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Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, FAAO
Member, Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame

Karla Zadnik

Dr. Karla Zadnik (nee Henry) was born in Akron, Ohio in 1958 and received three degrees from the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry: Bachelor of Science (1980); Doctor of Optometry (1982); and PhD in Physiological Optics (1992). She is the Dean of and Glenn A. Fry Professor in Optometry and Physiological Optics at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, where she has served as a faculty member since 1996. She rose from the rank of assistant professor, following an unsuccessful bid for a tenure-track faculty positon at Berkeley Optometry. She found a “forever home” at Ohio State Optometry.

Dr. Zadnik’s primary research contribution has been in the area of research funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI)/National Institutes of Health in the areas of keratoconus and myopia. Her lifetime research funding plus NEI-supported training grants totals $40 million. She conducted the first-ever multi-center study funded by the NEI in optometry, the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) Study from 1989 – 1994. As a PhD student, in close collaboration with optometry and graduate school classmate, Don Mutti, and PhD advisor, Tony Adams, she launched the NEI-funded Orinda Longitudinal Study of Myopia (OLSM). She transferred the OLSM grant to Ohio State as the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study. In total, almost 5,000 children participated in OLSM and CLEERE. The studies identified risk factors for myopia and the pattern of normal eye growth in school-aged children from 1989 – 2014. The studies identified the protective effect of time spent outdoors on reducing the onset of juvenile-onset myopia. She has published 177 peer-reviewed papers to date.

Her teaching obligations at Ohio State have included public health in optometry, ethics in biomedical research (which she taught for many years around her Amish-built dining room table), grantsmanship, and the “dean’s course” on the practice of optometry.

In addition to her academic roles, Dr. Zadnik has fulfilled leadership roles in many optometric organizations. Her first leadership experiences were in the Berkeley Optometry arena, serving two years as president of the Alameda Contra Costa Counties Optometric Society, two years as president of the Berkeley Optometry Alumni Society, and producing many years of newsletters for the alumni and school. Just before moving to Ohio, she served the California Optometric Association as a trustee for three years.

Nationally, Dr. Zadnik served on the board of the American Academy of Optometry for 12 years including a term as president in 2010-2011; however, her favorite Academy service was a 10-year stint as the chair of the Academy’s Research Committee (the “glory days”). She chaired the American Optometric Association’s Council on Research from 2000-2017, staging nine Summer Invitational Research Institutes that resulted in a least $70 million in funding for optometric research. She served as president of the Association of Schools and Colleges in Optometry in 2016-17 and as the National Board of Examiners in Optometry president in 2023.

Dr. Zadnik has mentored eight optometrists as PhD students (one currently in progress) and 16 Master’s students, in addition to fostering countless informal mentoring relationships at Ohio State and across the country. Her PhD students now serve as deans, associate deans, and department chairs in academic optometry.

Her honors and awards include: Fellow, American Academy of Optometry (1984); Diplomate, Section on Cornea, Contact Lenses & Refractive Technologies (1986); Rosaline M Stern Award, California Alumni Association (1994); Glenn A. Fry Award, American Optometric Foundation (1995); Galileo Award, American Foundation for Vision Awareness (1998); Honorary Doctor of Science Award, Illinois College of Optometry (2005); Alumnus of the Year, University of California, Berkeley Optometry Alumni Association (2006); Morgan Memorial Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry (2007); Dr. Donald R. Korb Award for Excellence, American Optometric Association Section on Contact Lenses and Cornea (2009); Max Schapero Memorial Lecture Award, American Academy of Optometry, Section on Cornea, Contact Lenses, & Refractive Technologies (2009); Warren G. and Ruth P. Morris Optometrist of the Year Award, Ohio Optometric Association (2009); Distinguished Scholar Award, The Ohio State University (2010); Mert Flom Teaching Award, University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry (2011); Thomas R. Peters Memorial Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry (2012); National Optometry Hall of Fame inductee (2014); Theia Award in Mentoring, Women in Optometry; Charles F. Prentice Medal, American Academy of Optometry (2020); and American Academy Hall of Fame inductee (inaugural, 2022).

Dr. Zadnik married her husband of 44 years, Kurt Zadnik (managing editor of Optometry and Vision Science), two weeks before starting optometry school. They have two daughters: Andra Geno, married to Christopher with grandson August; and Nina Zadnik, married to Josh with grandson Rowen. Karla and Kurt are “Doc” and “Grumpy” to their grandsons.
Her paternal grandfather, William R. Henry, was an optometrist who received his 1920 degree from the Needles Institute of Optometry in Kansas City, Missouri. The family legacy continues with great-niece, Danielle Orr, OD, MS, from The Ohio State University College of Optometry Class of 2017.

Besides her gratitude for her family’s embracing of optometric academia, Dr. Zadnik owes her career to all her mentors, scientific collaborators, students and other mentees, and thousands of study participants and their families, without whom her career would not have happened.