I am Charles Mullen. I am a graduate of the University of Virginia and received my Doctor of Optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry. I have over 36 years of experience in optometric education at three institutions. I am the former President of the Illinois College of Optometry and former Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Optometry Service, the largest optometric patient care and clinical training program in the Nation. Currently I serve on the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and the Board of Directors of the New England Eye Institute. I am also an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the State University of New York.
My remarks today pertain to the impact that the current restriction on Massachusetts optometrists treating glaucoma has on the clinical education of students enrolled at the New England College of Optometry. From a national perspective, this restriction places the College and its faculty at a competitive disadvantage for the best and brightest applicants for admission. Upon learning of the restriction in the treatment of glaucoma, many highly qualified applicants and, for that matter, many highly qualified optometrists seeking a faculty appointment at the New England College of Optometry choose other Colleges of Optometry – simply because Massachusetts cannot offer the comprehensive opportunities they are seeking. No other optometry school across the country faces this problem.
Forty-nine states permit optometrists to treat glaucoma. It is now the national expectation; if not the standard. Students of the New England College of Optometry are expected upon graduation to be fully prepared to treat eye disease; including, the management of patients with glaucoma. Yet, without the ability to practice in Massachusetts, the New England College of optometry must seek training venues outside the Commonwealth or in federal facilities where the treatment of glaucoma is permitted. This is ironic given that Massachusetts is known to be a world leader in health care education. Forty-nine states and the federal system allow for optometrists to treat glaucoma, but the home state of one of the best optometry schools does not. Again, no other optometry school in the Nation is so limited.
Nationwide, optometrists provided $846 million in eye care services to Medicare beneficiaries in 2006. As the incidence of glaucoma increases with age and with the onset of the “baby boomer” retirement, graduates of the New England College must be fully prepared to meet the health care needs of the rapidly growing elderly population. This means they must be able to treat glaucoma.
I can assure you that optometric education and the profession of optometry are constantly evolving. Advances in the biomedical and visual sciences impact both the methods of treating patients and the methods of educating students. Given this quickly changing environment, it is essential that optometrists in Massachusetts be granted the authority to treat glaucoma – allowing both the New England College of Optometry and its students to remain competitive on a national level.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Joint committee on Public Health. Accordingly, I respectfully request that this Committee release SB 1255 with a favorable report.
Testimony of Charles F. Mullen, O.D.
Delivered May 2, 2007