A Sit Down – with Dr. Sandy Johal
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. Sandy Johal
For the benefit of our readers, can you detail your background and explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I received a BSc in Cell Biology and Genetics in 1999 from the University of British Columbia and I received my Doctorate of Optometry Degree in 2003 from Pacific University College of Optometry. In May 2004, I started a full scope optometric practice (Panorama Optometry in British Columbia) with an emphasis on developmental vision and neuro-optometric rehabilitation care.
What led you to Developmental Optometry?
At Pacific, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by many professors that had great knowledge about vision and learning, binocular vision, and developmental optometry. It was really their knowledge and passion that first led me down the path of developmental optometry.
My 4th year clinical rotation in Dr. Lynn Hellersteins’ office changed my life! I was able to observe the positive impact that developmental optometry had in the lives of many patients. I knew from that point; I wanted to have a vision therapy practice.
You received your Fellowship from COVD in 2007. What can you tell us about that experience?
Preparing for my fellowship from COVD was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my educational career. I had many great mentors (Bob Sanet, Paul Bernstein, Lynn Hellerstein and Nancy Torgerson) that help me to solidify my basis and background in vision therapy. I do not believe I would be the doctor that I am today without the fellowship process.
Moving forward now, in your opinion, what is the ideal age for children to have their first eye examination?
The ideal age for children to have their first eye examination is 6 months of age.
What types of measurements are taken during this initial exam with an infant?
This initial examination is important for early detection of many visual problems that can affect development. We are able to measure visual acuity, refractive error and ocular health. In addition, we are able to examine eye alignment, oculomotor movements and near point of convergence.
As a Developmental Optometrist, are you able to tell before the child turns 2 years old if he or she will have visual challenges in school?
Absolutely! At age 2, we have a very good understanding of how poor visual development can affect reading and learning.
Would you ever consider attempting Vision Therapy on child younger than 2 years old?
Yes, I would considering starting vision therapy on a child that is younger than 2 years of age. Providing early intervention ensures the best outcome for our patients.
In the United States, school districts tend to be ‘hit or miss’ in terms of their support for Vision Therapy. Do you find the same to be true in Canada?
I have great support from the surrounding school districts. I have been asked to speak at multiple school district conferences. I communicate with many teachers on a regular basis.
How would you describe the public’s view of Vision Therapy in Canada?
Vision therapy is still the best kept secret of Optometry. In Canada, the awareness is growing; however, most Canadians are not aware of visually related learning problems. We need to increase the number of doctors providing vision therapy to increase the public’s awareness of vision therapy.
I’d like to ask you about a few of my previous interviewees, whom I suspect you have an interesting connection.
Dr. Jill Schultz – Jill and I graduated together from PUCO. We spent many days and nights studying! We lean on each other a lot personally and professionally!! She literally spent a year living on my couch and her nickname is ‘Chuckles’.
Dr. Hannu Laukkanen – Hannu was one of those professors that influenced my decision to practice vision therapy. I would hang off his every word!
Dr. Curt Baxstrom – I got to know Curt from multiple COVD meetings. I had him come out to British Columbia to teach a visual-vestibular lecture at my office. We are both huge hockey fans! I am a Vancouver Canucks fan and have been to many live games. I had never been to a winning Canucks game until I took Curt Baxtrom with me. So, because I witnessed my first winning Vancouver game with Curt…I call him my lucky charm.
Lastly, you are raising two absolutely adorable young ladies. Has being a mom made you a better doctor?
Having my own children has made me see things in a different light. It has given me perspective from a mother’s point of view. I am definitely more patient, understanding and compassionate. My children have taught me so much and I am sure they will keep teaching me. The experience as a mother has truly strengthened my interaction with children and families.
Some Closing Thoughts – A great thanks to my friend, Dr. Sandy Johal, for this interview. Aside from being a fantastic doctor who posses a wonderful passion for Vision Therapy, Dr. Johal is quite possibly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The greater Vancouver area is lucky to have her representing Vision Therapy in that corner of the world. Please join me in wishing Dr. Johal and her girls the absolute best!! 🙂