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Frank Terranova

California, USA

What is your occupation?

I am an eye doctor.  There are two kinds of eye doctors: an optometrist and an ophthalmologist.  An optometrist measures the eye for any problems with the vision and to treat and diagnose diseases of the eye.  An ophthalmologist does all that but will also do surgery inside the eye.  I am a developmental optometrist.

What is a developmental optometrist?

Developmental optometry, also known as a behavioral optometry, is an expanded area of general optometry.  A developmental optometrist looks for problems with visual skills that are related to learning.  These visual skills can lead to problems in the learning process.  Losing ones place when reading or constantly rereading a line is linked to the visual tracking skill.  The developmental optometrist may determine this during a routine eye examination, and then treat this problem with vision therapy (also known as vision training).  Other visual skill problems can be associated with holding a book too far, or too close, when reading.  This may be linked to poor focusing.  Reading a book with a hand covering an eye, or resting the head on the desk, could indicate that there is a problem with double vision or crossed eyes.  These are just a couple of examples of what a developmental optometrist looks for during his/her eye exam.

Could vision problems cause difficulties in school? What if someone has 20/20 vision?

Just because you pass a school eye test and the school nurse tells you that you have 20/20 vision does not mean that you have good vision.  There are a lot of children out there who are farsighted.  They have to use too much extra energy to read, but they still "see" really good when they read an eye chart.  They think it is just normal that their head or eyes hurt and they give up reading after ten minutes.  If you can't read a book for more than a half an hour without having to take a break, I think you need to talk to your parents and say: "You know, I've really never had an eye exam before.  I want a real eye examination."  I would recommend going to get your eyes checked by an optometrist who will look at you, not just to sell you a pair of glasses, but who will look at your whole visual system.  You should go to a good optometrist.  Believe it or not, a pair of reading glasses, if you need them, could improve your school grades by two grades or three grades.  Maybe vision therapy can help you learn to use your eyes more efficiently.  If you are having trouble in school, a good vision examination and treatment from a developmental optometrist could help you to like school a lot better and you might be able to read a lot longer.

We did a study many years ago at the San Bernardino Juvenile Hall in California.  We took a random group of half the kids who were in prison there and did eye exams on them.  We found that 95% of these kids all had visual problems.  So we took half the kids in that group and treated them with some vision therapy and the other half we didn't.  The ones that we treated with vision therapy had a return rate back to prison in the next five years of maybe 5 to 10%.  The ones who did not get treated, and still had the vision problems, had a return rate to prison of over 50%.  So, it just goes to show, poor vision can dictate what kind of trouble you can get into.  If you avoid reading, you are probably going to find something else to do.  A lot of times it's like: "Let's go get into trouble."  Instead of reading and learning, you might be doing something bad that you are not supposed to do.

How can someone find a developmental optometrist?

The best way to find a developmental optometrist in the United States is by contacting your state Optometric Association and ask them for names of optometrists who practice behavioral optometry in your city.  You may also contact the American Optometric Association in St. Louis, Missouri.  There is also an organization called "Optometric Extension Program" in Santa Ana, California which could refer you to an optometrist in your area.

[Links to other organizations can be found at:]

What do you like best about your job?

Working with people and seeing almost immediate relief of a person's symptoms and the problems they are having and being able to take care of it immediately.

What is the worst thing about your job?

Just like any other job, I have to get up in the morning to go to work!

Did you always want to be an optometrist?

To be really honest, no I did not want to become an optometrist.  All my life I wanted to be a dentist. In the pre-med program at the University of Delaware, I took the regular medical board exams, and I took the optometry medical boards and the dental boards.  To my surprise, I did very well on the basic questions about science and stuff, but on the dental tests they had these form perception things where you had to unfold all these drawings and stuff and I was not very good at it!  This is probably one of the reasons I went into developmental optometry, because I FAILED that part of the test!  Dentists have to work with mirrors.  When I took the optometry test I came out really high on it because of my background in psychology and perception.  So, I took this as a sign that maybe this was something I should do.  Plus, I had one family member who was already an optometrist and he really liked it.

What were your favorite subjects in school?

Math was one of my favorite things because it was problem solving.  Science classes. I used to love anything with animals.  Zoology was one of my favorites.  I love animals.

What subjects helped you the most for your current job as an optometrist?

Probably paying attention in high school, with high school algebra, geometry and trigonometry, physics and chemistry.  All those things helped to get me through optometry school.  If you don't have a basic knowledge of the math and sciences, you can't expand out and learn more or learn on top of it.  Optics is nothing but using algebra, trigonometry and physics all combined in one.

How many hours do you work per week?

Actual physical hours in the office, I am usually in the office, on the average, about 40 hours per week, plus the work I do at home, I probably average about 50 hours per week.

Do you have to travel for your job?

Oh, it depends.  Most of the travel is between home and the office.  However, I do occasionally go to nursing homes or special children's homes, like homes for disabled children.  I will do onsite eye exams there.  I also go to some schools and do school screenings.  Occasionally, I'll even go down to Mexico with the Flying Samaritans.  About once a year, I go to Mexico for a whole weekend of volunteer work.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

Travel. I love to travel.  I guess my favorite places would be Europe and Australia.  They are like my two favorite places.  Plus, there is a lot of beautiful country to see here [in the United States] too.  I am from the East Coast, born and raised there, and have never been, sorry to say, to Boston or New England yet.  I still want to go there.  I grew up only 150 miles south of there.

For more information on optometry and vision, check out:

Parents for Active Vision Education (PAVE)
Optometric Extension Program
Vision Therapy
Vision and Learning

What advice do you have for students?

Never give up.  Always listen to what your parents say.  Study and just keep thinking about the future.  There is a song by Fleetwood Mac called "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow".  I really think that every child who is old enough to understand it, should put that song on and listen to the words to it.  Some of the words are: "it'll soon be here, it'll soon be here".  Believe me, it gets here sooner than you think.  So, never give up studying really hard.  Make yourself a goal and work for that goal.  Don't make the goal too hard.  Make it an easy one.  Once you get past a certain goal, you can make a harder one.

On 12 March 2003, Frank Terranova passed away.  Dr. T was a wonderful person who will be remembered for his sense of humor and caring ways.  He will be missed by many, many people whose lives he touched through his optometric practice and the countless friends he made through the years.  As he said above, tomorrow "gets here sooner than you think".  Appreciate every moment and be your best every day.  Never give up.  Thank you, Frank, for your inspiration.  You will be missed.

A scholarship fund has been set up in his name at the Southern California College of Optometry.  Contributions may be sent to:

Dr. Francis M. Terranova, Jr. Scholarship Fund
c/o Southern California College of Optometry
2575 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92831
ATTN: Christie Gate

Questions and Answers

- 15 February 2002


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Last Updated:
30 March 2003

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