Preparing for the Rise of the ‘Culturally Competent’ Eyecare Professional

The transformation of the U.S. demographic landscape and the continued cultural diversity that is now reflected within it is giving way to new ideas about the roles of health care professionals, eyecare pros among them.

Transitions Optical has arguably conducted more research and developed more resources for ECPs and optical retailers around this topic than any company. Its Transitions Cultural Connections projects, the feedback of its own Diversity Advisory Board and such rich and robust resources as its ( provide a way for optical professionals to learn more and enhance their position in this regard. And, this month, Transitions released a new study on the trend, which backs up the need for cultural competency—based on feedback from patients.

New multicultural research from Transitions confirms that while patients highly trust their eyecare professionals, there are steps these professionals could take to enhance this respect further, by promoting cultural competency within their practices and connecting with patients in ways that reflect their values. The survey of 2,600 Americans explored perceptions of eyecare professionals and the eyecare experience among the general population, as well as specifically among Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and American Indians.

Survey responses confirmed that the majority of Americans prefer eyecare professionals who are taking steps to promote cultural competency, such as hiring a diverse staff and using bilingual or in-language materials. More than half (57 percent) of Americans surveyed agreed that “the best eyecare practices” include staff members from a mix of races and ethnicities, with ethnic minority groups even more likely to feel strongly about this topic.

Approximately two thirds of Americans also agreed that it is a sign of respect for their own, or others’ culture when an eyecare professional offers eye health education materials that are bilingual or in another language.

“My practice is extremely culturally diverse, both my patient base and my staff,” said Kirk Smick, OD at Clayton Eye Center in Atlanta and a member of Transitions Optical’s Diversity Advisory Board. “I’ve found that while it is not necessary for the eyecare professional to be of the same race or ethnicity as the patient to provide quality service and make a good impression, it is certainly respected when the practice as a whole makes a concerted effort to recognize cultural differences and make available bilingual and in-language materials,” he said.

Today’s business climate requires a proactive approach to these important issues. ■