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Leading the Way Q&A

Monica Porter, John Flanagan, and Chris Wilmer.
From our latest magazine – Dean John Flanagan, Associate Dean Dr. Chris Wilmer, and Senior Assistant Dean Monica Porter discuss the new Emeryville Eye Care Center in an informative Q&A.

About the Emeryville Project

Plans are underway to build a new satellite campus in Emeryville that will incorporate a new eye care center that will double our clinical capacity; expand opportunities for world-class education and research; and advance an exciting new model for integrated pediatric optometric care. Groundbreaking on the new construction will begin in April of 2024; the new center is expected to be completed and opened in late 2025.

The Emeryville site’s 39,400 gross square feet will allow the expansion of these clinics and programs to include 40 exam lanes, therapy rooms for sports vision and BV, a retail eyewear center, and an academic center that will offer both in-house and professional continuing education.

Q: What is your vision for the school?

John Flanagan: “Our ambition is to lead the profession. To make this happen, we are embarking on an ambitious and unprecedented period of growth. Our vision includes a new satellite campus in Emeryville that will offer optometry-led, interdisciplinary children’s eye care and vision health; the Academy for Advanced Optometric Education; an expansion of our residency program; establishing clinics at other UC schools; creating new teaching spaces that will feature clinical skills labs where students can practice basic as well as advanced techniques; a clinical trials research center; and increasing the number of fellowships for PhD students in the Vision Science Graduate Program.”

Why did the school choose Emeryville for a new clinic?

Monica Porter: “The Emeryville site was donated to the UC Berkeley campus—an estimated $17M value. The campus will provide use of the space rent-free for the life of the building. Space constraints at our current clinics have hindered our ability to expand high-revenue generating specialty clinics, such as Sports Vision, Neuro Rehabilitation and Myopia Control, and expansion of our professional continuing education programs. The Emeryville site’s 39,400 gross square feet will allow the expansion of these clinics and programs to include 40 exam lanes, therapy rooms for sports vision and BV, a retail eyewear center, and an academic center for continuing education.”

How is the Emeryville project being funded?

Monica Porter: “The funding for this project is coming from a variety of sources. A generous seed gift of $10m from the Wertheim Family Foundation— part of the $50m donation from the Wertheims—and the $17m in-kind gift from the campus, described above, as well as a $10m commitment from the school as part of the ongoing “Our Future, Our Vision” campaign, form the bulk of the project’s funding.”

When will the new Emeryville clinic open?

Monica Porter: “We expect the new clinic to open in late 2025.”

What services will be offered at the new Emeryville clinic?

Chris Wilmer: “The new Emeryville clinic will double our clinical capacity, expand opportunities for world-class education and research, and advance an exciting new model for integrated pediatric optometric care. More specifically, it will offer basic and advanced eye care service and treatment for adults and children; specialty pediatric eye care, including infant, toddler, and children’s clinics; special vision assessment clinics; binocular vision clinics; vision therapy and rehabilitation; a concussion clinic; a low vision clinic; a contact lens clinic; a myopia management clinic; a sports vision clinic; and a state-of-the-art eyewear center, all under one roof.”

How will the new clinic benefit the community?

Chris Wilmer: “Our mission has always been to care for the community. The emphasis on pediatric vision care will provide access to expert eye care from top notch doctors, residents and interns, for our youngest patients and their families. I am excited to welcome the Bay Area community to our newest clinic, and look forward to delivering the kind of world-class primary and specialty vision care that can improve the visual and functional lives of our patients.”

How will the new Emeryville clinic benefit students?

“The new Emeryville clinic will double our clinical capacity, expand opportunities for world-class education and research, and advance an exciting new model for integrated pediatric optometric care. ”
Chris Wilmer: “We are proud of the opportunities and training that our students are currently receiving—our faculty are best-in-class, and students are exposed to specialty clinics that provide a vast array of unique, cutting edge optometric care. However, we are limited by our existing physical space. The Emeryville clinic will provide students increased exposure and training for pediatrics and children’s vision, especially in areas related to binocular vision, sports vision, neuro rehabilitation, myopia control, and low vision. Our hope is that these increased opportunities will provide a richer experience for our students.”

How will the new clinic support the profession?

John Flanagan: “The new clinic in Emeryville will include a center for professional education that we are calling the Academy of Advanced Optometric Education. We’ll use this space to host continuing education events, lectures, and seminars that are designed to be hands-on, and workshop-based small group learning. Our goal is to provide a dynamic learning environment for optometrists to enhance their skills and stay at the forefront of their profession.”

Will the Emeryville project adhere to sustainability best practices?

Monica Porter: “Yes, this is an important consideration. The construction project will comply with the UC Policy on sustainable practices, including achieving LEED-ID+C Gold standard, and capping the existing natural gas supply to comply with the university’s decarbonization goals.”

Will there be renovations at the Meredith Morgan University Eye Center?

John Flanagan: “Yes, we have an acute need for renovations to our campus clinic, but the challenge is that our clinics are too busy to renovate. We don’t want to shut down any of our clinics during renovation, or displace any of our patients, so an emerging solution is to build the new clinic in Emeryville, then shift some our our speciality clinics there on a rotational basis so that we can free up and repurpose some space at the campus clinic for renovation.”

How is the school training students to meet the eye care needs of marginalized communities?

John Flanagan: “Healthcare disparities continue to impact many marginalized communities, and it is vital that our students are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to appropriately meet the eye care needs of our communities. To help provide this knowledge base, we have introduced tools—with the help of Dr. Ruth Shoge, Director of DEIB and Associate Clinical Professor—that our faculty can use to evaluate whether their courses are addressing societal expectations for diversity, inclusion, justice, and anti-racism. This is a change that is happening throughout our curriculum. One example is the problem-based learning course in the second year, where students work through real cases and consider current health care disparities for each of the clinical conditions studied.”

Is it true that the school plans to move to a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system?

John Flanagan: “Yes, we are very excited about this change! We have received permission from UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate to become the first optometry program in North America to move to a satisfactory/ unsatisfactory grading system throughout the entire curriculum. This is common in medical schools, but has not previously been offered in optometry programs other than in some clinical courses. We think this change will be a significant benefit to our students. An important development in professional health science education has been to try and de-emphasize the competition within a cohort. Removing the competition for grades will allow students, we believe, to learn to be professional colleagues as part of their education, to respect each other’s unique gifts and abilities, and will put more of an emphasis on what each individual needs to learn to become the best optometrist they can be. I’d like to make clear though that the new grading system isn’t intended to reduce the hard work and intensity of focus required for becoming a good doctor, but we want it to eliminate the feeling that you need to be competitive with your peers to get there. This will be introduced in the fall of 2024 to the first year class, so will be fully operational across all classes by 2028.”

Will any new courses be added?

Chris Wilmer: “Yes, we are introducing two new modules for our 200 series—our clinical lab courses —for the 2023-24 academic year. The new modules concentrate on in-office laser and minor surgical procedures. We also will be offering a new course called Health Economics, Law, and Policy (HELP), which is an introduction to the health care system and the challenges we currently face as a nation in providing affordable, accessible, and high-quality care to patients. Several outstanding guest speakers with expertise in public health, health policy, sustainable community health, infectious disease, DEIB, and artificial intelligence will participate to share perspectives and ideas that will guide our next generation of health care providers.”

What is your vision for the future of our residency training program?

Chris Wilmer: “We would like to expand our residency training program. Residency training is important in a number of ways. It’s a great way to develop expert doctors, trained in specialties such as pediatrics, myopia control, or sports vision—just to name a few—who can then go into a community practice or join our faculty here at the school. In this way, it’s a huge benefit to the profession, and it’s important that we contribute to that. Residents also play an important role in serving our patient’s needs here at our own clinics. But expansion needs to be done carefully. We need to ensure that it’s sustainable and that we are providing a rich experience for our residents. As the Emerville clinic comes online, we anticipate that we will be able to leverage the increased space to add more residents in the specialty areas. We also can imagine placing residents at other UC schools as a way of expanding our off-campus residency opportunities.”

Related Information

Emeryville Eye Care Center Berkeley Optometry Magazine