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An Interview with ICO’s Dr. Mothersbaugh: ASCO’s 2020 Rising Star

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An Interview with ICO’s Dr. Mothersbaugh: ASCO’s 2020 Rising Star

In a little over eight years, Dr. Mothersbaugh has gone from ICO student to resident to assistant professor to dean of student affairs. It's little wonder that ASCO named him their rising star of 2020. We sat down to get to know our young and ambitious Dean of Student Affairs a little better.

Dr. Mothersbaugh, these last eight years must have been quite a whirlwind for you. Tell us a little bit about what motivated you to pursue the Dean of Students role.

Yeah, it seems that I often find myself pivoting from one role to the other. Early on in my life, I wanted to be a teacher, but there was something about optometry that always drew me. The idea of being able to help others – to leverage my expertise and gain the respect of a community appealed to me. I also believe that sight is the most powerful sense. I love that I get to be part of giving people vision.

It didn’t take me long into optometry school to realize how much teaching was a part of who I am. The faculty members all around me inspired me: they practiced optometry, they participated in high-level medical cases (ICO sees some of the rarest and most difficult cases of any optometry school), and they were able to help develop incoming optometrists who would lead the practice into the future. After my first five years as a faculty member, I realized the most enjoyable part of my day was when I was interacting with students. So, I pivoted again. Now every day is dedicated to promoting the future of a profession I love by connecting with potential and current students.

When you attended ICO, you were the first-year class representative. So perhaps it's only natural that you ended up as Dean of Student Affairs.

It's interesting, a lot people ask me "Why ICO?" And for me, I don't have one specific story, but instead it's a combination of the many feelings I felt stepping on to ICO's campus. Although I was never involved in student government in high school or during my undergrad, I really felt at home at ICO and wanted to be part of its progress forward from the very beginning.

The need to be an instrumental part of creating the culture at ICO is one reason why I took on the role of dean of student affairs. I'm a bit of an idealist by nature. I want to pay forward not just the quality experience I had but make sure that we are constantly improving. Ultimately, I want every student to have an even better experience than last year's graduates.

What inspires you about your job?

There are two things that get me really motivated. The first is when I take an eagle's eye view of the profession, and I see how far we have come today.

Optometry has a long history as a legislative profession. We started off with very few rights in terms of what we were allowed to do. Since then, optometry has consistently expanded its scope. When I see students who are entering this profession, I see a lot of excitement to continue that trajectory. They won't let it stay stagnant. They are constantly innovating the profession.

It’s not just about learning the facts anymore. I am inspired to see students leaning into the options that modern technology is offering us. There are amazing devices in AI that are going to fundamentally change how we practice.

The other is perhaps the opposite of what I mentioned above. I am super excited when I see students problem solve creatively. When students can look at journal articles or other new advances in equipment, and critically gauge these options with a healthy level of skepticism, I feel proud. If they are always asking "is this really a good thing for patients," then I’m happy.

Let's shift gears a little... Let's get to know you a little better...

Who beyond the optometry field inspires you?

The top person is absolutely Brene Brown. I've been following her for over a decade now – all the way back to her first viral TED talk. I have read every single one of her books and her books have been an essential cornerstone which has helped me work through some of my own issues. They have helped get me to where I am today.

Daring Greatly has especially appealed to me, which builds off of Teddy Roosevelt's quote: The one outside looking in does not get to make all the critiques. Instead, "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena... who actually strives to do the deeds;… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

And that fundamentally is who I want to be. Even if you come up short nine times out of 10. You're still in it. You're still trying to make a change.

What's one thing most people don't know about you?

I'm going to be honest, I try to be an open-book and happily let students know me beyond my role as dean of student affairs.

I think perhaps one thing that not everyone knows about me and my background is that I was the first person in my family to graduate college. My mom was the high school valedictorian whose family just couldn't afford to pay for her college. My dad was drafted and did get some schooling through the GI bill, but ultimately had to leave due to finances. They worked their tails off to make sure I could get an education. To then have a doctor in their family, I think it means a lot to them.

I acknowledge many parts of my story have allowed me to have a more privileged upbringing than others. I also know that my parent’s work ethic is part of what motivated me to become a doctor.

What has been the best and worst thing about quarantine for you?

These last few months, I have really missed being able to connect with students one-on-one. When students feel upset or anxious, I want to be 100% there for them and even on my best days, when I have to rely on a screen for all of my communications, I feel like I can only be 90% there for them.

The best thing has definitely been trying out living with my girlfriend. Quarantine accelerated our timeline, but it has been really fun. Plus, we're raising an adorable puppy! What could be better?

Thanks Dr. Mothersbaugh for providing us a little peak into your life. It's been great fun!


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