After 45 years of service to the UAB School of Optometry, Robert Kleinstein, OD, MPH, PhD, retires knowing that he impacted the optometry profession as an educator and clinician-scientist.

During his tenure at the school, Kleinstein was Associate Dean for Professional Programs, Chair for the Department of Optometry and creator of the concurrent program of Optometry and Public Health. He also served on a number of committees to influence several areas of UABSO functions from admissions to clinic operations to academics.

As a didactic instructor and clinician, he expanded the study of optometry with public health principles. Kleinstein’s efforts lead to the creation of the OD/MPH joint degree program being offered at UABSO. This program enabled optometrists to apply public health principles such as epidemiology, health promotion and disease prevention to provide quality eye and vision care.

"Our founding Dean of the UAB School of Optometry, Hank Peters, spurred my interest in public health and encouraged me to complement my OD and PhD degrees with an MPH degree,” he said. “This led to a perspective that at the time was somewhat unique in our school and not common in our profession. Hank also supported my postgraduate fellowship in epidemiology and my successful efforts to start a new Diplomate program in Public Health and Environmental Vision in the American Academy of Optometry."

As a Vision Science Research Center scientist, he conducted numerous research projects. For a decade beginning in the late 1990s, Kleinstein and several colleagues from the UAB School of Optometry took equipment twice a week and made the hour-and-a-half trek to rural Greene County, Alabama, where they ran sophisticated vision tests on schoolchildren in first through eighth grades. As children moved away from Eutaw, his team used a mobile van to bring the tests to the children and keep them in the study.

“After a while, all the kids knew all of us,” Kleinstein said.

The work was part of the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity in Refractive Error (CLEERE) study, which involved 4,927 children at five sites across the United States and evolved from the Orinda Longitudinal Study of Myopia (OLSM). These studies followed landmark research on vision screenings by UAB School of Optometry founding dean Henry B. Peters in California in the 1950s.

OSLM was following white children in California when Kleinstein contacted Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, the study principle investigator, to discuss replicating her study with African-American children in Alabama. “I thought, wow, we don’t know anything about African-American children,” Kleinstein says.

Kleinstein’s interactions with Dr. Zadnik led to the National Eye Institute expanding the research to include African-American children in Eutaw, Alabama, and to also include Asian children in Irvine, California, Hispanic children in Houston, Texas, and Native-American children in Tucson, Arizona.

Study results yielded much of what is known today about the normal growth of the human eye, including key information about the development of myopia.

Another impact was having eye and vision objectives added into Healthy People 2000. These national health objectives have continued to the present. This success ties back to his strong interest in linking optometric care and public health to enhance patient care. He co-authored a landmark textbook, Environmental Vision: Interactions of the Eye, Vision and the Environment, with Donald Pitts, OD, PhD. Additionally, Kleinstein started the Public Health Educators Special Interest Group in the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), and under his leadership the group completed the ASCO Guidelines for Public Health and Environmental Vision Core Competencies and Learning Objectives.

Kleinstein says he will miss teaching in clinic with the students as they improved the lives of the patients and interacting and collaborating with colleagues to strengthen and enhance the school and profession.

“The satisfaction of seeing the students ‘catch’ what I am teaching, the fun of interacting with excellent and stimulating colleagues and enabling patients to see their best for their work and play activities in their lives is what I enjoyed the most,” Kleinstein said.

Upon retirement, he plans to take on fun activities including playing the saxophone, becoming fluent in Spanish, learning abstract painting and traveling.

“The devotedness Kleinstein had to the school, patients and students shows today and there is no doubt that he had a huge part in the foundation of UABSO,” said Kelly Nichols, O.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., FAAO dean of UABSO. “His innovative efforts helped shape our school’s vision and ensure its impact well into the future.”