Dozens of faculty and alumni presented at the American Academy of Optometry’s annual meeting in Denver last November, but the ICO community had something even more special to celebrate. During the meeting, Joan Stelmack, OD ’77, MPH was awarded the Armed Forces Optometric Society’s OD of the Year Award.
Dr. Stelmack’s primary appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs is at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, where she’s chief of low vision optometry. She’s also a consultant at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. Additionally, she’s clinical associate professor of ophthalmology and director of the low vision service at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, as well as an adjunct professor at ICO.
In March of 2014, Dr. Stelmack received the VA OD of the Year award. The AFOS OD of the Year is selected among the ODs of the Year from the different military branches. “I was very surprised when they called me and told me I’d received the AFOS award,” she says. “It was humbling because some of the other optometrists have done some remarkable things.”
As a low vision specialist, Dr. Stelmack has a hard time imagining a better place to practice than the VA. “Many of the services are provided at no cost, and no veteran ever pays for a low vision aid, “ she says.“VA regulations allow us to give veterans CCTVs, iPads, iPhones, computers–all kinds of equipment. So in a way, I would describe the VA as the nirvana of low vision.”
Dr. Stelmack just celebrated her 31st year with the VA. “I was the first optometrist hired full-time for a blind center, but we didn’t have any education programs or research programs, and it was strictly inpatient when I started,“ she says. “We built a residency program that’s affiliated with ICO, we have multiple millions of dollars for federally funded research. So all these programs evolved, as did the outpatient low vision service. Sometimes people say to me, ‘Aren’t you tired of the same job?’ Well, the job keeps changing.”