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Upstate Medical University partners with SUNY College of Optometry for new program

Upstate Medical University President Dr. Mantosh Dewan, left, and SUNY Optometry President Dr. David Heath
Upstate Medical University
Upstate Medical University President Dr. Mantosh Dewan, left, and SUNY Optometry President Dr. David Heath

Among the medical professional shortages in upstate New York is a lack of practicing optometrists. An expansion of the state’s only optometry program to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is meant to ease that shortage.

According to SUNY College of Optometry president David Heath, a recent survey shows a quarter of upstate optometrists plan on retiring in the next five years. Part of the problem is the SUNY College of Optometry is in Manhattan, so graduates tend to stay there instead of venturing upstate.

"The theory here is, if we train them in the central New York area, they’re much more likely to stay settled in that area."

The College of Optometry will collaborate with Upstate’s Ophthalmology program, which chair Robert Fechtner said is bulging at the seams.

"By increasing capacity, we'll be able to serve a population who really needs primary eye care," Fechtner said

This optometry campus extension at Upstate will offer students a doctorate of optometry degree — not to be confused with a doctor of ophthalmology, which is a medical degree. Fechtner admits the two disciplines generally don’t work together.

"Optometry and ophthalmology have remained pretty separate in their training, so putting us under one roof is a step toward what I believe will be the future for integrated eye models," Fechtner said.

"The first two years are largely classroom work, then hands-on learning to use the equipment, not necessarily with patients. But there’s a lot of technology in eye care,” he continued.

There are also plans to create an eye care center in Syracuse, that would include clinical research. The first class of 25 students is expected to start the four-year program in 2025.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.