Alumni Focus on Brian Burke (OD'90)



Born in Philadelphia, PA. Raised in Kettering, OH.

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

OD and post-graduate Ohio State VA Residency at Chillicothe/Columbus.

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

I wanted to understand running a private practice when I finished my schooling, so I worked 20-25 hours per week for Dr. Thomas Gilbert (OD’74) in Dublin while I was in optometry school. Of course working that much affected my GPA, but that experience was priceless. This served as my in-school externship. I also gained invaluable clinical experience working for Drs. 'Buckeye Bob' Newcomb (OD’71, MPH) and 'Wild Bill' Schuler (BS’65) during my VA residency. Both of these experiences allowed me the understanding of pursuing my career ambitions.


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

I have been in solo private practice for the last 15 years at Dawson Vision (in Dawsonville, GA). With the expansion into our new building, I now employ a full-time associate. 

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

My office day usually starts at 9 a.m. I believe in empowering my (well-trained) staff who do all the work up on our patients. We schedule patients every 15 minutes with 1-2 rechecks per hour. We usually see 25-35 patients per day. We use Zeiss Visual Field, OCT and their Forum software for our glaucoma patients and an Optos Daytona for imaging of retinal changes. After reviewing the day's patients, I am usually out of the office by 6:30 p.m.

Which optometric issues concern you the most?

With the hiring of my associate, I am sensitive to the high debt that young ODs face at graduation. Doctors in my generation have to understand their predicament and to help groom young ODs to be successful in their own practices. As all specialties in medicine become more corporate and commercialized, I fear that independent practices will no longer be a viable career alternative.

Why did you choose a career in optometry?

I became interested in optometry after receiving my first pair of glasses and contact lenses at the age of 12. The reward of corrected vision had a profound impact on me. The idea of a career providing that kind of immediate fulfillment was extremely appealing. I still get a kick out of seeing patients, young and old, marvel at their clarity of acuity after an exam or a post-op visit.

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

As I begin the last quarter of my career, I have begun mentoring my associate to successfully replace me. She started as my front office receptionist when I first opened Dawson Vision and later, at my insistence, became a licensed optician as she finished her undergraduate degree in pre-med. After graduation from UAB Optometry School, she contracted to work in the office for five years before becoming a minority owner in our practice. This allowed her to establish her own patient following and an understanding of the commitment to be an owner-operator.

What is one piece of advice you can give OPT IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?

We have hosted UAB externs at our practice for the last few years. I give them three gems to follow for a successful career in our profession.

  1. Know how to diagnose and treat.
  2. Know how to diagnose and refer.
  3. Know how to refract!

There have been countless times that I have seen patients who were diagnosed and treated correctly but were not happy with their vision because of a poor refraction. Do not forget that functional vision is the most lasting impact you will have on your patients.


Why did you choose to attend Ohio State?

Though I was born and have family in Philadelphia, I chose Ohio State because I couldn't picture going anywhere else!

What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?

Back in the day, our house on 10th Avenue was the center for many social gatherings of young professionals. We were 10 future optometrists living in a row home that was one block from the school. My side of the house included Tom Cummings (OD’89), Tim Dawson (OD’90) and Tony ('Mang') Fenton (OD’89), who was our defacto social director. Many of you know Tony as the drummer for the Eye Docs of Rock band that got their start in our basement and now play many of our education conferences. 'Club 221' was known to host three annual bashes each year. Fall quarter was the Hawaiian luau, in the winter quarter we had our toga party and we finished each year with our infamous pig roast. Our senior year saw the end of that legacy as the pig roast was extinguished by the Columbus Fire Department after the late night bonfire got just a little too big!


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

As a Buckeye residing in SEC country, I made sure that both my daughters (Carrie is 24 and Brenna is 19) grew up as avid Ohio State fans. I began taking them to games both home and away, as rewards for their good grades and school accomplishments. I am proud to say that they both root against that team up north as much as I do! I am currently in a seven-year relationship with an Auburn grad. After attending a night game in the 'Shoe in late October, she has no interest in going to another Ohio State game up north past September. Also, I have a 26-year attendance streak of at least one Ohio State football game (including two national championship games) since graduation.

How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry as an alumnus?

My connection to the College of Optometry was recently rekindled at SECO 2014. I spent much of my free time visiting and reminiscing with Kris Kerestan Garbig (OD’90) and Melissa Tobias Berry (OD’88) and it sparked an interest to seeing how the college has evolved. Now that I have raised my family and have stability in my career, I have begun the process of giving back to the university by making a significant yearly pledge amount to the Bill Schuler Fund.


What are your current hobbies, volunteer work, interests?

As a 13-year Dawson County Rotarian, I am very active in community service in my area. Early in my career, I did low vision for a nonprofit vision and rehabilitation clinic in Atlanta. Currently I volunteer at our local nonprofit Good Shepard Clinic, where I am an unpaid board member and perform free vision exams for low-income adults. I have been recognized as a 2015 Citizen of the Year by our local paper, and was awarded the 2016 Business Leader of the Year by our local chamber of commerce. I credit much of my business success to the network of people I have met through volunteering.

As for fun, I am an avid traveler and endurance cyclist. I combine these two passions by doing organized long distance cycling events, known as radonnees, around the world. Previous long races included 900-mile London-Edinburgh-London in 100 hours elapsed time, 750-mile Paris-Brest- Paris in 80 hours and a 750-mile tour of the Colorado Rockies in 83 hours. This summer I will attempt to circumnavigate the province of Ontario (~800 miles) in less than 90 hours. I have completed shorter events in 15 states and four European countries. Living at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail allows me plenty of opportunity to cycle, hike and paddle in the mountains around my home.

For the last eight years, I have spent Mardi Gras in New Orleans with my classmate, Henry Carter (OD’90) , as a member of the Hermes Krewe. We have our Grand Ball on Thursday night, we throw from our parade float on Friday night and finish the weekend with a masquerade party on Saturday night. Henry and his friends have allowed me to experience the complex beauty that is NOLA.

If not an optometrist, I would be ...

The only possible sidetrack for me becoming an optometrist was when I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a 17-year-old infantry medic. I volunteered to get the GI Bill to pay for college because my family did not have the means to help pay my way. After basic training, I was selected to enter the preparatory academy for West Point. I failed the medical evaluation because of a previous knee surgery from playing high school basketball. A West Point appointment would have taken me on a completely different path but I probably would not be as fulfilled as I am now.