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Although Eric Harris, OD is one of our newest faculty members, in only a year, he has achieved quite a bit. One of the first initiatives he implemented was to develop a mentorship program for current seniors in high school. These students are high achievers, but come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Partnering with a local organization, he hopes to introduce students to the benefits of optometry and other healthcare professions. Now working with Scott Jens, OD ’91, Dr. Harris has been able to fund this pilot program. We sat down to learn a bit more about his history, his views on mentorship and how he hopes to build the next generation of ODs.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into optometry?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. I went to kindergarten, elementary, high school, undergrad, and optometry school within the same two miles. Optometry has been part of my life for a long time because I was born with strabismus. By the age of 13, I had already undergone seven strabismus surgeries. I knew I wanted to do something medical but didn’t know that optometry was a possibility. Once I learned more about it though, I knew it was the right path for me.

You’re pretty new to ICO. We’d love to know, why were you excited to come to ICO?

I was excited to come here because it was something

different. Because of my background, I felt that I had a lot to offer clinically. I have worked in direct patient care for a long time. I look forward to being a strong resource for all students, but especially those interested in pursuing practice opportunities within hospitals and schools of medicine.

What are some of the things you hope to achieve while you’re at ICO? Where do you want to be in five years? 

Within the IEI, I’d like to be more involved with the urgent care clinic, and in particular, the Rosenbloom clinic. I’d especially like to work with the post-op patients who are referred to us after cataract surgery. I really enjoy those encounters.

Beyond the clinic, I see myself more involved in campus affairs and working with students and faculty from non-traditional backgrounds and with underrepresented minorities. There is so much work to be done to grow our optometric workforce so that it more closely resembles the real world.

To respond to this problem, I’m drafting a curriculum for an innovative pipeline program. The plan is to attract underrepresented minority students interested in pursuing a career in a health profession. That means optometry, but also dentistry, pharmacy and maybe even podiatry. These professions share the same student diversity issue. Of course, my goal is to have more optometrists who look like me, but I’ve realized that this may not be the right path for everyone. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, and I think an increased interest in health professions will help optometry as well. 

We’ve already found an organization interested in partnering with us with over 200 students in their yearly cohort. Most of these students are firstgeneration college students and/or underrepresented minorities, but also very high performers. As seniors in high school, we will be engaging them at a crucial time. They can plan their undergraduate career around their future professional goals. Hopefully we can also get them involved with ICO by providing them with shadowing opportunities during the summer. 

We noticed that you’re quite involved on social media. Can you tell us how you hope to use this medium and how you hope to inspire incoming students and in particular students of color? 

On Instagram, you can make a five-second video and within minutes you have messages from students across the country. It’s phenomenal the speed that information travels on social media. I love that I can use it as an ancillary educational tool. My goal is to be as helpful as possible, and the feedback that I get from students really drives me to do more.

Institutions, optometrists, and other health care providers must harness social media as an important learning tool and not just entertainment. The art of mentoring is changing because of social media.

I’m just working on one little piece, but I know I am having an impact because of it.

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