A Glimpse of the Other Side

Rockefeller Chapel

I vividly remember sitting through new student orientation around this time five years ago. I remember being nervous. Very nervous. And to be fair, there was a lot to be nervous about: making new friends, living in the city, establishing professional contacts, not to mention all of the work it was going to take to make it through the program.

I certainly wasn’t thinking I would end up joining the faculty.

Graduation 2012

But after 10 academic quarters (and 10 finals weeks), lots of patients at the Illinois Eye Institute, a few national board exams, and more patients on external rotations in Rhode Island, Colorado and China, I suddenly found myself wearing a gown with a green hood inside Rockefeller Chapel at my commencement ceremony.

Then came a residency program back at ICO, including plenty more IEI patients, three Grand Rounds presentations, an AAO case report and 10 weeks of Urgent Care on-call duty with, you guessed it, more patients.

And now, I finally have it: the coveted gray lab coat.

When you take on a new role in the same community, it’s tough to predict how things will change. The gray definitely hides the fluorescein stains better, and I’m no longer quite so nervous, but in many ways my life is the same. I’m still on a first-name basis with the cafeteria staff, I still look forward to my clinic shifts, and I’m still constantly surrounded by people way smarter than I am. I still don’t drive a flashy car or frequent red carpet events. I still think “molluscum contagiosum” sounds a lot more like a wizard’s spell than an eyelid disease.

It turns out the changes are pretty subtle. There are some things I appreciate more since I’ve been on the other side. Like how long it takes to prepare a two-hour lecture, knowing that someone will undoubtedly fall asleep during it. And how rare it is to get reliable results on a visual field. Seriously guys, it’s really rare. I’ve also developed new perspective of efficiency–60 minutes sure feels a lot longer now, sitting in the conference room waiting for the students to come present their cases, than it did as a third year trying hard to work up a patient.

I guess the most refreshing thing I’ve realized is that, no matter what color my lab coat, ICO is still ICO. The things I love most about our two-square blocks in Bronzeville–the caliber of people, the sense of community, the common goal to provide excellent eye care–those are all unchanged. It’s funny to think back on how nervous I was when I first got here, because now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

5 Responses to “A Glimpse of the Other Side”

  1. Bill M. Park, OD (ICO 77)

    Erik,
    You have come a long way in such a short time. You have already started giving back, including already having been on the Alumni Council. Welcome to our world now and best wishes to your future. Continue giving your time, talent and treasure.

    Reply
  2. Erik Mothersbaugh

    Dr. Park,

    We have you and the Alumni Council to thank for helping make possible everything we do for our students and patients at the college and eye institute.

    Being so involved at ICO, and being in practice with your own children, I’m sure you know better than most, but our institution continues to strive for excellence.

    Thank you for everything you’ve done to enhance our profession over the years. If and when you ever decide to hang up your retinoscope, rest assured, you are leaving Optometry in capable hands.

    Reply
  3. Sharla Barker

    First, congratulations on making it to the other side! It is super important to be on first name basis with the meal crew, remembering birthdays never hurt. Good luck with future projects!

    Reply
  4. Kelly

    Dr. Mothersbaugh,
    I really enjoyed reading this! As a first year student, heading into this nervousness and workload, its nice to know that the faculty members know how we are feeling.

    Reply
  5. David Long

    This article was inspiring. It is interesting how you go from a relatable college student to being a professor. The coveted lab coat is a very prestigious honour to obtain. I think one of my favorite parts is how things have changed and how things are familiar like being on first name basis with the cafeteria.

    Reply

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