Dr. Teri Geist, an optometrist who specializes in primary vision care, problem-focused eye examinations, pediatric eye care, urgent eye care, and pre- and post-operative examinations, is a partner at Midwest Eye Care, a large group ophthalmology/optometry private practice in Omaha, Nebraska.
Geist earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and went on to earn her doctorate of optometry (OD) from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. She served an externship at the Portland VA Medical Center as the contact lens research coordinator.
Currently, Dr. Geist is a consultant for the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education, and has also served on the board of the Nebraska Foundation for Children’s Vision. She has also volunteered in the See to Learn program for three-year-old children and Hope Medical Outreach Coalition. Active in professional organizations, she is the current chair of the Communications Executive Committee of the American Optometric Association, a past president of the Nebraska Optometric Association, and immediate past president of the North Central States Optometric Council. Dr. Geist was awarded the Nebraska Young Optometrist of the Year in 2001 and Nebraska Optometrist of the Year in 2005.
When did you first decide to become an optometrist? Why?
I decided that I wanted to be an optometrist when I was in high school. We have a great family friend that was my optometrist (I have worn glasses since I was six). I always enjoyed going to his office, and since I had an interest in math and science, it seemed like a natural fit for me to go into the healthcare field.
How/why did you choose the optometry school you went to?
I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and attended Pacific University College of Optometry. When I visited the school, the staff was so incredibly nice and the school offered everything I wanted. Pacific is an accredited university with a great tradition of academic excellence.
What surprised you the most about optometry school?
I was so excited to start graduate school that I don’t remember being surprised by anything. However, I do know that the environment was much different from my undergraduate experience. Most of my classmates were high-achievers and that created a competitive environment. That brought out the best in me because I wanted to succeed.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an optometrist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Absolutely! I can’t imagine doing anything else. Optometry is a nice balance between a challenging professional life and satisfying personal life.
What do you like most about being an optometrist?
The thing I like the most is patient interaction. I love developing patient relationships and educating them on the importance of lifelong vision and eye care.
What do you like least about being an optometrist?
The thing I like the least would be the paperwork of charting and billing insurance companies.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I was fairly lucky in finding my position. I was able to use the career center with the American Optometric Association and my contacts with Pacific University. My husband and I knew that we wanted to live close to our families, so that helped narrow down my choices in my job search. Being a partner in a large group practice allows me some flexibility with my schedule, while giving me the challenge of seeing difficult medical patients. There is a wide range of different modalities of practice and it is important to find one that fits your individual needs.
What other kinds of providers do you work with?
I work with my ophthalmology partners on a daily basis. I also get referrals from my optometry colleagues. Because eye care is so much a part of a person’s systemic health, I have daily communication with patients’ primary care providers, neurologist, endocrinologists and rheumatologists.
Describe a typical day at work.
Generally I see patients from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. I do work one evening a week and then on Saturday mornings when I am on call. I am a partner in a large optometry/ophthalmology practice, so it allows me to see a wide variety of patients with different medical needs. I enjoy the complicated medical cases, along with the comprehensive exams for my glasses and contact lens wearing patients.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I usually work about 40 hours a week. That can vary if I am on call on a weekend. Hours of sleep… hmmm… never enough! I am a Mom and have teenagers, so my goal is always eight hours. I am not sure if I have slept eight hours since before they were born. My vacation varies, because I try to vacation while I am at optometric conferences. So my “vacation” is most often work related.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Right now, yes. However, with the prospect of lower reimbursement, I am worried that healthcare salaries will decline among all specialties.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Student loans are always a financial strain and I think that also is going to be more of an issue for future graduates. It also affects the type of position you may take out of school, because the student loan debt is increasing.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Relax! Ten years ago, I had two young children and was trying to juggle home and work. I think it is a struggle for many people to find the right balance. It took me some time, and a very helpful husband, to be comfortable with both.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning optometry school?
I wish I would have had more information/education on practice and business management. Doctors tend not to be very good business people.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
For optometry, it is access and affordability. With optometrists practicing in more than 6,500 communities, we are among the most accessible health care providers. The system is so complicated and we want to maintain the best quality of care and survive the rising insurance costs.
Where do you see optometry in 10 years?
Because optometrists practice in such a wide range of settings, from practicing in retail settings to multi-doctor tertiary care practices, it’s hard to envision what a “typical” practice will be. I believe we will continue to be essential in our health care system as primary care providers for vision and eye health. I hope that all generations will recognize the need for comprehensive eye examinations as a crucial and important part of their overall ocular and systemic health.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I have been a volunteer for the See to Learn program, which provides free evaluations for three year olds. Serving as a board member for several years with the Nebraska Foundation for Children’s Vision, it has allowed me to advocate for children’s eye exams and the essential link between good vision and learning. I have been a provider for Hope Medical Outreach Coalition and the InfantSEE program. I have also been a Sunday school teacher at our church and a member of the guild for Child Savings Institute. I have served as president in both the Nebraska Optometric Association and North Central States Optometric Council. I am currently chair of the communications executive committee with the American Optometric Association.
How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
I usually revolve my free time around my family. My boys play basketball, so we are constantly traveling to and from practice and games. In the summer, we golf and ski and wakeboard with our boat. I love to read when I have time.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them?
I have been married for 22 years and I have two teenage boys. I don’t think there is anyone that thinks they ever spend enough time with their children!
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing optometry as a career?
I think optometry is and will continue to be an exciting challenging career. I would recommend observing an optometrist to see if it meets your personal expectations. Students need to be prepared academically and explore financial options for optometry school so they have the necessary information and skills to succeed.