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Michaels Named AOA Optometrist of the Year, Alumnus Offered Leadership to Industry During Pandemic

PhotoDr. Jeffrey Michaels

A 1998 Ferris State University Michigan College of Optometry alumnus says service to patients is important. But, Dr. Jeffrey Michaels’ selection as the American Optometric Association’s 2022 Optometrist of the Year was based on his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Congress provided the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in Spring 2020, Michaels said that he prioritized learning everything possible about the Paycheck Protection Program and the Employee Retention Credit.

“At first, my concerns were related to wanting that information to benefit our office, Family Vision Care of Richmond, which is in Glen Allen, Virginia,” Michaels said. “I decided to make what I had learned available in a webinar where the typical audience for such a program might be 250 professionals. More than 5,000 practitioners and professionals signed up for that event.”

Michaels offered eight webinars in two years to ensure that the relief programs were clear to those in optometry to continue in their practices during limited access and reduced business activity.

“It was an honor to hear that after my first two webinars, there were attendees who said as optometrists, they had a better understanding of the nuances of Paycheck Protection Program and Employee Retention Credit than their bankers or accountants,” Michaels said. “When our profession faces challenges, it is incumbent on us to collaborate and strive for solutions.”

Born and raised in Oak Park, Michaels also attended Ferris State University for his Pre-Optometry studies. In addition, he had gained significant experience in industry advocacy at the state level through the Michigan Optometric Association.

“I went from the MCO to a post-graduate fellowship at Johns Hopkins in Maryland,” Michaels said. “I joined the Richmond Optometric Society, which grew into committee-level involvement with the Virginia Optometric Association and election to the Association’s leadership.”

Michaels said a visitors’ presentation to MCO students from Dr. Roger Seelye, an Owosso-based optometrist who received every award available from the Michigan Optometric Association, helped shape his focus as a professional and advocate for the industry.

“Dr. Seelye boiled it down to a simple message of ‘Serve the Profession,’” Michaels said. He was a state-level advocate, who really helped me to understand my work goes beyond patient involvement, with mentorship that helped me decide to advance our professional positively.”

Michaels has also been active in scope of practice laws, serving on committees with full intention to allow optometry students to bring what they have learned about emergent technology to their practice, in whatever state they choose for their career.

“The initiatives we have achieved in Virginia are now being offered nationally,” Michaels said. “I really appreciate the great legislative framework we have in this state, as it supports my passion for allowing optometry graduates to practice at the height of their abilities.”

Michaels said optometrists could offer laser procedures to treat patients in his home state of Virginia and eight others across the country. The other state organizations should be active in changing mindsets and laws.

“Many states in the Midwest do not allow for those procedures, impacting their ability to recruit young professionals to meet their needs,” Michaels said. “We hope through education and advocacy that those states can adjust their scope of practice laws to help them recruit talent and improve the level of patient care.”

Michaels said as a father of a Virginia Commonwealth University alumna and a son considering his prospects in studying optometry; he has pride with and patience in their thinking as they make education and career choices.

“I would not be where I am today without the mentors I had at Ferris, who helped me understand the industry and the importance of involvement beyond patient care,” Michaels said. “I really feel that the message that the Michigan Optometric Association brought to us was so important that we strive to serve the profession in the most positive way that we could. I look back on my experiences as the fondest of memories. Studying in the MCO was great fun, the best time of my life.”