As part of Primary Care Optometry News’ 20th anniversary celebration, in each issue throughout 2015 we will profile a “Pioneer in Optometry” as chosen by the PCON Editorial Board.
In this issue we feature the team of Glenn Ellisor, OD, and Bobby Christensen, OD, who are the executive chairman and the senior vice president of clinical strategies for Vision Source, respectively.
“Glen founded Vision Source in 1991 and brought on Bobby in 1995,” PCON Editorial Board member John A. McCall Jr., OD, said of the duo. “Bobby was the first high-profile optometrist to join up with Glenn’s dream of forming a group that would give independent ODs a chance to survive and thrive in a competitive market.”
McCall, a private practitioner who is also senior vice president of vendor relations for Vision Source, continued: “Now 24 years later it is the largest doctor organization in the world, and Vision Source is a primary reason that independent optometry is doing well. They were true pioneers!”
“Pioneers most often start with a vision along with a certain discomfort or pain for a present circumstance,” PCON Editorial Board member Jerome A. Legerton, OD, MS, MBA, FAAO, told PCON. “Glenn and Bobby (and the late Kevin McDaid, OD) felt an optometry pain and had a vision for improving the quality of life of their colleagues, strengthening their practices and enabling them to better care for their patients. Their personal vision for Vision Source along with their excellence in execution produced a network that is truly the flagship of independent optometry. Their pioneering was a major force in the preservation of strong independent practices of optometry.”
PCON Editorial Board member John Potter, OD, shared: “I served on the board of directors for Vision Source for several years. As a result, I had the opportunity to see the immeasurable qualities of leadership and character that Bobby and Glenn demonstrated time and time again. They serve as a model for us, and my hope is that they will pass on those qualities to others in our profession in the future.”
In interviews with PCON, Ellisor and Christensen shared their beginnings in optometry and what they consider to be their most significant contributions to the profession.
PCON: Why did you choose optometry as a career path?
Ellisor: I wanted a health care profession in which I could be an entrepreneur and directly improve the quality of life of patients. At the age of 16, I decided to have my first eye examination to see what goes on in an optometric office. I concluded that it was the perfect profession for me, and I was right.
Christensen: When I started college, I had the dream of being a doctor. My uncle was a family practitioner and he was always being called away from family gatherings. That did not appeal to me. A friend in college said he was going to optometry school. I had no idea what an optometrist really was, and he explained. We both applied to optometry school and were accepted.
PCON: How has your career unfolded?
Ellisor: When I finished optometry school at the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) in 1984, like many others, I wasn’t in a position to purchase an existing practice or open a new practice. Therefore, I leased a space adjacent to a commercial optical and over the next 3 years I built a successful contact lens practice. I was fortunate to fulfill my dream of owning a completely independent practice when a nearby struggling practice came up for sale. Combining my patient base with the existing one gave us immediate success.
In 1991, with two practices, I founded Vision Source to allow my offices and other independent practices to better compete with the corporate optometry groups that began to dominate the Houston market. I never dreamed that it would end up where it is today. At that time, my goal was to convince 20 offices or so to combine efforts in marketing and purchasing power, with each sharing secrets from their experiences in practice. From there, with a passionate focus to help independent optometrists thrive and blessed with the contributions from scores of leaders, Vision Source today serves more than 3,000 private optometry practices in the U.S.
A few years ago we began Smile Source to enable independent dentists to enjoy the same benefits, helping them to thrive in an environment with increasing corporate competition.
Christensen: I started practice as an associate in a small town in western Oklahoma close to where I grew up. It was a great opportunity to practice full scope optometry before we had therapeutic laws. I was on call for the emergency room at the hospital and figured out how to take care of injuries and red eyes. After 1 year, Dr. Bob Baldwin asked me to join his practice in Midwest City, Okla., a suburb on the east side of Oklahoma City. He always wanted to test new ideas and incorporate new procedures. Our goal was to have the latest equipment and provide full scope medical and vision eye care. We wrote a book, Rx for Success, with Jack Melton, OD, and taught the practice management course at the new optometry school in Oklahoma. I started lecturing at meetings across the country on practice management. Oklahoma passed legislation in the early 1980s, allowing us to provide medical eye care. My lecture topics moved to how to incorporate therapeutic care into optometric practices, which led to 25 years of lecturing in the U.S. and abroad to advance the scope of optometric practice.
In the early 1990s, I met Glenn Ellisor, and he had started the Vision Source model to help independent optometrists compete. I was skeptical at first, but soon realized that working as a network and sharing ideas was the recipe for keeping independent optometrists competitive. For the last 20 years it has been an honor to be part of the Vision Source family. It has been our goal to provide value for the members and help their practices remain independent.
PCON: What are you doing now?
Ellisor: I served as the president and CEO of Vision Source and CEO of Smile Source from their inception until about 2 years ago. Currently, I am the executive chairman of both companies and also continue to see patients 1 day a week in my practice, as I have for the last 15 years. Developing the next generation of leaders and empowering them to manage the everyday operations of Vision Source has given me the time to better advise them in their roles, focus on the future needs of the profession, serve on various industry and charitable boards, and continue my passion for foreign mission work.
Christensen: I still practice 1 day per week, and our two practices are now managed by Drs. John Smay and Corey Christensen.
The rest of the week is spent working with our Vision Source team. My title is senior vice president of clinical strategies. I team with Jim Greenwood and Paul Williams, OD, to help work with our members and administrators to find opportunities for our members in the managed care world. I work with Daphne Reznik and Tami Franklin, who manage our Vision Source Representatives program. They work to provide programs, meeting content and training for staff members in the Vision Source offices. I also help our vendor team when needed on special projects. And I work with the Exchange committee to help organize our national meeting.
I still spend five to 10 weekends in the race car every year. It is great fun racing the young guys and sometimes winning, when experience beats exuberance. After winning World Championships in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, I now don’t worry about the points race and just go to tracks that I have always wanted to race
PCON: What have you learned?
Ellisor: There is tremendous power in empowering talented people who share the same vision.
Christensen: I have learned that optometry is a great profession. Family and God are central to all that I do, and my decisions must be based on my best interpretation of what is right. Children and grandchildren are great treasures and should be enjoyed. Having a great wife and partner is the greatest blessing of all.
PCON: What is your most significant accomplishment?
Ellisor: I inspired a team of leaders with a model to enrich lives by helping independent optometrists realize their full potential.
Christensen: On the personal side, a strong and lasting relationship with my Lord, spouse and family.
On the professional side: Being an early adapter to new technology, new procedures and being part of an organization that has changed the future for independent optometry.
PCON: What have you contributed to optometry?
Ellisor: Through encouraging optometrists to address change in a united fashion, hopefully I’ve played a role that helps ensure that private practice optometry continues to thrive and inspired others to do the same.
Christensen: I hope that I have helped establish a higher level of scope of practice for optometry across the nation and helped keep independent optometric practice profitable and vibrant.
PCON: What do you enjoy most about optometry?
Ellisor: That’s easy. It’s all about people, whether it’s our patients, staff, colleagues or our vendor partners. Our profession is comprised of the nicest, most caring people on earth who earnestly strive to enrich the lives of those that they serve.
Christensen: The people: patients, staff, vendors, optometric colleagues and the Vision Source team.
PCON: What do you wish for the future of optometry?
Ellisor: That it continues to embrace change, capitalizing on the opportunities that it brings, further solidifying its position as the eye care gatekeeper.
Furthermore, health care reform offers optometry the opportunity to rewrite its role to make tremendous contributions in managing population health. I hope that private practice continues to be innovative in its role as a provider of products and services so that it continues to offer opportunities for optometric entrepreneurs. My son recently graduated from UHCO and is currently working in our practice, and my daughter has just begun her second year at UHCO. I dream of an even more rewarding profession for their generation.
Christensen: That the best young students will choose optometry for their profession and that they can find a new location or partnership in a privately owned and operated practice. – by Chelsea Frajerman Pardes