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Meet Our New Dean!

Sharon Bentley
We are pleased to announce that after a successful international search, Sharon A. Bentley has been selected to serve as the new dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science. Professor Bentley is currently professor of optometry, deputy dean of the Faculty of Health and director of the Centre for Vision and Eye Research at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. She will join the UC Berkeley community on February 3, 2025.

Q&A with Sharon Bentley

In the Q&A below, Professor Bentley talks about her early influencers, research interests, leadership style, proudest achievement, what she does for fun when she’s not working, and more.

Q: What led you to a career in optometry?

“First and foremost, I wanted to work as a health care professional. I have always felt a strong commitment to supporting others and I recognised the importance of human connection in doing so. I also thrived on mathematics and physics at school. Optometry fulfilled these seemingly diverse passions perfectly. From a young age I felt energized in clinical settings and in libraries. I have had an insatiable love of learning. So, I knew very early on, that I would spend a significant part of my career in academia.”

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

“My maternal grandparents were early influencers. They were Greek immigrants to Australia who laboured hard in factories to raise a family. I have fond memories sitting at their kitchen table. Although my grandfather did not speak a word of English and I could barely understand basic Greek, my grandfather would patiently try to teach me arithmetic well before I began school. My grandmother would bake for the endless stream of visitors. She taught me the importance of having an open door and being community minded.”

Q: You are currently serving as professor of optometry, deputy dean of the faculty of health and director of the Centre for Vision and Eye Research at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. What do you enjoy most about your work?

“I am known for being a transparent, reliable and approachable leader. My leadership style revolves around empowering others, fostering collaboration, empathy, building trust, adapting to change, maintaining integrity and celebrating success. ”
“That’s easy. The people I work with. I admire the steadfast dedication of my optometry colleagues to excellence in research and in teaching, as well as their commitment to the profession and each other. In my role as Deputy Dean of a large and complex faculty, I have also had the honour of working with many, many talented and kind individuals in every area of the university imaginable. I adore the diversity of people and challenges. I really like to problem solve and my current position has given me plenty of opportunity for that.”

Q: You have had considerable leadership experience in your career. What has drawn you to leadership roles?

“It has always been something that I have been asked or invited to do, perhaps because I thrive on tackling complex problems and making informed decisions (I really enjoy working through a good crisis). In a leadership role, I am challenged to think critically and consider diverse perspectives, often building deep relationships that are incredibly rewarding. I get so much out of nurturing talent and, empowering others and seeing them succeed. I believe in the power of good leadership to drive positive change within an organization and beyond.”

Q: You have been named one of the “Women Research Pioneers in Australian Optometry.” What are your research interests?

“There is so much research to be interested in! My main interests have included the impact of vision impairment on functional performance and quality of life, vision and driving, the development of patient reported outcomes for use in clinical trials, the evaluation of eye care services, Indigenous eye care and public health. My clinical placements during optometry school at the renowned Kooyong Low Vision Clinic (established by Ian Bailey and Helen Robbins), left a lasting impression that drove my early endeavours in low vision research.”

Q: In addition to receiving a graduate diploma in special education, a master’s degree in optometry and a doctorate of philosophy in optometry & vision sciences (from the University of Melbourne) you also have a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. How have you applied public health approaches to providing eye care?

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience more inequity in social determinants of health than any other group in Australia on all indicators (education, employment, housing and income). This has arisen due to an unacceptable history of profound discrimination and atrocities imposed by colonization. As a result, vision loss is three times more prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders than other Australians. Approximately one-third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have not had an eye examination within the previous two years. Barriers to accessing eye care include lack of services in or near Indigenous communities, cultural and language differences with providers, institutional racism and individual provider biases resulting in reduced engagement with non-Indigenous services, and costs. One public health approach to improving access to eye care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is through the education of optometrists. A few years ago, I rallied all leaders of optometry programs in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, and I established the Leaders in Indigenous Optometry Education Network (LIOEN). A key function of the Network is to support optometry programs graduate optometrists capable of providing culturally safe eye care free of racism through the implementation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health curriculum.”

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

“I am known for being a transparent, reliable and approachable leader. My leadership style revolves around empowering others, fostering collaboration, empathy, building trust, adapting to change, maintaining integrity and celebrating success. By cultivating a supportive and inclusive environment, I strive to inspire my team to achieve collective success while promoting personal and professional growth.”

Q: What in your career are you most proud of?

“One of the achievements of which I am most proud of in my career is being part of the leadership team that established the Glaucoma Collaborative Clinic involving the ophthalmology team at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and the optometry team at the Australian College of Optometry. The clinic is based at the Australian College of Optometry and was one of the first of its kind to be established in Australia. Hospital waiting lists were reduced and patients received timely eye care services of the highest quality. Important relationships between optometry and ophthalmology were strengthened and we were able to achieve so much more for patients through collaboration and partnership.”

Q: When you are not working, what do you like to do?

“I have enjoyed many years of ballroom dancing and water-skiing. My latest obsession is golf. I adore spending time outdoors in the sunshine and experiencing adventures in places I have not been before. However, any place and any time with family and friends is most treasured.”

Q: You spent some time on campus during the interview process, what were your first impressions of Berkeley?

“Rich in history, immersed in innovation, dedicated to academic rigor, vibrant, a strong sense of community, caring and committed to social justice. These attributes were palpable in just the two days I visited.”

Q: What are you looking forward to most about living in California?

“I am looking forward to forging new friendships, exploring new places and contributing to the bright future of optometry and vision science.”

For more information on Professor Bentley’s career, please read the campus announcement of her appointment.

Campus Announcement