Potter: Pioneer of therapeutics, refractive surgery

John W. Potter, OD, MA, referred to as an unforgettable educator and presenter, has worn many hats in advancing optometry's cause.

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 John W. Potter, OD, MA, a world renowned educator and member of the PCON Editorial Board.

“John Potter is one of the greatest blessings to optometry,” PCON Editorial Board member Jerome A. Legerton, OD, MS, MBA, FAAO, told PCON. “He was of the first to identify the need for his colleagues to advance their skill and knowledge in medical practice. He brought the gift of presentation to our profession, and the majority of his peers will confirm that he is the best. John taught us more than ocular pathology, diagnosis and treatment, and relevant knowledge in the field of refractive surgery. He pioneered in the field of dispute resolution and conflict management. His focus on patient-centered care and his lifelong effort to do his utmost as the person in the professional is all inspiring.”

John W. Potter, OD, MA
John W. Potter

“I have known John for more than 35 years, and he was one of the inspirations for me to go to the University of Alabama,” PCON Editorial Board member Leo P. Semes, OD, FAAO, said. “We had a common interest in binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy (BIO) and the peripheral retina, so much so that, with Drs. [Anthony] Cavallerano and [Matthew] Garston, we co-authored a book for optometrists on BIO. John is a very charismatic speaker and someone from whom I learned much to further my career and from whom optometrists have benefited having as a mentor.”

“There are few examples of educators in our profession who could truly entertain and engage an audience while still providing substantive and high-quality information. In this category, John ranks among the finest,” Lou Catania, OD, FAAO, DSc, PCON Editorial Board member, remarked. “But even more special than that is the fact that John was a pathfinder (a ‘pioneer,’ if you will) in introducing new concepts and technologies to optometry. It was and will continue to be visionaries and believers with passion that grow our profession. John Potter is an example of one we can all thank.”

PCON Editorial Board member Murray Fingeret, OD, FAAO, commented, “I met John in 1980 as I was about to replace him at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. These were big shoes to fill. Over the years, I had the opportunity to spend time with John on the podium. I would come with a rack of slides (later a computer full of material), and John would bring only a few. John would talk extemporaneously on his subject and everything else and never miss a beat. John was one of the first optometry experts in retina and has had a long and storied career in this as well as refractive surgery. He was a pioneer who 35 years ago began his leadership role in our profession.”

Potter competes in an Ironman triathlon.
Potter competes in an Ironman triathlon.

Images: Potter JW

“He had the knack of speaking to large audiences like it was family, and the audiences loved it,” board member William Jones, OD, FAAO, said. “He had some important clinical publications on the vitreous and retina. As we reach the shadow of our careers, it is appropriate to recognize those of us who left an indomitable impression on our profession. John is certainly one who deserves such recognition.

“Having a very special gift for teaching was the platform he used to amass his clinical experiences and offer them to optometric audiences throughout the U.S. Because of John’s sound clinical teaching, many of us are simply better doctors,” board members Randall Thomas, OD, MPH, FAAO, and Ron Melton, OD, FAAO, told PCON. “We remember the time he forgot his slides (only John could do this), and then seamlessly went on to give an incredible glaucoma lecture for 4 hours. He was truly a trailblazer in the field of optometric medicine, much like the legendary Lou Catania. It is an honor to have known John for about 30 years and to know him as a friend. John is one of those critical people at a critical time that helped propel optometry to the level many of us enjoy today. Thank you, John, for making such a positive influence on the lives of thousands of optometrists across this great country. Your contributions are indelibly etched in the fabric of optometric patient care.”

In an interview with PCON, Potter shared his beginnings in optometry and what he considers to be his most significant contributions to the profession.

Potter moderates the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl.
Potter moderates the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl.

PCON: Why did you choose optometry as a career path?

Potter: I’m not sure why, but I know when I wanted to be an optometrist. A few years ago, my mother showed me a sixth grade “What I want to be when I grow up” assignment. I wrote it in cursive with pencil on what we would consider today to be some pretty strange paper. Although it’s now almost faded beyond readability, I titled it “Optometrist.” Back then I didn’t know an optometrist and I didn’t have my first eye examination until high school. As fate would have it, my first optometrist was Loyd Wedeking. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was on the founding committee for the School of Optometry at Indiana University and he was president of the Indiana Optometric Association in 1952. I wish I could have met him sooner.

PCON: How has your career unfolded?

Potter: I attended optometry school at Indiana University. After graduation, I spent time in the Navy working alongside a number of great doctors and gaining a wealth of meaningful clinical experience. Then, I joined the optometry faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and became one of the first optometrists to work within the Veterans Administration hospitals. I also taught at the Southern California College of Optometry and continued working at Veterans Administration hospitals. I moved to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue an opportunity presented to me by VisionAmerica, an eye and vision care company. There, we built one of the first optometry and ophthalmology comanagement models. Later, I joined TLC Laser Eye Centers at its inception, 20 years ago, and I still work there today.

Along the way, I engaged in other professional activities. I was privileged to be the editor of the Journal of Optometric Education and the Journal of the American Optometric Association. I authored more than 50 scholarly papers with many wonderful colleagues. I also wrote many editorials and contributed a few chapters to several books. I wrote a book, Binocular Indirect Ophthalmoscopy, with my great friends, Leo Semes, Anthony Cavallerano and Matt Garston. I remember moderating the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl many years ago, and that event has become a wonderful occasion for optometric education and the American Optometric Association.

Recently, I earned a Master’s degree in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management from Southern Methodist University.

PCON: What are you doing now?

Potter during his stint in the U.S. Navy with (left to right) Wendell Thomas, Bob Halder and Corpsman Dan Bodine.
Potter during his stint in the U.S. Navy with (left to right) Wendell Thomas, Bob Halder and Corpsman Dan Bodine.

Potter: I’m quite busy. I am vice president for patient services at TLC Laser Eye Centers. My role there is to improve the patient experience and help patients who have had difficulties with refractive surgery. For the past 7 years, I have been a full-time professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I teach nine graduate-level courses in dispute resolution and conflict management. I also just finished my final term on the Institutional Review Board as the chair.

PCON: What have you learned?

Potter: I don’t think too much about what I have learned, but more about what I might have the opportunity to learn today or perhaps tomorrow. That keeps me going.

PCON: What is your most significant accomplishment?

Potter: I am most proud of my role in developing comanagement as a model of eye and vision care. In the past, professional relationships between optometrists and ophthalmologists were essentially nonexistent, and social relationships were even rarer. In the Navy, I made it a point to develop meaningful social relationships with many different kinds of doctors. Many of them are still friends today, some 40 years later. I learned to respect other health care professions and taught others to respect our profession and me. Through that experience, I began to believe it would be better for patients if optometrists and ophthalmologists comanaged patients.

When I was afforded the opportunity to build that ideal comanagement model, I relished it. I have a vivid memory of sitting in an office on Laird Ave. in Toronto in 1995 with my four friends: Ed Holland, OD; Elias Vamvakas; Marc Smith; and Jeff Machat, MD. Together, we sketched out a comanagement model for refractive surgery on a white board. I wish I had a picture of that original drawing and narrative. We have been successfully implementing that model for 20 years and counting. Thousands of optometrists and over a million of their patients have benefited from the comanagement model with TLC Laser Eye Centers. I believe today, just as I did then, that the comanagement model benefits patients. I am proud to have helped it.

PCON: What have you contributed to optometry?

Potter: I am not so sure. Maybe I have been a good teacher. Unlike many others early in my career, I did not see the barrier between academic research and clinical practice they did. I know that doesn’t seem odd by today’s standards, but it was then. When teaching, I enjoyed incorporating contemporary research into clinical practice courses. I loved it so much that I presented at professional and postgraduate optometry meetings in every state as well as nearly every province in Canada. The highlight of those meetings was talking with doctors about their patients. I miss that.

PCON: What do you enjoy most about optometry?

Potter: The doctors. Here are a few: Amos, Barresi, Bartlett, Bennett, Black, Borish, Boyden, Breiwa, Brown, Catania, Cavallerano, Chang, Christensen, Coleman, DePaolis, Donnenfeld, Eger, Eldridge, Ellis, Ellisor, Fath, Fingeret, Gazaway, Haffner, Halder, Hendricks, Holland, Hopping, Howard, Jaanus, Jones, Legerton, Lindstrom, Loden, Lyle, Machat, Marshall, McDaid, Melton, Myers, Newcomb, Onofrey, Owen, Peters, Phillips, Probst, Remke, Rhodes, Schallhorn, Schanzlin, Schuck, Semes, Shipp, Shovlin, Stephens, Sullins, Tahran, Tanzer, Terry, Thomas, Tullo, Wedeking, Wild, Winston, Wood and countless others. Some of them are no longer with us. I miss them.

PCON: What do you wish for the future of optometry?

Potter: I have a simple faith that optometry will continue to be the vital part of health care that it is today and continue to foster its professional growth and expansion of services to patients. – by Chelsea Frajerman Pardes & Abigail Sutton

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 John W. Potter, OD, MA, a world renowned educator and member of the PCON Editorial Board.

“John Potter is one of the greatest blessings to optometry,” PCON Editorial Board member Jerome A. Legerton, OD, MS, MBA, FAAO, told PCON. “He was of the first to identify the need for his colleagues to advance their skill and knowledge in medical practice. He brought the gift of presentation to our profession, and the majority of his peers will confirm that he is the best. John taught us more than ocular pathology, diagnosis and treatment, and relevant knowledge in the field of refractive surgery. He pioneered in the field of dispute resolution and conflict management. His focus on patient-centered care and his lifelong effort to do his utmost as the person in the professional is all inspiring.”

John W. Potter, OD, MA
John W. Potter

“I have known John for more than 35 years, and he was one of the inspirations for me to go to the University of Alabama,” PCON Editorial Board member Leo P. Semes, OD, FAAO, said. “We had a common interest in binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy (BIO) and the peripheral retina, so much so that, with Drs. [Anthony] Cavallerano and [Matthew] Garston, we co-authored a book for optometrists on BIO. John is a very charismatic speaker and someone from whom I learned much to further my career and from whom optometrists have benefited having as a mentor.”

“There are few examples of educators in our profession who could truly entertain and engage an audience while still providing substantive and high-quality information. In this category, John ranks among the finest,” Lou Catania, OD, FAAO, DSc, PCON Editorial Board member, remarked. “But even more special than that is the fact that John was a pathfinder (a ‘pioneer,’ if you will) in introducing new concepts and technologies to optometry. It was and will continue to be visionaries and believers with passion that grow our profession. John Potter is an example of one we can all thank.”

PCON Editorial Board member Murray Fingeret, OD, FAAO, commented, “I met John in 1980 as I was about to replace him at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. These were big shoes to fill. Over the years, I had the opportunity to spend time with John on the podium. I would come with a rack of slides (later a computer full of material), and John would bring only a few. John would talk extemporaneously on his subject and everything else and never miss a beat. John was one of the first optometry experts in retina and has had a long and storied career in this as well as refractive surgery. He was a pioneer who 35 years ago began his leadership role in our profession.”

Potter competes in an Ironman triathlon.
Potter competes in an Ironman triathlon.

Images: Potter JW

“He had the knack of speaking to large audiences like it was family, and the audiences loved it,” board member William Jones, OD, FAAO, said. “He had some important clinical publications on the vitreous and retina. As we reach the shadow of our careers, it is appropriate to recognize those of us who left an indomitable impression on our profession. John is certainly one who deserves such recognition.

“Having a very special gift for teaching was the platform he used to amass his clinical experiences and offer them to optometric audiences throughout the U.S. Because of John’s sound clinical teaching, many of us are simply better doctors,” board members Randall Thomas, OD, MPH, FAAO, and Ron Melton, OD, FAAO, told PCON. “We remember the time he forgot his slides (only John could do this), and then seamlessly went on to give an incredible glaucoma lecture for 4 hours. He was truly a trailblazer in the field of optometric medicine, much like the legendary Lou Catania. It is an honor to have known John for about 30 years and to know him as a friend. John is one of those critical people at a critical time that helped propel optometry to the level many of us enjoy today. Thank you, John, for making such a positive influence on the lives of thousands of optometrists across this great country. Your contributions are indelibly etched in the fabric of optometric patient care.”

PAGE BREAK

In an interview with PCON, Potter shared his beginnings in optometry and what he considers to be his most significant contributions to the profession.

Potter moderates the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl.
Potter moderates the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl.

PCON: Why did you choose optometry as a career path?

Potter: I’m not sure why, but I know when I wanted to be an optometrist. A few years ago, my mother showed me a sixth grade “What I want to be when I grow up” assignment. I wrote it in cursive with pencil on what we would consider today to be some pretty strange paper. Although it’s now almost faded beyond readability, I titled it “Optometrist.” Back then I didn’t know an optometrist and I didn’t have my first eye examination until high school. As fate would have it, my first optometrist was Loyd Wedeking. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was on the founding committee for the School of Optometry at Indiana University and he was president of the Indiana Optometric Association in 1952. I wish I could have met him sooner.

PCON: How has your career unfolded?

Potter: I attended optometry school at Indiana University. After graduation, I spent time in the Navy working alongside a number of great doctors and gaining a wealth of meaningful clinical experience. Then, I joined the optometry faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and became one of the first optometrists to work within the Veterans Administration hospitals. I also taught at the Southern California College of Optometry and continued working at Veterans Administration hospitals. I moved to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue an opportunity presented to me by VisionAmerica, an eye and vision care company. There, we built one of the first optometry and ophthalmology comanagement models. Later, I joined TLC Laser Eye Centers at its inception, 20 years ago, and I still work there today.

Along the way, I engaged in other professional activities. I was privileged to be the editor of the Journal of Optometric Education and the Journal of the American Optometric Association. I authored more than 50 scholarly papers with many wonderful colleagues. I also wrote many editorials and contributed a few chapters to several books. I wrote a book, Binocular Indirect Ophthalmoscopy, with my great friends, Leo Semes, Anthony Cavallerano and Matt Garston. I remember moderating the first Varilux Optometry Super Bowl many years ago, and that event has become a wonderful occasion for optometric education and the American Optometric Association.

Recently, I earned a Master’s degree in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management from Southern Methodist University.

PCON: What are you doing now?

Potter during his stint in the U.S. Navy with (left to right) Wendell Thomas, Bob Halder and Corpsman Dan Bodine.
Potter during his stint in the U.S. Navy with (left to right) Wendell Thomas, Bob Halder and Corpsman Dan Bodine.

Potter: I’m quite busy. I am vice president for patient services at TLC Laser Eye Centers. My role there is to improve the patient experience and help patients who have had difficulties with refractive surgery. For the past 7 years, I have been a full-time professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I teach nine graduate-level courses in dispute resolution and conflict management. I also just finished my final term on the Institutional Review Board as the chair.

PCON: What have you learned?

Potter: I don’t think too much about what I have learned, but more about what I might have the opportunity to learn today or perhaps tomorrow. That keeps me going.

PCON: What is your most significant accomplishment?

Potter: I am most proud of my role in developing comanagement as a model of eye and vision care. In the past, professional relationships between optometrists and ophthalmologists were essentially nonexistent, and social relationships were even rarer. In the Navy, I made it a point to develop meaningful social relationships with many different kinds of doctors. Many of them are still friends today, some 40 years later. I learned to respect other health care professions and taught others to respect our profession and me. Through that experience, I began to believe it would be better for patients if optometrists and ophthalmologists comanaged patients.

PAGE BREAK

When I was afforded the opportunity to build that ideal comanagement model, I relished it. I have a vivid memory of sitting in an office on Laird Ave. in Toronto in 1995 with my four friends: Ed Holland, OD; Elias Vamvakas; Marc Smith; and Jeff Machat, MD. Together, we sketched out a comanagement model for refractive surgery on a white board. I wish I had a picture of that original drawing and narrative. We have been successfully implementing that model for 20 years and counting. Thousands of optometrists and over a million of their patients have benefited from the comanagement model with TLC Laser Eye Centers. I believe today, just as I did then, that the comanagement model benefits patients. I am proud to have helped it.

PCON: What have you contributed to optometry?

Potter: I am not so sure. Maybe I have been a good teacher. Unlike many others early in my career, I did not see the barrier between academic research and clinical practice they did. I know that doesn’t seem odd by today’s standards, but it was then. When teaching, I enjoyed incorporating contemporary research into clinical practice courses. I loved it so much that I presented at professional and postgraduate optometry meetings in every state as well as nearly every province in Canada. The highlight of those meetings was talking with doctors about their patients. I miss that.

PCON: What do you enjoy most about optometry?

Potter: The doctors. Here are a few: Amos, Barresi, Bartlett, Bennett, Black, Borish, Boyden, Breiwa, Brown, Catania, Cavallerano, Chang, Christensen, Coleman, DePaolis, Donnenfeld, Eger, Eldridge, Ellis, Ellisor, Fath, Fingeret, Gazaway, Haffner, Halder, Hendricks, Holland, Hopping, Howard, Jaanus, Jones, Legerton, Lindstrom, Loden, Lyle, Machat, Marshall, McDaid, Melton, Myers, Newcomb, Onofrey, Owen, Peters, Phillips, Probst, Remke, Rhodes, Schallhorn, Schanzlin, Schuck, Semes, Shipp, Shovlin, Stephens, Sullins, Tahran, Tanzer, Terry, Thomas, Tullo, Wedeking, Wild, Winston, Wood and countless others. Some of them are no longer with us. I miss them.

PCON: What do you wish for the future of optometry?

Potter: I have a simple faith that optometry will continue to be the vital part of health care that it is today and continue to foster its professional growth and expansion of services to patients. – by Chelsea Frajerman Pardes & Abigail Sutton