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Better Together: ICO and the OD/MD Alliance
Anyone who watched American television in the 1970s or 1980s will remember an advertising campaign for peanut butter cups. The series of ads featured a variety of clumsy collisions that resulted in one person’s chocolate bar landing in another person’s jar of peanut butter.
The mishaps resulted in the undeniably exquisite combination of chocolate and peanut butter, “Two great tastes that taste great together!” It is a Generation X tagline that has withstood the test of time. The alliance between Illinois College of Optometry’s ODs and the University of Chicago’s MDs is a lot like that, only much less sticky.
All kidding and nostalgia aside, in 1997, Charles Mullen, OD, ICO’s fourth president, forged an alliance with the neighboring University of Chicago Hospital and Department of Ophthalmology that has flourished in the decades since. For over twenty-five years, the two institutions have worked to improve care and access to services for Chicago’s South Side that Dr. Mullen recently described as the ‘gold standard’ of vision care.
Seenu Hariprasad, MD
“This MD/OD partnership has stood the test of time. With the volume of patients we have, we couldn’t do it on our own. We have a mission to serve patients and the community, and this partnership makes that possible.”
After creating similar alliances between academic and medical institutions in Boston and Philadelphia, Dr. Mullen arrived at ICO in 1996 and inked the agreement between the two organizations soon after. That agreement still stands and continues to serve ICO students, faculty, patients, and the local community.
An ICO alum who has benefited from the foresight of Dr. Mullen’s vision of ODs and MDs working in tandem is Steven Quan, OD ’16. Dr. Quan moved from his home state of California after graduating from UCLA. “I left Los Angeles to explore other cities in the country,” says Dr. Quan, “The East Coast came off more tense and formal, whereas Chicago felt like the perfect adventure away from home. The day before my interview, I met two ICO students at the Green Line station and they volunteered to show me around the city – true Midwestern gents. I loved the sense of family and community here, combined with the endless food and entertainment options you hope for in a big city.”
Dr. Quan initially assumed he would go into private practice, but after spending more time at ICO and being exposed to a variety of paths open to him, including medical optometry, his thinking began to shift, “The landscape is changing. Before ICO, I didn’t have much insight into optometry in medical settings. As a student, I had the chance to see a lot of complicated cases in the South Side and appreciated having direct access to ophthalmologists on campus. I took this further by serving as an assistant for the Retina Clinic under a work-study program.”
He was hooked.
While optometry remained his calling, Dr. Quan’s career goals had shifted from private practice to medical practice. After completing his optometric residency at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, he returned to Chicago with his wife, fellow ICO alum Adrienne Quan, OD ’16, and accepted a position with the University of Chicago, which was opening a new clinic in the suburbs.
It was an exciting time for Dr. Quan, “The department was expanding its services, and I was given the opportunity to manage a new satellite clinic, teach, and pursue research. I did a little of everything at the time: primary care, pediatrics, contact lenses, post-op, systemic co-management. I provided patients with education and served as another access point for them at the hospital. We have a huge patient base and since projections and global and marketplace trends show there may not be enough ophthalmologists and optometrists to meet future demand, it’s imperative our professions work together to help patients get the care they need.”
Steven Quan, OD ’16
“We have a huge patient base and since projections and global and marketplace trends show there may not be enough ophthalmologists and optometrists to meet future demand, it’s imperative our professions work together to help patients get the care they need.”
That is exactly what Dr. Mullen had envisioned. “It’s not magic,” says Leonard Messner, OD, Professor and Vice President of Strategy and Institutional Advancement at ICO. He was present at the meeting between Dr. Mullen and Dr. J. Terry Ernest, MD, PhD, and then Chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Chicago when the alliance was struck in 1997, “There was a shared vision of collaboration between optometry and ophthalmology. Charlie set up the first models of integrated training in Boston and Philadelphia. It is a unique partnership, and I don’t believe any other academic institutions have that kind of ongoing binding agreement.”
An interesting anecdote demonstrating the power and innovation of Dr. Mullen’s concept and how welcome it was to a recognized leader in ophthalmology occurred that day but is only known by those who were ‘in the room where it happened.’ Dr. Messner shares, “Terry began the conversation by telling Charlie that he had read his papers (published in the Archives of Ophthalmology) and agreed with his vision of an integrated model of patient care between optometry and ophthalmology practicing at their highest levels of competence and then said, ‘I just happened to bring along a draft affiliation agreement between our institutions and was hoping that you could take a look at it.’”
Dr. Messner has witnessed that mutually beneficial partnership evolve over the years, “We are twenty blocks away from one another and it is a two-way street. There are grand rounds, an expanded number of ODs at the University of Chicago clinic, established optometry residency programs, and a fully integrated model of care. ICO benefits, University of Chicago benefits, but most importantly, patients benefit.”
Dr. Quan is in a unique position in that he has experienced the ways in which the academic alliance Dr. Mullen created works for all, including patients, “There is so much redundancy in health care today and siloed specialties. While there has always been politics around scope of practice between ODs and MDs, especially depending on the state in which you practice, we cut through it here. When ODs and MDs can practice at their highest level of training, the patients benefit. Because we are all in the trenches working together, it helps with the culture and adds to the trust.”
Most importantly, this academic model between the disciplines enables patients to more easily access the care they need. Dr. Quan explains, “This model of cooperation drastically cuts down patient wait time, improves medical literacy, enables patients to better understand their care needs through access to ODs, which all leads to better outcomes for a complicated patient base.”
Seenu Hariprasad, MD is the Shui-Chin Lee Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago and serves as Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. He works closely with both Drs. Messner and Quan in his position. He has become a champion of the unique alliance between ICO and the University of Chicago, “This MD/OD partnership has stood the test of time. With the volume of patients we have, we couldn’t do it on our own. We have a mission to serve patients and the community, and this partnership makes that possible.”
In September 2022, Dr. Hariprasad was awarded the prestigious Friend of Optometry Award from the ICO Alumni Council – the first time it had been granted to an ophthalmologist. Following the ceremony, Dr. Messner reached out to Dr. Mullen via email to “virtually” introduce him to Dr. Hariprasad and update him on the OD/MD collaboration initiated during his tenure as ICO’s president.
Leonard Messner, OD
"There are grand rounds, an expanded number of ODs at the University of Chicago clinic, established optometry residency programs, and a fully integrated model of care. ICO benefits, University of Chicago benefits, but most importantly, patients benefit."
The email exchange is a moving tribute to the ideals of collaboration and collegiality and how both have resulted in improved patient care. Dr. Hariprasad took the opportunity to detail for Dr. Mullen a few of the accomplishments:
Four University of Chicago faculty running advanced care clinics at the Illinois Eye Institute;
Four full-time ODs hired by the University of Chicago;
An optometry residency at the University of Chicago, supported by ICO;
Joint Continuing Medical Education programming with attendance of over 200 community ODs; and
ICO students rotating through University of
These are five concrete examples of the power of the OD/MD partnership struck in that ICO office twenty-five years ago, but perhaps even more striking is how this alliance has shaped the career of Dr. Quan, “I am a physical manifestation of it. My life’s work is to educate others about the benefits of ODs in medical settings, to promote optometry as a means to address gaps in care and meet patient demand. When ODs and MDs practice and learn from each other in academic medical centers, a mutual trust and respect grows that will ultimately improve our ability to serve patients everywhere.”
The OD/MD alliance is working in just the manner Dr. Mullen intended. Like peanut butter and chocolate, the melding of these professions creates something new and dynamic that makes each of the separate entities and their respective organizations better for it, all while benefiting patients.
Dr. Hariprasad mentors ICO students at the Illinois Eye Institute every Thursday. This has been his routine for 18 years.
Continue the Conversation
Take a deep dive into the ICO and University of Chicago partnership with Dr. Messner and Dr. Hariprasad. Learn how this partnership came about in the 90s through the shared vision of Dr. Charles Mullen and Dr. Terry Ernest. See how this partnership has grown and why this partnership matters.