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Women In Wellness: Dr Millicent Knight of Essilor on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Taking the time to prioritize your health can be a hurdle in and of itself — especially after the pandemic, which we know caused people to skip or miss their routine appointments. However, in the past year, your eyes have continued changing, which will become even more noticeable as you age. That’s why it is crucial to visit your eye doctor each year for an exam. When you skip eye exams, you compromise your eye health and miss out on reaching your vision’s full potential of clear comfortable viewing at all working distances.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Millicent Knight, OD, FAAO, FAARM, FNAP.

Dr. Millicent Knight is Senior Vice President, Customer Development Group at Essilor of America, with a diverse and extensive background in the eyecare industry, including hospital-based ophthalmology/optometry with hospital privileges, owner of two optometric practices, and a former member of Vision Source. She has published numerous articles and can advise consumers on how to best protect and preserve their eye health. Dr. Knight has also received wide-ranging industry and academic recognition including “Optometrist of the Year” by both the National and Illinois Optometric Associations, Vision Monday’s Most Influential Women in Optical, a Women in Optometry Theia Award for Leadership, National Association of Corporate Optometrists Leadership award, and Optical Women’s Association’s 2020 Pleaides Award.

Dr. Knight holds a Doctor of Optometry degree and two Bachelor of Science degrees. She is a Fellow in the American Academy of Optometry, the American Academy of Anti-Aging Regenerative Medicine, The National Academies of Practice, a Kellogg Leadership Fellow, and is a Certified Health Coach.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

I knew I wanted to be an eye doctor when I was eight years old. After a teacher recognized my vision problem in the second grade, I began vision therapy at the Illinois College of Optometry which helped me see and understand my classroom around me — literally! I skipped third grade after completing vision therapy once my vision was corrected and my eyes were working effectively together. Although I did not understand what the doctors were doing at that young age, I did feel their compassion and genuine interest in helping me. I knew then that I wanted to help others in the same way the team of doctors helped me.

But improving my vision didn’t prevent me from encountering future adversity. When I began optometry, there weren’t many people that looked like me — an African American, a woman, or both. A pre-optometry advisor in college told me he didn’t believe I could be an optometrist, especially without a letter of recommendation which he would not provide. But, I sent my applications anyway and was accepted into each of the schools I applied to. Even when I was beginning to start my own practice, banks weren’t lending money to a young, Black, female doctor — even when I met all the financial requirements and was purchasing a well-established practice. Throughout my journey to become an optometrist, I had to keep myself motivated and surround myself with positive affirmations. I was also aided by my family, mentors, and friends as a strong support system.

As I started my own career, and began establishing the type of doctor I would be and the type of care I would provide, I never lost sight of the primary reason I got into optometry — helping others see their best. I quickly solidified my philosophy that optometrists should look at the whole person, while focusing on the eyes. When I started my own private practice, it was important to me that my associates and I became certified holistic health coaches to ensure each patient received individualized care for their vision, eye health, and overall wellness. In addition, any systemic conditions related to, or diagnosed through, their eyes were managed in the most expedient manner and referrals made to the most qualified medical professionals.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I participated in many volunteer eye care missions across the world, and throughout those trips, one patient in particular continues to stand out to me. She had very high myopia (near sightedness). Upon completing her exam and providing her glasses prescription, she did the most unusual thing. She reached for her three children, and one by one examined their faces. Suddenly I realized she was really seeing the details of their faces for the very first time! I knew then that I had to be part of eradicating poor vision around the world, and this is exactly the lofty goal of the company I am fortunate to work for, EssilorLuxottica.

I now work with my company as well as other organizations within our industry to bring greater awareness to the growing epidemic of visual impairments around the world — like presbyopia and myopia, and their long-term eye health and economic consequences. On many global eye care missions, I observed that women provided for their families through sewing and creating beautiful crafts, which they sold in the markets. When they turned approximately 40 years old, they could no longer see up close to thread a needle or create their arts (a condition that hits everyone as they age, called presbyopia, or “old eyes”). Without the income from selling their work, they could no longer feed their families, provide shelter, or earn money for the children to attend school, especially for girls. This creates a cycle of poverty that could be prevented by adequate eye care addressing both vision and early diagnosing and treating eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

The biggest lesson I learned was to ask the right questions, and two funny instances come to mind.

The first time I learned this lesson, I saw an elderly gentleman for a comprehensive eye examination, and asked him to cover his left eye and to read the chart. I started with fairly small letters, and he indicated he could not read them. I showed him larger and larger letters, and still, he could not read them. Finally, I showed him the big E on the chart, and asked if he could see that? He said, “I could see all of them, I just can’t read.”

The second was with a child I was managing with vision therapy. It required her to wear a patch over her better seeing eye, forcing her to use the other eye, which turned in and had sub-optimal vision. She was not improving, so I asked her if she was really wearing the patch and she responded, “yes.” The next day her mom called the office, and said she put her daughter on the school bus and reminded her to be sure and wear her patch. The bus driver then told the mom, “you know, as soon as you leave the bus, every day she switches the patch to use the eye she prefers to see out of!” She told the truth. She really was wearing the patch. I just did not ask the right question!

The lessons I learned…ask the right question and know that patient care can have many stakeholders, including the school bus driver.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

Between my decades of experience in both the business and medical sides of eye health, my mission has always been to help people improve their sight by facilitating a respectful doctor-patient relationship, and taking a holistic approach to wellness. When I saw patients on a daily basis, I was able to make a difference one-on-one, and in my position now, I feel privileged to pair my clinical and business experience to ensure doctors, opticians, and other staff members have the products, training, services, and tools they need to provide excellence in eyecare for patients on a larger scale.

No matter in what setting you’re providing patient care, it’s critical that you listen to your patients and provide for their needs in a way that facilitates compliance. I found that many of my patients wanted a holistic approach to their treatment, so I returned to school for a fellowship in Anti-Aging Regenerative Medicine and certification as a health coach to hone my skills and develop a blueprint for an integrated approach to healthcare.

As just one example of how this comes to life through eyecare — I had a patient suffering from dry eye disease. When prescription medications weren’t doing enough, I worked with her to prescribe a systemic anti-inflammatory detoxification program, because inflammation was a large contributor to her symptoms and disease. Because everything is interconnected in the body, the detox improved more than her eyes — and her years of joint pain also subsided.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m most grateful to my family for being my main support system throughout my academic career, but especially through optometry school and starting my practice. My parents were very committed to our education, while also ensuring we were well rounded. I was involved early in the arts as well as leadership opportunities. I participated in individual and team competitive sports. You learn a lot about yourself through sports and training for competitions, helping both your individual performance and ability to work effectively as a team in corporate America. All of my sisters completed college. One has a nursing degree (Mildred), one has an MBA (Monica), and one has two Master’s degrees in education and divinity (Melody). My mother holds a Master’s degree in social work, and earned an honorary doctorate degree for her work in mental health. She retired as the CEO of a mental health agency. My father was unable to complete his college education, but demonstrated a strong work ethic and a strong commitment to our country, retiring from the National Guard serving as a military police. I have a favorite uncle who taught me early in life about advocacy and community service — he serves our country as a US Congressman but is never too busy to provide family support or advice.

Throughout it all, my family surrounded me with positive affirmations and helped me stay motivated despite the obstacles. We all faced discriminatory challenges, but stayed focused on our goals and our faith to persevere.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

  1. Taking the time to prioritize your health can be a hurdle in and of itself — especially after the pandemic, which we know caused people to skip or miss their routine appointments. However, in the past year, your eyes have continued changing, which will become even more noticeable as you age. That’s why it is crucial to visit your eye doctor each year for an exam. When you skip eye exams, you compromise your eye health and miss out on reaching your vision’s full potential of clear comfortable viewing at all working distances.
  2. There can sometimes be a psychological hurdle in getting proper correction. Some patients who have gone their whole lives without glasses or contacts may experience anxiety with the onset of age-related vision changes — such as presbyopia, or farsightedness due to aging. They may be in denial that their bodies are aging and may resist getting proper correction, like progressive lenses such as Varilux, and instead use temporary fixes like reading glasses, often called “cheaters.” While picking up a few pairs of cheaters may seem like an “easy” fix, it can actually cause more problems like headaches from improper powers, and continue to leave so much of life blurry.
  3. There is also a lack of awareness when it comes to the wide range of solutions offered to those in need of vision correction. As I mentioned earlier, it may be easy to continue picking up “cheaters” because people don’t know that better options exist. But the frustration they cause can end up consuming much more time than simply stopping by your eye care provider for an appointment — which you should be doing once a year, anyway, or as directed! Even when people get to their eye doctor, they may not realize they have a choice in their lenses and that they can, and should, ask their eye care provider if they prescribe superior options such as Varilux, the number one recommended progressive lens by eye care providers. Not all lenses are created equal, and it’s worth spending some time to educate yourself on all the options you have available — to save a lot more time and frustration in the long run.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

  1. Reprioritize your vision health and make regular visits to your eye doctor. Our eyes gradually change as we age, and the prescription you needed five years ago is likely outdated. Making due with an outdated prescription can seriously impact your quality of life. Eye strain, dry irritated eyes, neck and back pain, headaches, pre-mature wrinkling, and the need to stretch the arms to read a text are most commonly shared as chief complaints or observations during eye examinations. There are new and innovative solutions to address or eliminate these daily adaptations and tolerances. So much of our world today happens within an arm’s reach, which is most often where signs of aging begin to affect one’s eyes from presbyopia. Staying on top of your eye health needs — including an annual vision exam — will help your eyes perform optimally through our world of heavy digital device use, with focusing needs varying from 12 inches to infinity.
  2. Be open to new solutions that you may never have thought you needed. Detecting uncorrected vision can be somewhat traumatic to some people. It can be anxiety-inducing to watch your lens prescription slowly increase, or to feel your vision blur after living with perfect vision for your whole life. Recognizing that these are completely normal and natural effects of aging is the first step to taking some of the fear out of getting a proper vision correction. One of the worst things you can do for your longer term eye health is resist this change and try to get by with a sub-par solution. Lens technology and innovation continues to improve with new solutions coming to the market to meet and even exceed your eye care needs, especially with presbyopia. Don’t cheat yourself with readers. Educate yourself on the options available that can best meet your visual needs and look for a superior solution with progressive lenses, such as Varilux, which seamlessly correct vision between near, intermediate and far distances — much like how your eyes worked before that 40th birthday.
  3. Keep digital devices 16–24 inches away from your face. We naturally used to read materials about 16 inches away from our eyes, but now as we spend more time in front of computers and phones, we are beginning to read at 10 to 12 inches from the face. Focusing at this distance causes our eyes to turn inwards, which can tire the eye muscles and lead to progressing vision problems and squinting. Maintaining proper posture and distance can help prevent your eyes from feeling tired and reduce soreness from your neck and back muscles.
  4. Be mindful of the light in your environment. To maximize your visual comfort and ease eye strain while working, adjust the brightness of your screen to match the brightness of your surroundings, and try to position your desk and screen so that glare is minimized. When you’re outside, consider wearing prescription lenses that have at least 50 E-SPF (eye-sun protection factor). While it is beneficial to spend time in the sun, overexposure to UV rays and harmful blue light can also contribute to corneal and lenticular damage (early cataracts), as well as free radical damage to the macular cells, which are responsible for central vision, both seriously compromising clear healthy vision.
  5. Vision goes beyond reading a chart to 20/20. Metaphysically, a child that is nearsighted has limits on their horizon. They tend to be more insular and somewhat withdrawn from the world because that’s where they feel safe. I have examined very shy children with uncorrected nearsightedness and fit them with glasses and contact lenses. The same child returns a year later for her annual exam, and walks into the exam room with confidence, fully engaged with life, and seemingly now ready to conquer the world! It’s a similar phenomenon with adults who are struggling with presbyopia. A change from cheaters to a progressive lens like Varilux technology can literally change the way they experience the world.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

  1. Exercise often brings us outdoors and there are numerous health benefits to this. For one thing, outdoor activities on a regular basis allow us to look out at the horizon and far-distance focal points which gives our eyes a break from focusing at near and intermediate distances while we read and or work on digital devices. Getting out to walk regularly may help with weight management. Consequences of obesity include diabetes, often first diagnosed through an eye examination of the retina revealing diabetic retinopathy. Optometrists diagnose about 250,000 cases of diabetes per year through a comprehensive eye examination.
  2. Spending time exercising means spending time away from the computer, giving our eyes a rest from high intensity focus and harmful blue light. These types of breaks can prevent eye strain and longer term damage to the visual cells by allowing our eyes to reset — and can give our minds a much-needed reboot. In addition, when using digital devices for extended periods of time, there is a tendency not to blink at a healthy rate, and the quality of the blinks can also be compromised. Engaging in sports and other activities outdoors lends itself to viewing different distances, and more frequent blinking which protects the cornea, and provides for clearer vision.
  3. Studies show that for children, getting outside at least two hours a day can help prevent or delay the onset of myopia, or nearsightedness. Now, we’re in an era where children are challenged with being overweight in part because of less physical activity. That can increase the risk of long-term health complications like adult onset diabetes, which can put their long-term vision at-risk. Progressive myopia is also associated with other long-term vision compromising diseases like myopic maculopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal detachments. The best tip: encourage children to go outside and play. Recently, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC), of which EssilorLuxottica is a member, partnered with influential gamers who shared the importance of taking breaks from gaming and near point activities and getting outdoors, even using the imagination and re-creating gaming activities outdoors!

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

You might not think of eye exercises as a part of your typical routine, but your eye muscles are responsible for many important vision functions, like focusing, and are put through a lot of stress daily. It’s important to make sure we take care of these muscles like we would any other part of the body.

Here are three ways movement can reduce eyestrain:

  1. Try the “20–20–20” rule, making sure to take a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This break from close-up focus gives the eyes a rest while flexing the eye muscles.
  2. “Palming” allows your eyes to rest and reset. Warm your palms, then place them on top of your eyes and close your eyes. You’ll notice how the warmth and darkness relaxes your eyes.
  3. Move your eyes in the path of an infinity symbol over a 20 second interval and repeat three times. To get the hang of it, try tracing the symbol in front of your face with your finger, allowing your eyes to follow the path. This exercise may provide more flexibility to the ocular muscles. Just remember to blink!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love books and read many on integrative medicine and eye health/nutrition. Therefore, it is difficult to pick just one.

However, I fell in love with the wonders of reading as an adolescent with the Complete Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar. At a time when I was questioning my place in the world, I felt empowered by the history, brilliance, talent, and strength through adversity of Africans in America.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

One of my top priorities would be to increase global widespread education around eye health. Human beings are living longer, and it is more important than ever to educate ourselves on how to properly protect our eyes so that our vision lasts a lifetime. Our vision allows us to fully engage with the world around us — making it a crucial element in our wellbeing and quality of life. Protecting our eye health is one of the best investments we can make. The American Optometric Association (AOA) indicates that there are over 267 diseases that can be detected through the eyes. The eyes are an under-utilized window into the body. In a fully functional health care system, all disciplines would work together in a cohesive manner to more effectively eradicate eye diseases, and earlier diagnose and treat systemic disease detected through the eyes. Conditions in the eyes are often biomarkers for particular systemic diseases. Eye care providers are an important contributor to our health care system, and the overall wellbeing of our societies. However, the movement would identify experts in all areas of health care from around the globe to more efficiently share research and best practices, utilizing innovation and technology for data gathering in addressing emerging health challenges, while looking at the complexity of the whole person, and not losing the human touch in healing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“God bless the child that has his/her own.” One of my college jobs was working for the head of the music department, and my tasks included cataloguing the jazz collection. I loved listening to Billie Holiday sing from her “Lady Sings the Blues” album. I was especially intrigued by her rendition of “God Bless the Child That Has His Own.” At 19, I realized how owning your own time, money, and assets opens up options and opportunities that might not otherwise exist, especially for women.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would love to have lunch with Mellody Hobson, President, and co-CEO of Ariel Investments. I watched her career for many years, and listened to many of her interviews. We both attended college prep high schools in Chicago. I admire her financial prowess and negotiation skills. She is powerful and graceful, and exudes wisdom and strong leadership.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you for your time!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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