Dr. Lawrence (Larry) MacDonald practiced in Boston, MA. He wrote and lectured extensively. His “collected works” were published by the Optometric Extension Program and include his writings from 1954-1978. One of his colleagues described his contributions to optometry as follows: “He brought to all of us information from other disciplines, new ideas and new insights into optometry, new procedures, new equipment. He made us think about what he brought to us and what we were doing in our offices. Thinking is the key to growth for individuals as well as a profession and Larry made us do it. For this we should be grateful.” He received the Skeffington Award in 1981.
In 1978, Dr. Lawrence MacDonald wrote an editorial for the Journal of the American Optometric Association about “The Future of Functional Optometry.” He argued that the future of functional optometry will be directly proportional to human needs. And that need is not only vital, but becoming increasingly prominent.
New knowledge is expanding exponentially and becoming more sophisticated and complex. Education must prepare graduates not only to enter the workforce, but to remain in the workforce by becoming life-long learners. Add to the mix the current economy where the bottom line is increasing output with decreasing resources. Economic survival is dependent upon innovation, creative thinking, collaboration, and a commitment to life-long learning. Even 35 years ago, Dr. MacDonald recognized that vision is the dominant processing system for obtaining information from the external environment. Forty percent of nerve fibers reaching the brain are linked to the retina. More of our neurons are connected to vision than the other 4 senses combined. Vision interacts with the other senses and has a profound impact on the memory, integration, and the motor responses of the entire body. Vision is vital for thinking, collaborating and learning, especially in a knowledge system based on text and images. Optometry alone has the ability to improve and enhance the visual information processing skills that are required for learning. “The individual can then dip into the caldron of learning, partake of its nutrients, and utilize the sustenance for new and unlimited growth and development.”
Dr. MacDonald’s words are still as relevant today as they were in 1978. Here is his last paragraph: “The need for full spectrum vision care is greater than ever. Optometry is the only profession that can adequately fulfill the need of humankind for efficient information processing. It remains for optometry to recognize the need, accept the challenge, continue on a course of study and exploration with colleagues and to organize office practice to emphasize prevention through enhancement of those visual skills necessary for efficient visual information processing. “ Today, developmental optometry has many allies and advocates to help others recognize the need (thank you Jillian Benoit and Dr. Sue Barry). Technology is being used in new and exciting ways to present courses of study around the world (here is the most recent copy of Optometry and Visual Performance). High quality research has focused on explorations that are defining treatment paradigms (e.g. The Amblyopia Treatment Studies). New residency programs are preparing doctors to open and expand practices emphasizing developmental optometry. Our annual meeting brings colleagues together to learn and share in both formal and informal ways.
Developmental optometry is embracing Dr. MacDonald’s future. We’re not there yet, and we will probably never get there because the need will become even more prominent and vital. We will keep working on ways to fulfill the need today and all our tomorrows.