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Where Do Optometric Educators Come From?

I love to take on these tough questions at this point in my career. I've spent more than 30 years as an optometrist and 20 years as an educator. So, in this 4th quarter of my career, I feel like I still have something to say and to contribute. I hope you do, too!

I have been thinking about optometric educators. Where do they come from? Who are they? The conclusion that I have drawn is that more optometric educators discover this "branch" of optometry during their residency. That was not my case, but it seems to be the majority. Many times, optometric residents are tasked with supervising nervous third year students as they attempt their first patient care. I think that young residents often relate to the feelings of uncertainty and stress that these third years exhibit and enjoy trying to help them grow. So, my theory, you can agree or disagree with me, is that more optometric educators grow from a sense of compassion for their clinical students. That's a wonderful thing, but does it make the resident a good teacher? I think the answer is...sometimes when you are lucky.

Teaching and leading from a place of compassion for students is a very powerful tool and if that was the end of the story, we'd have conflict-free schools of optometry. But, that is not the case. We often find stress-filled environments throughout higher education. Why? Well, I think the answer is that young optometric educators model their behavior on how they were taught. I'm sure that all of us have heard horror stories about a couple of professors that made students "quake in their boots" just to prove a point. We've all heard about teachers that made tests so challenging just to show that they are smarter than the students. So, if a brand new resident is hired to teach in clinic, classroom or lab, what experiences do they have to fall back on? They only have their personal experiences from their time in optometry school. So, let's place blame where it is deserved on the older generation of educators that took joy in making their students squirm and believed that only through fear could students be motivated. The cycle continues!

Well, if this is a bad cycle, how do we fix it? I can tell you for sure that the answer to helping improve optometric education today will never start with, "When I was in optometry school...." The old ways created the current model and it is broken. My suggestion is that all brand-new optometric educators must learn to be teachers. All should be given the opportunity to learn about the latest pedagogical techniques to improve learning. If we educate the educators, they become more effective in their jobs instead of just leaning back on their experiences...which may have been awful! Let's make sure that when we hire a new faculty member that is coming to us because they want to help the next generation of OD's that we provide them with the tools to be successful in their education careers.

Do you agree or disagree? Email me at: and we can talk more about this topic!

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