Eye-care pair takes over downtown optometrist office

Published 12:01 am Friday, April 24, 2015

NW0423 Taking Over Dr. Sams Practice A

The doctors are in.

Two weeks after Dr. Robert Sams closed his downtown Elizabethton optometry office to start his retirement, two new eye doctors have opened a practice in the same location.

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Dr. Phil Gilliam and Dr. Ben Parrish have relocated their office from Mountain City to Elizabethton and are now seeing patients in their new office, Elizabethton Vision and Contact Lens Center Inc. at 114 S Sycamore St.

The two doctors bring a combined 56 years of experience in optometry to the new practice.

Parrish has 30 years experience in optometry. He first worked at the McKee-Wilson Eye Hospital, which is now the Johnson City Eye Clinic. He then moved to Greeneville and practiced for 25 years. After a short retirement, Parrish returned to medicine and worked for an eye-care chain before starting his practice in Mountain City.

Gilliam has been an optmetrist since 1989 and has been working in the Tri-Cities since 1994. In addition to working with Parrish, he has his own private practice in Bristol.

After learning that Sams had retired after 50 years in his office, Parrish felt compelled to take the eye doctor’s place in downtown Elizabethton.

“Dr. Sams has been a colleague for 30 years,” Parrish said. “It was quite a surprise to hear that he was retiring. When we heard that no one was going in his practice, we decided to come down from Mountain City.”

Taking over Sams’ practice will allow both doctors more flexibility in their schedules, Parrish said. It will also give them the chance to become more familiar with their customers and become part of a close community.

“We would like to continue Dr. Sams’ legacy,” Gilliam said. “We want to reach out to the community and become involved and make contacts in Elizabethton. Dr. Sams left a great legacy in his support for the community. He was a great example and we would like to continue that.”

An example of this, Gilliam said, is when a patient told him that Sams had given him his first eye exam and he has been coming back ever since.

“I look forward to having the chance to get to know the people in the community,” he said. “That is the kind of relationships we would like to develop.”

Helping their patients is the best part of the job for the eye doctor duo.

“We seek to do a good job and serve the patients the best we can,” Parrish said. “We want to continue to do as Dr. Sams would have done.”

Improving patients’ quality of life is one of the more most important aspects of the job, Gilliam said.

“Someone comes in complaining of headache and blurred vision, and then we put them in glasses and their performance immediately improves so much,” Gilliam said, “that is gratifying.”

“We want people to feel comfortable with us,” he added. “Some people may feel uneasy when meeting with a new doctor. Hopefully we can take care of that and they will want to come back and see us.”

Even though Sams has retired from the practice, his name remains on the sign and a space will always be available for him in the office, Parrish said.

“We’re not going to let Dr. Sams retire,” Parrish said. “I told him he’ll have all the retirement he can stand after a few weeks and then he’ll be ready to come back.”