Meet New MCPHS School of Optometry Associate Professor Joseph Stamm
Joseph Stamm, OD, FAAO, recently joined the MCPHS–Worcester School of Optometry as an associate professor. An experienced clinician and teacher, Dr. Stamm possesses wide-ranging curiosity and enthusiasm that support his extensive professional experience. MCPHS staff sat down with Dr. Stamm to learn more.
MCPHS: Welcome to MCPHS, Dr. Stamm! Tell us a bit about your background, either academically and/or in terms of your career.
Dr. Stamm: I get the itch to move every once in a while. I graduated from the State University of New York College of Optometry in Manhattan and returned to Rochester, New York, to join my father’s optometry practice. I maintained the practice for years after he retired and developed it into a contact lens practice. However, I had also always wanted to be in education. During the course of my practice, I had developed a very good relationship with the faculty at the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology. They would send me difficult cases, the kinds that no one else wanted. Eventually they asked whether I would be interested in teaching their residents. I became a volunteer faculty member, which got my foot in the academic door.
I discovered how much I enjoyed the educational process at the same time as I was becoming antsy in private practice and missing intellectual company. The University of Rochester was opening up a refractive surgery center at that time; I took a deep breath, applied for a position there and got it. I sold my private practice and became more involved with the education of medical students and ophthalmology residents.
Eight or nine years later, my optometry alma mater in Manhattan asked me to join the faculty. Since my kids were out of school, I said yes, and for a time I ran SUNY’s specialty clinics. I had achieved my career goal, but the pace of life in New York City began to take its toll. My wife and I are suburban people, and we enjoy a quieter life with some time to breathe. I loved what I was doing, but an hour each way on the train to work was a grind. We moved to Massachusetts, and I had a short stint at an ophthalmology practice before my old friend Dr. Larry Baitch (professor and associate dean for research) invited me to MCPHS to meet some people. I asked whether the school had a place for me, and it did!
I have been here for six weeks. I am having a blast. The faculty are a fantastic, small group, and it’s a young program with a lot of opportunity to get involved.
MCPHS: You are joining the School of Optometry as an associate professor. What courses will you be teaching?
Dr. Stamm: Most of my responsibilities will be clinical. I will supervise students in contact lens clinics, work with our third-year optometry interns and deal with patients who need contacts for medical or cosmetic reasons. Our contact lens didactic program is a two-semester program in which the first course deals with the cosmetic applications, and the second course, advanced contact lens, deals with medical issues. I will deliver guest lectures with Dr. Louis Frank in the advanced contact lens class and take over the contact lens lab next summer.
MCPHS: Within optometry, what research question really excites you? What keeps you up at night?
Dr. Stamm: Dry eye is my area of research interest. Our long-term plan includes expanding clinical care for patients with dry eye and developing a center of excellence focused on that care. I am particularly interested in how our changing environment, such as the constant use of video screens, mobile technology, etc., is altering eye anatomy in such a way as to induce dry eye. New imaging technology allows us to image the physiology of the eyelid and tease out why changes in the way we live are adding to our problems with dry eye. That question really intrigues me.
MCPHS: What, to your mind, distinguishes successful optometry students? What qualities are essential to this profession?
Dr. Stamm: They have to have intellectual curiosity. They have to question, to want to find answers. Every health care profession is actively changing; this is not a static field. Every health care student has to desire to learn and to understand. When I sit down with interns every semester, I tell them my clinic ground rules: “There is no such thing as a bad or silly question. There are bad answers, but there is no such thing as a bad question. If you don’t ask questions, you don’t learn.” I try to keep a light and fun atmosphere. Of course, we are taking care of human beings, which is very serious, but if you do not enjoy what you’re doing, you have made a mistake in your professional development.
MCPHS: Finally, is there an optometry story in the recent news that has fascinated you?
Dr. Stamm: There was a fascinating piece about how contact lenses that were flushed down the sink or toilet are starting to show up and cause problems in waste treatment centers. In 36 years of clinical practice, I never thought to tell my patients not to flush disposable lenses down the drain or toilet!