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Angie Wieck, Published October 20 2013

It's My Job: Career in focus for Fargo optometrist

FARGO – Kevin Melicher was not always focused on becoming an optometrist.

At age 21, when he told his father he wanted to get married, his father replied with a question: “What are you going to do with your life?”

Lyle Melicher suggested his son follow him into the field of optometry. He had established Eyecare Associates in 1958 and moved the practice to West Acres shortly after it opened in 1972.

Melicher took his father’s advice. He has practiced at West Acres since 1976 and was recently named Optometrist of the Year by the North Dakota Optometric Association for his long history of service to the profession and the community.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The best part is working with people. When you’ve been in practice a long time, it’s really fun to see the generations of families. You see kids, and maybe even grandkids, of people you’ve been seeing for a long, long time.

At what age should one first visit an optometrist?

I say certainly before a child starts kindergarten, but if a parent sees anything that is cause for concern such as if an eye is turning or crossing or if a child is having a hard time picking up pieces of cereal, then they should bring them in before that.

Should someone visit an optometrist even if their vision seems fine?

The biggest thing I want people to know is that they should visit their optometrist yearly for an eye exam. I don’t think a lot of people do that. If they don’t have anything wrong or don’t notice anything, they’re not going to go in.

Besides checking your vision, optometrists screen for a number of things ranging from a basic cataract to things as serious as glaucoma or melanoma.

Typically, we used to think that glaucoma only affected people over the age of 40, but that’s not true. More and more people develop cataracts at an early age, too. Actually, a lot of doctors will say when patients start to need reading glasses, that’s when they first start to develop a cataract. Do they need to do anything with it? Probably not until it affects their vision.

Medicare covers a yearly eye exam. A lot of health insurance plans also pay for annual exams. For example, Blue Cross Minnesota has a routine eye exam benefit. Some even offer discounts on glasses or contact lenses. People should check with their provider.

What would you say to convince someone to come in?

Time and time again, we have people who come in and say I wish I would have done this five years ago or two years ago. They are shocked by how well they can see now.

What are your thoughts on being named Optometrist of the Year?

I was really shocked and honored.

One thing I’m really proud of is being a preceptorship training site for optometry students throughout the country. We’ve had close to 80 students since we started, with about 10 to 12 optometrists in the immediate area who have been through our program.

We have also been involved with a number of service projects over the years. Back in 2009, we did a program called “A Year of Giving” in celebration of 50 years in business. That year we became a sponsor of the Dakota Medical Foundation’s Lend a Hand program. … We also donated over 300 pairs of glasses to the local Lions Club that were distributed in Mexico. …

For the last five years, we also have had a program called “Our Focus is You.” Every month we select a patient that has been nominated by friends, family or a nonprofit who can’t afford glasses. We do an exam and give that person a free pair of glasses.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501