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Black EyeCare Perspective: A call for equity in eyecare

Dr. Essence Johnson of Black Eyecare Perspectives speaks to the group's mission to diversify healthcare.
Published 9.29.2020

Solving a problem or creating one?

The focus on racial injustices and the increasing disparities in healthcare did not just come about suddenly, but what we are witnessing are centuries of systemic racism, discrimination and implicit bias coming to a head in front of generations of people who have simply had enough.

The reality is the number of Black and African Americans in optometry is not congruent with the percentage of Black and African Americans in the United States per the census or proportionate to the amount of Black or African American patients optometrists examine in practice.

While the profession of optometry has become more diverse over the years, diversity has been defined as the increased representation of all underrepresented minority groups. Statistics provided by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) annual student data reports show while the percentage of other minority groups has increased, the representation of Black and African Americans in the profession has nearly flatlined. This shocking truth has been the catalyst for optometrists of the Black eye care community to rededicate themselves to spreading awareness not only about the profession of optometry, but also the need for more minorities in the industry, specifically Black and African American optometrists.

13% Promise

“We first need to admit that there is an issue and then we can work on having a targeted approach to fixing it,” Dr. Adam Ramsey, Black EyeCare Perspective Co-Founder, told Vision Monday in a press release about the launch of their 13% Promise in June 2020.

The 13% Promise is a commitment towards achieving equity in the representation of Black and African Americans in the eye care industry to match the current census population through awareness, actionable change and accountability. While 13% is the minimum goal, it is important to have a benchmark for eye care companies, schools and colleges of optometry and board of trustees to assess where improvements can be made to affect a measurable change.

A 2007 article in Optometric Management listed seven steps that all members of the eye care industry could follow to move optometry from diversity to inclusion of more minority doctors, especially African American and Hispanic, if they worked together and first recognized that diversity in optometry is severely lacking.

The task of addressing the inequities and disparities in healthcare and the Black community can no longer be the responsibility of a few individuals or groups. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” History has shown that diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be left to develop organically, but has to be developed intentionally with resources being allocated, especially financially, specifically for this cause.

We need more Black doctors

In recent media, Dr. Mehmet Oz launched the #moreblackdoctors initiative to raise awareness about racial bias in hospitals and billionaire Michael Bloomberg established grants at four historically Black medical schools to address the shortage of Black doctors.

In all areas of healthcare, the percentage of doctors that are Black or African American is small. Approximately 3% of optometry students identify as Black or African American and less that 2% of practicing optometrists are Black of African American. Research has proven that if you are Black in America, having a doctor that looks like you increases the quality of the care received and is often the difference between life or death, vision or sight.

Many agree that an increase in Black or African American doctors with cultural competency is a key component to addressing disparities and bias in the healthcare system, but in order to produce more Black doctors we need more Black students to be successful in their pursuit of the field.

Impact HBCU

While Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) represent less than 3% of colleges and universities in the United States, they enroll 12% of all African American students, produce 23% of all African American graduates, confer 40% of all STEM degrees, educate 40% of African American health professionals and 70% of African American dentists and physicians earned their degrees at HBCUs.

An internal poll of the Black EyeCare Perspective community revealed about 40% of the optometrists were graduates of an HBCU.  For this reason, we are being intentional in our impact to increase visibility of the profession and the volume of Black applicants into optometry school.  IMPACT HBCU is one part of the pipeline to reach Black students at HBCUs and beyond to raise awareness and provide assistance to students to not only help them survive, but thrive in this profession and their careers.

If you can see it, you can be it...

IMPACT HBCU is a free virtual event on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 at 5:30 p.m. EDT for all students at any school to learn more about becoming a Doctor of Optometry (OD). For more information and to register visit:

Dr. Essence Johnson
Dr. Essence Johnson
Essence Johnson, OD, FAAO is a HBCU made and residency trained community and correctional health optometrist. She is also the Chief Visionary Officer of Black EyeCare Perspective, where she is redefining the color of the eye care industry 1% at a time through advocacy, action and accountability.

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