. We may all have different titles, but a few letters at the end of my name doesn’t make me any different from that person sitting in my exam chair. We’re both parents, sons or daughters, and sisters or brothers. It’s easy to forget that in the rush of today’s world.
Some Closing Thoughts – I am appreciative of Rich agreeing to do this interview with me. As you can see, he leads a very busy life at the moment. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Rich as an OD. Please join me in wishing Rich, and his beautiful family all the best! 🙂