Glen “Bubba” Steele, OD, embodies the adage “everyone, teach one.”
Jennifer Smith Zolman, chair of the AOA InfantSEE® and Children’s Vision Committee, which awarded the Dr. W. David Sullin’s 2022 InfantSEE Award says:
“’Bubba’ Steele is one of the most brilliant and accomplished optometrists in the country, if not the world, on infant vision, infant development and child vision. Look at …
How many infants and children has he seen in his more than 50 years of practice.
How many students he’s taught at Southern College of Optometry throughout his career — and how many of them have returned to their communities and seen children.
Like many physicians has he lectured and mentored around the country and internationally—and how many of those physicians have returned to their communities and seen children.
At how many colleges has he spoken for the InfantSEE program he co-founded and implemented—and how many of those doctors treat patients in their communities.
I can imagine that there must be more than a million children that he has directly or indirectly influenced. But I’m not sure you can really quantify his impact.”
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The Sullins Award is presented annually to recognize an individual Doctor of Optometry who has made a significant contribution to optometry or his/her community through outstanding public service on behalf of the InfantSEE program.
InfantSEE, a public health program from Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, aims to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an integral part of infant well-being to improve a child’s quality of life. Through this program, AOA member optometry physicians provide a free, comprehensive eye and vision assessment for infants ages 6 to 12 months, regardless of family income or access to insurance coverage. More than 160,000 eye exams have been reported, with thousands of eye and vision disorders identified and either treated or referred for further treatment.
The award will be presented on June 16 at the 2022 Optometry’s Meeting® in Chicago at 8:00 p.m. during the induction ceremony of the AOA Awards and the National Optometry Hall of Fame.
Other optometry doctors may be surprised to learn that Dr. Steele, who has had a distinguished career but never received the Sullins Award himself, says Dr. Zolman. That’s because members of the committee preferred to spotlight the efforts of others in the broader industry.
That is, until this year. When he was late for the April committee meeting due to choir rehearsals, members informed him that he had won the honor.
“He was surprised,” says Dr. Zolman.
It was a shocking but encouraging development, says Dr. Steele, Professor of Pediatric Optometry at Southern College of Optometry (SCO).
“InfantSEE has been my life, my passion,” he says, “since 1998 (when Drs. Sullins and Steele, both SCO graduates, co-founded Operation Bright Start, a precursor to the formation of InfantSEE) when we first started talking about it Concept.”
From idea to execution
The idea for InfantSEE came up 24 years ago. dr Sullins, now deceased, had left a meeting room at the Southeastern Educational Congress of Optometry where they were discussing vision therapy for school-age children. He immediately discovered Dr. Steele and walked over.
“‘Bubba, that’s too late,’ said Dr. Sullins then and referred to the term school age. “What if we started something in the first year of life?”
“That’s what I do – where do we go with this?” dr Steele replied.
The Infant Vision Task Force was eventually formed within the AOA. The product of his vision and hard work became the groundbreaking InfantSEE seven years later. The members of the original InfantSEE committee included Scott Jens, OD, as Chair, Andrea Thau, OD, Dori Carlson, OD, Kerry Beebe, OD, W. Joseph Garvin, OD, William Lay, OD, Peter Kehoe, OD, Dr . Sullins and Dr. Steele. Doctors were recruited to provide eye exams for children—babies who they hoped would spend a lifetime studying eye health and eye care.
Baby eye exams may be routine now, but they weren’t then. At a press conference in 2005 to mark the launch of InfantSEE, Dr. Jens, one of the goals of the program is to “change the culture and mindset of America”.
“Doctors of optometry are very pleased to see nearly 4,000 babies during the pandemic as they struggle to keep their offices open and staff engaged,” says Dr. Steele. “It shows me the character of the members of our profession. “
The role of seeing in learning
dr Steele, who was inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2019, had planned to become a contact lens specialist after college, but a year after graduating from SCO his career took a turn after attending the Gesell Institute of Child Development, where he was He spent a year. It shaped his career and his life.
At the institute they saw children from all over the country and Dr. For example, Steele learned from other professionals about the connection between seeing and learning. For him, it underscored the importance of eye care for the youngest among us and the role of optometrists in providing that care.
“Just start with a baby…you’re putting something out of a baby’s reach,” says Dr. Steele, who has lectured to doctors and students on how to assess wobbly babies. “You have to develop that motor coordination, that ability to move, to get to that particular object. But everything starts with visions.
“The visual part of it is a motivation and a stimulus to develop movement, to grasp, to grasp, to learn how to crawl to get hold of something,” he adds. “One does not crawl just to crawl. You crawl with a purpose. It’s all part of the development. And as you get older and go through the development process, your goals become broader and more detailed. Then it leads to learning and then to jobs. I call Vision the initiator and the leader.”
Become an InfantSEE provider
AOA member optometry physicians can become InfantSEE providers and serve your community through the InfantSEE program.
Make a donation to support Optometry Cares or the InfantSEE program.