Below is the opinion of Dr. Randy Fitzgerald, of Colchester, who practices optometry in Burlington, sharing his thoughts on the need for an expanded scope for optometrists in Vermont.

Why do you visit your optometrist? An injection, perhaps, a troublesome growth or skin tag that needs removal or an annual diabetic eye exam – there are myriad reasons, many that need to be addressed quickly and with expertise to solve the problem while protecting your vision.

In Wyoming, where I previously practiced, I would have been able to do what was needed and send them on their way.

In Vermont, I can’t always do that.

The only difference? The state-approved scope of work for optometry.

When this instance occurs in Vermont, I have to refer my patient to a different provider, despite having the skills and training needed to complete care. In some cases, it would have taken less time to fly to Wyoming and use a local office there than it takes for a referral patient to be seen in Vermont.

This doesn’t just impact me, and it doesn’t just impact my patient — in many cases, those addressing their eye health need a driver to bring them to and from appointments, meaning at least two people could potentially be missing work, driving in often inclement weather, and so on, multiple times if referred.

There’s nothing worse than knowing you are competent, that you are capable, yet feeling helpless because your hands are tied by a scope of work that limits you.

This doesn’t take into account the livelihood of service providers in our state — I moved to Vermont because, at the time, the scope of work for optometrists was better than many other locations. But times have changed, and it is Vermont’s job now to keep up.

We are seeing a decline in ophthalmologists and an increase in optometrists nationally — we have highly trained, local healthcare specialists that are underutilized. Rural practices are closing because there is no one to carry them on. While I can’t say this is 100 percent because of the scope alone, it is certainly impacted by it.

Broadening the scope of optometry as outlined in S.233, a bill currently under consideration by Vermont’s lawmakers, would improve patient access, care and affordability; it will help us stay on the cutting edge of healthcare by allowing optometrists to better utilize the tools they are trained to use to treat the diseases and disorders they are already managing for patients.

Please support your local optometrist and open the door to more streamlined care for yourself and other Vermonters by contacting your legislators today and expressing the need to expand Vermont’s scope of work.