As featured in the December 2018 issue of Eyecare Business
An intimate conversation between EB #GameChanger Diana Canto-Sims, O.D., and Essilor’s Millicent Knight, O.D., about being a woman in optometry
To celebrate EB’s exclusive #GameChangers breakout issue, two successful female optometrists sit down for a one-on-one conversation about being a woman in optometry. Millicent Knight, O.D., Essilor’s Senior Vice President of the Customer Development Group, and optometrist/ entrepreneur Diana Canto-Sims, O.D., have a lot in common. Dr. Knight was in private practice in suburban Chicago before moving to the corporate world. Dr. CantoSims has been practicing in an underserved Hispanic area on Chicago’s Southside and recently launched a frame line for a more diverse female patient base. Here, they share their stories in a Q+A session between these two doctors.
Dr. Millicent Knight: Nothing prepares us for opening a practice. How did you get yours started?
Dr. Diana Canto-Sims: “We wanted to buy into a practice in an underserved area with a large Latino population. We couldn’t find one, so we opened cold. What about you?”
Dr. Millicent Knight: “I was in my early-30s and working in a practice that was not meeting my needs. On an uncomfortably bold day, I walked into the nearby office of a 70-year-old optometrist and asked if he had plans to retire. Five weeks later, I owned the practice and he was working for me.”
I love [doing community health fairs] because little girls will say, ‘You’re a girl doctor?’ You and I are both role models because of our ethnicity and because we are women.”
—Diana Canto-Sims, O.D
Q & A
Diana Canto-Sims, O.D., moved to Puerto Rico as a child, and graduated from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry in 1998. In 2005, she and husband Todd W. Sims, O.D., opened Buena Vista Optical on Chicago’s Southside. Earlier this year, she launched La Vida Eyewear, designed to meet the fitting and fashion needs o
Millicent Knight, O.D., FAAO, FAARM, graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1987. She was in private practice in suburban Evanston, and served as Vice President of Professional Affairs, North America, at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care prior to joining Essilor this summer as Senior Vice President of the Customer Development Group.
On an uncomfortably bold day, I walked into the nearby office of a 70-year-old optometrist and asked if he had plans to retire. Five weeks later, I owned the practice and he was working for me.”
—Millicent Knight, O.D.
MK: We were both pretty daring. What challenges did you experience breaking into optometry?
DCS: “I remember hearing things like, ‘You’re going into optometry part time because you’re going to be a mother, right?’ I always replied that I didn’t know what that had to do with it, but that a beautiful part of this profession is that it is flexible. Were your experiences similar to mine?”
MK: “Yes, when I graduated in 1987, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me, or you. There were a lot of people who didn’t think I should be there. After purchasing and growing my practice, I pursued a loan to upgrade it. Despite my nearly perfect credit score, the bank asked the former practice owner, my employee, to co-sign the loan. They asked me if I was going to have children. After looking at other avenues, I eventually got a loan.”
MK: We were both growing our practices in new ways, with innovation as well as disruption. Is there one decision you are most proud of in business?
DCS: “My eyewear line. I got my first glasses at age 10, and because I have
a wider face and high cheekbones, nothing fit. Fast-forward to our practice, and I found the same issues— none of the frames fit our patients’ faces. My husband finally said, ‘Stop complaining and design your own eyewear.’ I did, and we launched La Vida Eyewear in February. I’m very proud of that. You took a very different, nontraditional path as well.”
MK: “Yes, we both did. You took a holistic approach by seeing that frame makers weren’t taking your community’s unique needs into account. I took a holistic approach to my practice in a different way. I had a traditional practice downstairs and an integrated eye and wellness center upstairs. I had a number of patients who wanted holistic, complementary
out...the fact that a child who can’t see cannot learn. So, my thinking is that if we could help the community see better, it could do better. We also do health fairs, work with our local alderman, and conduct career days. I love those because little girls will say, ‘You’re a girl doctor?’ You and I are both role models because of our ethnicity and because we are women.”
MK: “Yes, though my practice was in a more affluent area with mostly Caucasian patients. For those patients, it was an opportunity to see a woman of color as a doctor, as well as a business and property owner. And, you’re right that for my minority patients, it was an opportunity not just to provide excellent eye care, but to be a role model, especially for the children.
Essilor’s mission is improving lives by improving vision, and the #DifferenceMakers campaign is all about bringing good deeds into focus. We all know eyecare professionals who are passionate about making the world a better place. Do you know someone who is making a difference? Share their story or yours at essilorusa.com/differencemakers.
care and to be more engaged in their own eye/health care. For example, they were willing to take glaucoma medication, but they wanted to know what else they could do to address the associated inflammation.”
MK: Knowing that good vision is critical as a stepping-stone in education and health, how do you help to improve lives in your neighborhood?
DCS: “In what was an underserved neighborhood, the issue really stood
“I’m pleased that my corporate role with Essilor now allows me to give back and lead on a larger stage. We work every day to correct and protect vision. The Essilor Vision Foundation and our recent #DifferenceMakers campaign are just two of the many ways we keep giving back a core commitment.”