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2012 Salute to Health Care Honoree: Dr. Tom Prater

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Ophthalmology is a buzzword in the Prater family.

Dr. Bill Prater practiced for years with Dr. Gary Mehlhorn at Eye Surgeons of Springfield Inc.

Prater’s son, Tom, was soon to follow in the eye care field upon his 1975 graduation from Glendale High School.

“It is in my blood, but it wasn’t a preordained thing,” Tom Prater says, noting he was drawn to medical school but wasn’t sold on ophthalmology as his specialty. “Then I realized I’d be foolish not to take a rotation in ophthalmology, and once I did, it was a done deal.”

Prater moved to St. Louis to attend medical school at Washington University and fulfilled internship and residency requirements at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“I had no intention of coming back to Springfield, although I always enjoyed my visits. When I began to look at ophthalmology practices in larger cities, the opportunity was better in Springfield,” he says, noting work for his wife, Kimberley, a radiologist, also played a key part in the move.

He joined his father’s practice in 1987 as a provisional member. Two years later, the younger Prater was named partner.

Ten years later, Prater teamed with Drs. Ken and Leo Neu and James Mattax to purchase the practice of Dr. Paul Arnold and launch Mattax-Neu-Prater Eye Center Inc.

Now with eight doctors on staff, Prater personally treats patients for cataract and laser-assisted vision surgery, aka Lasik, procedures.

“We get complex ophthalmology problems that are decision-making issues and management, and we get surgical problems that are straight forward to fix and bring back vision,” he says.

Prater was an early adopter of refractive and laser surgeries in the late 1990s, and more recently, the company has invested $250,000 the last two years in equipment upgrades, primarily in lasers. “Springfield has been pretty much on the cutting edge of technology for refractive surgery,” Prater says.

Prater has been most visible in the community as current president of the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education, a term that expires in April 2013. He’ll retain a board seat as past-president for one year.

“I’m certainly no expert in education, but I’ve got a little bit of business sense and a little bit of community sense and I’ve been able to put those to good use,” Prater says.

“I’ve always felt that you need to work to improve the place you live.”

Click here for full coverage of the 2012 Salute to Health Care.


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