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Being Daphne

This year’s Berkeley Optometry Magazine features a Q&A with Berkeley Optometry alum and donor Daphne Chan (OD ’13). Associate Chief of Optometry at UCSF Medical Center, Dr. Chan works alongside ophthalmology specialists to care for diverse patients of all needs.  Daphne talks about early influences, favorite Berkeley Optometry memories, and Dolly Parton.

Q What originally inspired you to come to optometry school?

A: The people! My dad is an optometrist (Dr. Alan Chan, OD ’74), so I originally wanted to do something different—teaching, social work, anything except optometry. However, I was “extremely undeclared” in undergrad and spent a lot of time attending different clubs and exploring different careers. I finally decided to give Foresight Pre-Optometry Club a chance and learned that optometry is way more than eyeballs and glasses. It’s about connecting with people; specializing in the visual system yet also having a powerful impact on overall health and well-being. What is more important than sight? In retrospect, I realize that the friends I had made in Foresight probably also influenced my decision. Pretty much everyone I have met in this profession since pre-optometry has been a kind, altruistic, and genuine soul. It’s hard not to be happy when you are surrounded by good people.

Q: Who were your early influencers in life? Who inspired you?

A: My parents for sure. My mom has always been my role model: smart, funny, and strong yet loving. She raised her children to have a strong work ethic (she is famous for saying that an A+ is not good enough!), and now that I am older I understand that this philosophy is not just about realizing the end result, but rather the sense of personal pride that one generates by challenging oneself and achieving goals through best efforts. As for my dad, I think I got my sense of humor and people skills from him! I remember him always telling me from an early age that the things we say can really affect others, and that we should always try to make other people feel good—not by overindulgent flattery, but rather by building people’s confidence, reassuring them when they are in doubt of themselves, recognizing everyone as an equal, and always making everyone feel included. Most importantly, my brother is one of my biggest heroes. He was born mentally and physically handicapped and constantly reminds me of the importance of the intangible: family, health, tolerance, and understanding. And might as well throw my big sister in there too—generous, hilarious, and brilliant.

Q: Why did you choose a career in academia? What are some of the unique benefits and opportunities?

A: I had always loved teaching (my first job in 8th grade was as a tutor) because of the one-on-one connection you form with your counterparts. I still clearly remember my first Berkeley Optometry Fall Conference in college, where the panel of attendings had all exuded so much passion for optometry and for teaching that I had vowed to one day teach optometry as well, and feel so fortunate to have the job that I do. Academia is stimulating and forces you to stay sharp because young, impressionable learners are reliant on your knowledge and skill set. After I was appointed my role of teaching the UCSF ophthalmology interns in 2016, I worked longer hours but actually felt renewed and immensely gratified.

Q: What do you teach ophthalmology colleagues about optometry in your role at UCSF?

A: Aside from direct skills transfer to the ophthalmology interns, I try my best to show my ophthalmology colleagues that optometrists, in addition to being experts in correcting refractive errors, are also well-trained and competent in the treatment and management of ocular disease. Fortunately at UCSF, the relationship between optometry and ophthalmology is very positive and we are quite comfortable co-managing cases such that patients get the best care possible. This attitude is in large part thanks to the stellar examples that Dr. Bernie Dolan and Dr. Andrew Mick at our sister hospital,
SFVA, have set, and my optometric colleagues and I recognize that we must maintain a high standard of care for our patients to continue to sustain this reputation.

Q: You are already an Academy Fellow. What inspired you to take this accelerated approach?

A: Pretty much all of my professors inspired me to obtain my FAAO from the start (especially Dr. Mick and Dr. Dolan, former Academy president). I had also wanted to achieve this professional goal because UCSF is considered one of the Top Ten hospitals in the US and I wanted to have a bit of distinction and do my part to help elevate the division of optometry. It’s been rewarding because Fellowship is a completely optional thing you do after completing all formal training; it is an entirely self-motivated challenge, and once achieved, feels even better than passing a graded exam, because you set your own goal and met it!

Q: What inspires you to give back your time, expertise, and philanthropic support to your alma mater?

A: I have always been school-spirited, but Berkeley Optometry holds a special place in my heart because it is where I made my closest friends, and also developed the skills I utilize daily to earn a living! So the answer is both personal and practical. It seems quite logical that I should thank the institution that has helped build my career, and what better way to do that than by supporting future generations of optometrists. Optometry school is not cheap, and luckily Berkeley Optometry has a robust professional student support fund, from which I benefited each year in school. Now that I have the ability to earn an income, I am happy to support my school with time and philanthropy.

“I have always been school-spirited, but Berkeley Optometry holds a special place in my heart because it is where I made my closest friends, and also developed the skills I utilize daily to earn a living!”

Q: What is your favorite Berkeley Optometry memory?

A: If I had to pick one, it would be giving the graduation speech along with my classmate, Mimi Phan. We brought up the memory of our infamous dance-dare skit from our second year, where I had distracted a very kind yet confused Dean Levi with some nonsensical conversation while my classmate Jannie Lee danced hilariously behind him, all on camera. Then Dean Levi got up and dance-dared us while we were at the podium! That was so much fun, and shows just how awesome and down-to-earth all our Berkeley Optometry faculty are.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: Professionally, it would be the team of bright, ambitious, and emotionally intelligent optometrists that we have built at UCSF over the years. We have grown to 13 now and are fortunate to have as our tirelessly dedicated Chief of Optometry Dr. Taras Litvin (OD ’09, PhD ’16), who was actually one of my most influential attendings while I was at school. I am so lucky to work amongst friends, who make even the roughest days laughable! And personally, I am proudest of my baby niece, who is just over two months old but already “sings” (croons along with you) and can grab toys by herself!

Q: You are a Skit Night legend, tell us about that experience.

A: Aww, I would not be so bold as to call myself a Skit Night “legend,” but… Skit Night!! Our first year, the second years Class of 2012) had pranked us and told us that our skits were to be 15 minutes max, and we naively believed them. We were shocked when their skit took probably an hour! It was also always hard to compete against the Classes of 2012 and 2014, both of whom always had excellent concepts and robust class participation. We finally won “best individual skit” one year with the aforementioned dance-dares, where members of the class of 2013 danced without being noticed behind unsuspecting faculty members. We got Dr. John Corzine, Dr. A. Lee Scaif, Dr.George Lee, Dr. Robert DiMartino, and Dean Dennis Levi, amongst others. I love that everyone at Berkeley Optometry is a great sport and can laugh at themselves. Without laughter, what is there?

Q: What’s something people do not know about you?

A: Everyone already knows I am a total Harry Potter nerd, but what surprises most people and often requires some explanation is that I absolutely adore Dolly Parton! I personally don’t think she needed all the plastic surgery because she’s already naturally beautiful, but I respect that she is very open and honest about her image. She is a witty, positive, and smart businesswoman, and despite growing up poor, she knew she wanted to be a star and worked hard to make it happen. Songwriting seems very difficult but she is prolific at it (she wrote the song made famous by Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”). I notice that in interviews she only says kind things about others, and when she performs she always gives credit to her backup singers and her band. Who wouldn’t love such a successful yet humble person? My sister gave me a t-shirt for my birthday that says “What Would Dolly Do?”—a good reminder to us all to be kind and generous to each other!