In recognition of the year 2020 and the significance of 20/20 in the field of optometry, the UAB School of Optometry is recognizing alumni whose careers have impacted communities, set precedents, or moved the profession forward in some way. With this in mind, meet Ian Benjamin Gaddie, OD, FAAO. 

Gaddie has found an unexpectedly rewarding career with his father, Bruce Gaddie, OD, become an industry leader and is an advocate for the optometry profession. Co-chairman of the International Vision Expo Meetings, he has been a consultant for most of the medical/contact lens companies in the industry.

In 2011, Gaddie championed historic legislation in Kentucky. Not only was it scope expansion into laser and surgical care, but more importantly, it clarified that the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners was the only regulatory body who could determine the current and future scope of optometric care. This turned out to be a watershed moment for the profession. Gaddie says he has never forgotten the essence of fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.  

1. What year did you graduate from UABSO? I graduated from UAB in 1997 and completed a Residency in Ocular Disease at NSU College of Optometry in 1998 then a fellowship in 1999 also through NSU College of Optometry.

2. Where do you currently practice? Gaddie Eye Centers/Keplr Vision in Louisville, KY

3. Describe your optometry career path. Following graduation from UABSO and encouragement from my mentors, I pursued a Residency in Ocular Disease at a Referral Center in Tulsa, OK. This was through Northeastern State University College of Optometry. Following my Residency, I decided to pursue a second post-doctoral program with a fellowship again through NSU College of Optometry. After that, I was poised to take over a great opportunity at a TLC Laser Center and also the affiliated practice and their surgery center in Madison, WI. It was a perfect fit for me professionally and I was all set to make the jump to my first paying job. However, God had other plans for me as I was diagnosed with Lymphoma shortly after accepting the position.  

I didn’t know a soul in Madison and the thought of battling cancer and going through chemotherapy without any familiar support mechanism was too much to contemplate. I subsequently withdrew from the opportunity in Madison to return home to Louisville, KY, where my family lived. It is also where my father, Bruce Gaddie, OD, had his practice. I knew he always wanted (but didn’t expect me to) come back and join him. I was trained to manage and treat the most complex cases and I never saw an everyday vision patient, it was ALL medical. What would I do in a traditional practice? There were a lot of unknowns, but at the end of the day I was with my family and working in a practice that had the same name as me…Gaddie Eye Centers. It would take me some time to realize it, but that right there was the biggest asset I could ever hope to gain.  

I got into teaching and lecturing to colleagues early on. That provided an outlet to keep my scientific and clinical skills at the highest level. It also opened many doors to me in the industry I would never be able to kick down as an everyday doctor. Over time, the doctors at Gaddie Eye would start sending me their challenging glaucoma and retina cases, eliminating the need to send out to other practices for management. What a shot in the arm that became for the health of Gaddie Eye.  Eventually I had enough chronic eye disease pathology to dedicate all of my clinical time to medical eye care.  It has truly been a blessing for me professionally.

4. Who/What influenced the direction for your optometry career? There are so many individuals who have shaped me personally and professionally that it’s hard to name just a few. But without question my father Bruce Gaddie, OD, had a huge influence on where I am today. I always swore I would never move back to Louisville or join my dad’s practice. What a mistake that would have been! I learned how to run a business from my dad along with some optometry related clinical learnings. I consider the 20 years spent side by side in practice with him to be the highlight of my career.  

In addition to my father, Larry Alexander, OD, was by far one of my earliest mentors and proponents of me doing a residency. I was able to do one of my two externships with Dr. Alexander when he left UABSO for private practice in Louisville. Honestly, I learned how to critically think because of Larry. His clinical intuition was unapparelled and I think it rubbed off on me. He insisted that I do the best residency in the US and it had to be in Oklahoma because of their scope at the time and a never ending population of bad eye diseases. Although he passed away untimely a few years ago, I think about him almost every day and he continues to inspire me. There were so many more of my mentors from UABSO at the time including Jimmy Bartlett, OD, Leo Semes, OD, Mark Swanson, OD, Chris Snyder, OD, and Mel Shipp, OD, just to name a few.

There is one other mentor that I would add in there who happens NOT to be an OD. Darlene Eakin was the Executive Director at the Kentucky Optometric Association (KOA) for decades. She took me under her wing as I joined my dad’s practice and taught me the world about leadership. Darlene was the best of all time with reading, writing and interpreting statutes, regulations and law. When we would go to the capitol, ALL legislators would stop to talk to Darlene. She garnered the utmost respect not only from politicians, but also from optometrists coast to coast. Darlene really taught me the game of war and how to be a respected adversary in the face of legislative challenge. She retired four years ago, but I hear her voice in my head every day.

5. How have you impacted optometry in your state and why does being an advocate matter? I’ve had a lot of mentorship and guidance in this area. I remember being a kid and walking the neighborhoods with signs and pamphlets for various candidates running for state office. Seeing my father so involved in this aspect was always an inspiration to get involved. So I knew from an early age about politics and being a captive of a legislated profession. When I returned to Kentucky from Oklahoma, Darlene Eakin and the rest of the KOA leadership had already determined that I would be involved, but I didn’t know what advocacy meant. I would quickly learn. I became a key-person to both my local state senator and state house representative. These relationships evolved as we passed some minor legislative initiatives. The trust we built with legislators revolved around one constant: We deliver on what we say we are going to do and we never ask for legislation that goes beyond our capabilities or training.

In 2011 we decided to go for some historic legislation in Kentucky. Not only was it scope expansion into laser and surgical care, but more importantly it clarified that our Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners was the only regulatory body who could determine the current and future scope of optometric care. Because of my experience in Oklahoma with lasers I became somewhat of the poster child for the legislation where I was the point person in House and Senate committees to argue our case with ophthalmologists on the other side. It came down to our patients and providing the best access to care for a very rural population. It also resulted in an infamous live television debate on public TV. Dr. David Cockrell from Oklahoma and I debated the American Academy and Kentucky Academy of Ophthalmology and it turned out to be one for the ages. I think for most optometrists who watched the debate, it turned out to be a watershed moment for the profession.  

When you advocate for taking care of your patients it has a larger effect than protecting one’s turf. And that was the difference between our arguments and our colleague’s. Now I see issues like this more clearly. I know the questions to ask and I have never forgotten the essence of being an American and using the system to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.  

6. Describe your involvement in the industry. Early on in my career I was fortunate to have a few mentors who urged me to get involved with some of the companies in the industry to help educate my peers about new and emerging treatments for various eye diseases. I started as a “speaker” for many of these companies but this too evolved into a much higher level of interaction over the years. I have been a consultant for most of the medical/contact lens companies in our industry. I think they like working with me because I can represent many of the facets of the optometric provider from comprehensive exams, contact lenses, specialty contact lenses, glaucoma, dry eye and retina. More than being a representative of the many aspects of optometry, I speak my mind and try to do so with my colleagues and profession ultimately in mind (and our patients too!).

By my count I have provided Continuing Education to almost all of our United States (with the exception of Alaska, North/South Dakota and Rhode Island). While I have dialed back on that in recent years due to the travel fatigue and family obligations, I have truly enjoyed being out there with my collages and industry partners to move the needle and helping to push along the level of care provided for our patients here in America.

I was asked to be the Chairman of the AOA Continuing education committee in 2010, and served that role until 2015 when I transitioned to be the Co-Chairman of the Vision Expo meetings. This has allowed me to work with our industry partners relative to those meetings and I am constantly amazed at the level of insight and knowledge that they share with us regarding our profession and education. Without our industry partners, we would be nowhere close to where we are today as a profession.

7. In what ways has your career path been rewarding? My career path has most certainly been rewarding. I love the multitude of roles that I play not only in my practice but in the profession. I get the reward and challenge of taking care of complicated eye diseases as well as sharing my experiences in patient care with my colleagues around the globe. What I learn from my patient care helps the larger eye care industry. In turn, I learn so much from my colleagues and industry collaborators as I travel to teach and consult. I’ve always believed in the notion that the world makes way for those who know where they are going. In fact, I think it is a line in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you can’t dream and envision your future life, you can never get there. For me, my only limitation has been the expanse of my imagination. If you can dream it then you can live it. I wouldn’t trade my career path or experience for anything in the world. I hope that makes in impact on the next generation of leaders in our profession.