It is now just over six months since I returned to the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) as Dean. What a change! Over the last five years the University of Houston has changed dramatically in health sciences. Optometry is no longer the lone health professional training program on campus on the southeastern most corner of campus. I have returned to a vibrant health campus surrounded by the energy of Pharmacy, Nursing, Medicine, and Social Work, all coming together in new ways to make UH a great place to be.
I want to begin by telling you how optometry became a calling for me. I come from a family of builders and caregivers. My father always encouraged me to understand how things worked and how they were built. If the toaster broke, we did not buy a new one, we figured out why it broke and fixed it if we could—and failure was never an option. Most of the time, a good cleaning took care of the problem, but sometimes real imagination and creativity were necessary to discover the problem and figure out how to make the parts that would fix the problem. This time spend tinkering with my father was a treasure. It taught me the importance of care and maintenance. It taught me how to patiently and critically assess things so that I could better understand them. Most importantly, I think it kindled a passion for building that I am putting to use now as we set the future direction for the College.
My real passion for optometry dawned when I failed a flight physical. My father’s career was working for the US Army as a aircraft design engineer and most of his career was dedicated to the Apache helicopter program. As a young man, I decided that I wanted to fly the aircraft that had been so much a part of my life already. I went and spoke with the recruiter, passed all the qualifying examinations except that I had –0.25 Diopters of refractive error. Tenacity drove me to find out why? What could I do to fix this? I read about refractive error, palming, and loads of self-help methods designed to improve vision without glasses. I even met my first mentor in optometry, Dr. Denton Kimball a private practitioner who introduced me to orthokeratology. My fascination with refractive error and how the eye worked became a life-long fascination.
Years later, as a student about to graduate, I took a road trip with my best friend to learn more about the profession and how it was practiced around the country. I wanted to better understand how the profession was integrated in our healthcare system and what future role I might have as an optometrist. We flew from California to the Midwest to borrow a family car and began driving through Indiana, rural Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. We met with private practitioners in solo practices, group practices, and medical clinics. We met with anyone willing to take some time to share their story about the profession and their vision for the future. It was a formative experience that gives me hope to this day. We did not find the practice that would be our career, but I think we gained something better–perspective and insight on the profession that you could not learn any other way from others who shared our passion. These experiences have indelibly shaped me.
As Dean, my vision for the College is simple: excellence in education, discovery, and patient-centered care. For decades, our faculty and graduates have helped define how optometry is practiced around the world. As new medical breakthroughs and advances in clinical eye care emerge, we will continue our leadership by preparing our students for clinical practice today and for tomorrow's rapidly changing healthcare environment. Our audacious goal is to transform the way eye care is delivered.
Over the next several years, with your help, we will be transforming our faculty ranks by seeking the next generation of dreamers and discoverers who will inspire students to learn, imagine, explore, and create. We are currently searching for six new faculty members with more to come over the next several years. These new faculty will be an essential part of shaping the future direction of the College. It is an exciting time as we consider who shares our passion and vision.
Educational excellence is our top priority. We are in the early stages of renewing our curriculum and revising our educational delivery methods to emphasize critical thinking skills and applied learning methods. This emphasis is designed to better prepare our students as future healthcare providers. We also aspire to train students to be community leaders who are fully prepared to deliver primary eye care and are responsive to the needs of their communities. Together, we can make transformative changes to this profession and how health care is delivered.
You are our best ambassadors! Please continue to share your passion about this profession within your community. Refer bright, eager students for admission, provide externship opportunities, be a mentor, and donate generously to the college so that we are able to provide students the best possible preparation for their future career in optometry. Thank you!
Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous New Year!