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Rebecca Sims, 29

optometrist

Florida Eye Center, 1515 Ninth Ave. N, St. Petersburg

What kind of hours do you work?

I generally get here between 8 and 8:30 (a.m.) and leave around 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. I usually will see the first patient at 8:30 a.m. The last patient is generally scheduled around 3:30 p.m. That lets us catch up and do dictation and usually be out of here by 5 o'clock.

What are your primary job responsibilities?

I diagnose and treat eye disease, whether it be infection, inflammations or glaucoma. I will do routine eye exams and contact lens fittings, as well as specialty contact lens fittings.

What kind of training do you have?

I did my undergraduate (work) at Mississippi State University, and I received my doctor of optometry from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. Undergraduate was pre-med and included science, biology, and chemistry, all of those types of courses.

How long was the program at Southern College of Optometry?

It's four years spent concentrating on the eye; including eye muscles, eye movement and the nerves around the face that cause eyelid function.

What is the major difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is an M.D., a medical doctor who then specializes in eyes, or ophthalmology. An optometrist is a doctor of optometry, O.D., who spends the four years of doctoral training in the eyes. The basic difference is I do not perform surgery.

Do you have a specialty?

I provide a service known as low vision. It's a branch of optometry for people who have eye disease or conditions where "regular" glasses or contacts won't do the trick for them. We can employ special glasses prescriptions, special magnifiers and devices that might allow them to see things that they've previously been unable to see.

What kinds of conditions may need low vision correction?

Macular degeneration will often decrease vision to a level where low vision (correction) is necessary. End-stage glaucoma can often affect visual fields and even central vision to a level requiring the patient to need low-vision devices.

What age patients do you treat?

I see most all ages, from 5 or 6 to 100, (which) I believe is the oldest patient that I've seen.

What tools are vital to your job?

Certainly the Snellen Letters, which generally are projected onto a wall, tell us visual acuity. That tells us whether one eye is dominant, do we have a lazy eye, or what kind of visual impairment we are working with. That would probably be No. 1. As far as looking at eye health, I would say the biomicroscope, which allows you to look directly at the living tissue. The patient rests their chin down and forehead forward (in the device) and we align them and shine the light onto the front of the eye.

How often should adults get their eyes checked?

For my patients, even those with healthy eyes, I recommend yearly eye exams. There are eye diseases that won't decrease your vision or cause pain, or puss or bleeding, any of the symptoms we look for, but if we can catch them earlier, we are more able to manage them.

When should children first get their eyes checked?

I would say first grade. Most kids at that age know their ABCs, so it's a pretty easy exam.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Building a rapport with patients. Patients who return to see me, they bring their relatives; they recommend me to their friends. Patients that I not only provide eye care for, but I build a relationship, or even a friendship with.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

The hardest part is when I have a patient who has an eye condition where there's no treatment. Whether it be pharmaceutical or surgical, when there's no treatment that can bring (back) the vision that they've lost.

What kind of personality traits do you need to do this?

Patience. Many people have a high level of anxiety about seeing any kind of doctor ....

How much money do you make?

Each year varies. It really depends on the numbers of patients that I see and the services they need. I have a base salary, but I'd really rather not say.

What would you consider your dream job?

I cannot imagine doing anything other than practicing optometry. It's a great combination of math and science _ I love it!

_ ELLEN MOSES

Rebecca Sims became interested in optometry after doing research for a high school report and shadowing an optometrist in her Mississippi hometown. Today she works full time as an optometrist at the Florida Eye Center in St. Petersburg.

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