Alumni Focus on Alex Nixon ('12)

DR. NIXON'S STORY

Hometown

Mount Vernon, Ohio

Were you the first optometrist in your family?

Yes

Which degree(s), related to optometry, did you earn at Ohio State?

OD (2012) MS (2014)

Who were your mentors at the College of Optometry? Who had a positive effect on your education?

  • Dean VanNasdale: He was my MS advisor and played a crucial role in my research project investigating the use of scleral contact lenses for patients with normal eyes. He also continues to push me in my career development and continues to act as a mentor.
  • Michael Mayers: He was my childhood optometrist and also a graduate of Ohio State. He acted as a mentor as I was going through my high school and undergraduate education. Through his practice, I was first introduced to specialty contact lenses. He encouraged me to complete advanced training in specialty contact lenses and contact lens research.
  • Tom Quinn: I didn’t meet Tom until I was in optometry school, but he has played a major role in my development as a contact lens specialist and has been an excellent role model as I started lecturing at continuing education meetings. He has an incredible ability to break down complex topics into a format that is not only simple, but also fun. I really admire and hope to emulate many aspects of his lecturing.
  • Marc Hartig and Marie Schiff: These Ohio State grads gave me a job at Southwest Eyecare in Grove City while I was an undergraduate student looking to gain interest in the field. In the end, I worked there nearly eight years (as both a student and optometrist) and learned a whole lot about optometry, practice management, and life.
  • (I can’t say thank you enough to each of these people.)

DR. NIXON’S CAREER IN OPTOMETRY

Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.

Clinical Assistant Professor at Ohio State College of Optometrys.

Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.

Although I am a full-time employee at Ohio State, my time is split between serving as an attending optometrist in the College’s clinic and as a research optometrist for the Bifocal Lenses in Nearsighted Kids (BLINK) Study.

As an attending optometrist, I train optometry students and provide comprehensive eye examinations in the College’s Primary Vision Care and Contact Lens Services. In the Contact Lens Service, I fit corneal and scleral gas permeable contact lenses for a wide variety of eyes including those with high levels of astigmatism, keratoconus, and eyes after corneal transplant. I also regularly fit soft and gas permeable contact lenses on normal eyes for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. I love this aspect of the job because I am able to teach student optometrists and provide direct patient care simultaneously.

I completed the Advanced Practice Fellowship in Cornea and Contact Lenses in 2014, conducting research with Dean VanNasdale investigating the use of scleral contact lenses in normal eyes. During this training, I enjoyed tailoring and executing research with the hope of changing the way optometrists practice in the future. This role was my first foray into research and eventually opened the door for me in the BLINK Study Group. The BLINK Study is a National Eye Institute (NEI) funded study examining whether soft multifocal contact lenses slow the progression of nearsightedness. As a research optometrist for the BLINK Study, I spend my days providing comprehensive eye care, fitting contact lenses, and measuring peripheral defocus in 7-11 year old kids. Every day is an adventure, similar, yet different. I am having tons of fun and feel like I’m working on a project where the results will shape the way optometrists practice, just like I had wanted.

Tell us a special story that relates to your career now.

When I turned 21 years old, I was working at Southwest Eyecare. On my birthday, some of the technicians filled a meeting room full of balloons and brought me some Corona w/lime for after the office closed. The other employees were 10-15 years older than me, but age didn’t matter. I was fortunate to be surrounded by good people who wanted to help me celebrate.

As we approach graduation season in Columbus, I quickly realize that I already graduated and won’t be celebrated this year. It’s different being on faculty because a new group of optometrists graduates each year. I’m trying to be mindful that, like turning 21, these graduation celebrations only happen once for each student and I want to help them make the most of it.

Which optometric issues concern you the most?

One of the optometric issues that concerns me is the illegal sale of contact lenses without a prescription. Contact lenses are medical devices that should have the size, shape, material, power, etc. specified on the prescription, whether they are strictly cosmetic or for vision correction. This ensures that the contact lenses properly fit, correct vision appropriately, and maximizes safety.

Why did you choose a career in optometry?

As I went through high school I was torn between wanting to be a high school teacher or an optometrist. Through The Ohio State University’s Pre-Optometry Club, I was able to meet some great faculty members and realized that working in an academic setting would give me the chance to practice optometry and teach. As I went through school, I always kept this goal in mind as I selected externships and applied for the Advanced Practice Fellowship at Ohio State. I feel fortunate to be living out my dream each day.

Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?

I hope to still be in the same place I am now. I love Columbus and I love working at Ohio State. In the coming years I’m hoping to gain more experience lecturing locally and nationally, writing, and I would like to become more involved with my state and local optometric association.

As a recent graduate, what is one piece of advice you can give an OPT IV student as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric career?

No matter what mode of practice optometrists ultimately work in, the primary reason patients come see an optometrist is vision correction. As a practicing optometrist, I understand the role optometrists play managing ocular disease and the ocular manifestations of systemic disease. One of the concerns I have is that some students take so much interest in the patient’s ocular health that they fail to recommend spectacle lens designs, contact lenses, or other products to fulfill their visual needs. Always be sure to address the patient’s primary concerns first, then continue building the relationship by addressing each of the health concerns detected throughout the course of the exam.

DR. NIXON’S OHIO STATE EXPERIENCE

Why did you choose to attend Ohio State?

I never considered going anywhere else. I felt like I hit the jackpot because I knew I wanted to be an optometrist and best school in the country was located in my home state. There really wasn’t much of a decision to make.

What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?

  • Watching the 2014 College Football national championship game at Eddie George’s Grill. Afterward we circumvented the tear gas and enjoyed a celebratory pizza from Catfish Biff’s.
  • Presenting the research I completed during my Advanced Practice Fellowship at the American Academy of Optometry’s Meeting in Denver (2014).
  • Optometry Welcome Week 2008: There isn’t anything like the first time you meet your classmates.
  • Tailgating and attending sporting events with my friends and family.

What lesson did you learn at Ohio State that has affected you the most so far in your career?

During my time as a student, I had a rotation with Greg Graves at East Central Health Center. Their patient population was generally lower income with a large amount of non-English speaking patients. The exams were sometimes difficult to perform and patients didn’t always return for the care they needed. However, he seemed like he had never had a bad day in his life and gave everything he could to help his patients. Even on difficult days when we were overbooked, his attitude was a shining example and helped me and every employee there stay positive. I try to emulate this and make the most of every situation, knowing that my attitude can have the same impression on the students and staff I interact with.

What does Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?

It’s hard to do justice. I earned three degrees from Ohio State over nine years and am fortunate to continue working at this great University. My wife, Ashli, also graduated from Ohio State and is currently working for the Wexner Medical Center. Nearly everything we have accomplished to this point can be linked back to Ohio State. I’m already brainwashing my daughter to shout O-H-I-O and have video evidence to prove it.

DR. NIXON’S FUN FACTS

What are your current hobbies, volunteer work, interests?

Right now I’m pretty invested in my daughter, who will turn two in May. She is pretty incredible and I love spending time with her. She’s going through a lot of verbal development right now and says some really funny things. She loves brewing coffee with me each morning, but she can’t quite pronounce the word coffee, often calling it “focky.” She shouts this every time she sees a coffee mug or a Starbucks logo, so I’ve been thrown into some interesting social situations recently.

One hobby that I wish I spent more time on is golf. The difficult thing for me is deciding how much time to devote to golf. There is a really fine line that divides too little versus too much time spent on golf. If I don’t spend enough time on golf, I don’t play well but my expectations are low and I have fun. If I spend more time on golf, I play better, but my expectations are higher and I get frustrated. I’m excited to be hitting the links for the AOSA sponsored Corneal Classic in the next couple weeks and am looking forward to meeting up with some old friends.

If not an optometrist, I would be ...

I would want to work as a general manager for a professional sports team. Since this isn’t really an option, I instead devote way too much time to fantasy football leagues during the fall. I’m still reveling in the glory of my first fantasy football championship that I clinched over the winter. I’m sure it is the first of many to come.