Your Path to Optometry: Why Did You Become an OD?

By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD

Life has twists and turns–has yours been straight or meandering? For Robert Lidkea, OD, of Lidkea Optometry in Fort Frances, Ontario Canada, his path led him to a career in optometry that began 60 years ago on June 2, 1952. As I spoke with Dr. Lidkea, his stories amazed me and I began to think about how far optometry has evolved as a profession and what makes a person choose it as a career.

Dr. Lidkea’s Path to Optometry

“When I was in grade 12, I wanted to be a high school mathematics and/or a physics teacher. One day, my math and physics teachers called me to a meeting and convinced me that I should look to something different. I never found out the reason for the discussion, but have surmised that it may have been my immaturity, the recent influx of new teachers graduating after World War II, or perhaps one of those swings where teachers were unhappy with their relations with their school boards. I had always enjoyed math and science, so I looked at many options. Two of those were dentistry or a position at the atomic energy plant in Chalk River, Ontario.”

While contemplating his career choice, Dr. Lidkea had an epiphany. “While having my eyes examined one day, my optometrist posed the possibility of that profession to me, and after consideration, my mind was made up. Although there have been optometry schools for over 100 years, some of the practitioners were grandfathered in during the 1930s. I understand that any one who had worked in the optical industry and took some upgrading was allowed to practice after some sort of testing. My optometrist, Jim Colville, was one of those. He had been a lab manager for Consolidated Optical, later to become American Optical and now AOCO and with my limited knowledge at that time I thought he did a great job for me. My headaches disappeared and my vision greatly improved.”

The Making of Lidkea Optometry

“My hometown of North Bay had three new optometrists in the three years I was at optometry school, so I decided to look for a place to start there. Some information was available at the college, but the best sources were the big lab companies such as Bausch and Lomb, American Optical and Imperial Optical. I heard about a female optometrist who had two daughters and another on the way and was looking for someone to purchase her practice. This seemed like an opportunity to have a truly professional practice. The price was $400, but I was to find out later that the practice had not been active for some time and the patient flow was very poor. At that time optometry was often a second occupation and I personally heard of two dentists, one x-ray technician and one pharmacist who were also working as optometrists. Many graduates were working in jewelry stores and some in optical chains. There has always been a drive to be more professional and the practice I was looking at was in a clinic with two MDs, a dentist and a pharmacy. The office was small but complete with all the needed equipment, tools and frames. The waiting room was shared so there was lots of visibility and some referrals. The fee for an eye exam was $3 and glasses ran from $20 to $40. There was an elderly optometrist just across the river in International Falls Minn., who gave free exams and made his income from glasses. There were a lot of +0.25 Rxs around.”

Hearing Dr. Lidkea’s story about his start in optometry got me thinking about mine, especially when he added, “all of this happened over 60 years ago and I have never had any regrets.”

My Own Journey to Optometry

As for my story, I was in the hospital a lot as a teenager. My dad had his first heart attack at age 39. He was not obese, ate well and was a non-smoker but we have a very long family history of heart disease and problems with high cholesterol. He had several heart attacks and procedures over the years. I spoke with doctors, I asked questions, I wanted to know everything that was going on and what it all meant. I became fascinated with the heart and after an inspirational biology teacher in high school, Mr. Putnam, got me hooked on science, I knew I wanted to become a doctor. I soon volunteered at the ER of my local hospital and quickly discovered much to my dismay, that I had a fear of blood. My aspirations of cardiology suddenly sank.

However, the next year, I took chemistry and then physics and loved them both, though physics really stole my heart. I loved calculating how far the gun would fire the bullet if projected at this angle and that. I watched the wave interference patterns in the water basins on our lab tables and how obstructions affected and altered their course. It was also around this time that I got my first pair of eyeglasses. After doing a government summer internship program at a physics lab on a nearby Air Force base, I discovered a side to physics I just did not like, the computer programming. I programmed how to calculate the electromagnetic radiation emitting off of different circuit structures but had little to no time “in the lab” actually setting up experiments. My interests leaned once again back to biology and in undergraduate college, I became a research assistant in a lab studying the effects of monocular deprivation on angiogenesis in the visual cortex and that solidified the direction of my career toward optometry, and my fascination with understanding how vision works soared ever upward from that point on. And I, like Dr. Robert Lidkea, thus far have had no regrets.

Perhaps you could share your story on your practice’s web site with your patients as well as in the comments section here below. I think it is interesting and important for all of us to to see each others’ roots and how they got to us to where we are today.

You can contact Dr. Robert Lidkea at: lidkea@nwonet.netor visit his practice website:

What is your story? How did you discover the option of optometry as a career? What made you want to become an optometrist?

Cheryl G. Murphy, OD, practices at an independent optometric practice in Holbrook, NY. You can like her on Facebook or follow her on twitter @murphyod. To contact her:

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