ICO alumni have many stories to tell, each one as unique as the way they practice optometry.
Some leave ICO and set up a private practice. Some join an existing practice or decide to take the corporate route. Some choose to share their wisdom through teaching, or find more knowledge with a fellowship or residency. No matter what path our alumni choose, each one advances the practice of optometry and makes the entire ICO community proud.
This year, ICO embarked on a project to capture some of those stories. This multimedia effort highlights the role ICO played in preparing alumni for their careers, while also showcasing the well-rounded lives these doctors have built. The campaign has its own page on ICO.edu with content that captures how great futures are “Made at ICO.”
To introduce you to the campaign, meet some of the alumni who let us visit them with our cameras in hand.
Daniel McGehee, OD ’88
Dr. McGehee practices at Swagal Wootton Hiatt Eye Center in Mesa, Arizona, the perfect place for him to pursue his passion for outdoor activities. He is an avid cyclist, frequently seen riding through the gorgeous Arizona desert landscape.
“You have to have that release – for me it’s cycling,” he says. “When I get on my bike, I really don’t like to think about the office. I don’t like to think about what’s happening in the rest of my life—I like to think about what I’m doing there on the bike.”
“Day in and day out, in a clinical setting, it’s almost exactly like mountain biking. You need to divide and conquer the issues the same way I divide and conquer a climb.”
– Daniel McGehee, OD ‘88
Dr. McGehee is a two-time finisher of the Hawaii Ironman World Championship Triathlon, the 2002 National 12-Hour Bicycling Champion, and still finds time to coach soccer and basketball for his kids. He says those family moments with his three children and his wife Mary McGehee, OD ’89, also an optometrist, are what make his life the most fulfilling.
“I think it’s important that I split up my time – divide and conquer my day—so I have time for exercise or an outside activity and have time for the family. Family comes first, no doubt!”
Reflecting on his career, Dr. McGehee says there are many similarities between his pursuits inside and outside the office.
“Optometry is a great profession,” Dr. McGehee says. “Day in and day out, in a clinical setting, it’s almost exactly like mountain biking. You need to divide and conquer the issues the same way I divide and conquer a climb.”
He has stayed in touch with ICO, and decided after about six years in practice that he would host ICO externs. He says that decision revitalized his commitment and energy for the profession and for ICO.
“I felt like I could give back to optometry,” he says. “Having the students here is a bonus for both the students and for me. I feel like the students have helped me as much as I’ve helped them.”
Tom Babu, OD ’92 and Vasvi Babu, OD ’92
Drs. Tom and Vasvi Babu are quick to give credit to ICO for their personal and professional success. The two met as optometry students, did a residency together at the Illinois Eye Institute, and now—20 years later—they operate a small chain of regional practices around Phoenix.
“ICO has a huge place in our story,” Dr. Vasvi says. “It’s how we met, it’s the foundation for our education. We’ve made lifelong friends there that we still have. There’s just so much that the school has given to us.”
Like Dr. McGehee, they have embraced the warm sunshine of Arizona and being an active part of their community. The two recalled how they chose Arizona in 1993 after Dr. Tom networked with another ICO alumnus who offered him the spot he was vacating. So, they loaded their U-Haul and proceeded to build a life there.
When they opened their own practice almost 20 years ago, they rejoiced at having 19 cents left over after all the bills were paid. Today, they have a much larger business and have transitioned from their roles as doctors to CEOs, focusing on the business operations of their offices.
“ICO has a huge place in our story,” “It’s how we met, it’s the foundation for our education. We’ve made lifelong friends there that we still have.”
– Tom Babu, OD ’92
“At the point when we stopped seeing patients on a regular basis is when things really propelled for us,” Dr. Vasvi says. “We had the time and the energy to spend on creating systems, creating manuals, training guides, all that kind of stuff for our staff… things we never would have been able to implement had we been seeing patients eight hours a day.”
Both of them praise ICO for giving them the foundation to build a practice and eventually turn it into a successful business. They have never regretted the networking encounter that initially brought them to Arizona.
“Your goal in life is peace-of-mind. Happiness,” Dr. Tom says. “Don’t chase something that doesn’t achieve that happiness. Quality of life – that’s it.”
Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD ’04
Dr. Bonilla-Warford recently opened what he says is his “dream practice” because it involves his favorite things: kids, vision therapy, and LEGO bricks.
He’s owned his first practice, Bright Eyes Family Vision Care, for 10 years and recently opened the second office, Bright Eyes Kids, his new practice in the Tampa, Florida, area for children.
“I just opened my dream practice, focused completely on kids and vision therapy,” he says. “I get to run the practice exactly how I want to, which means a lot of LEGOs!”
In fact, the website for Bright Eyes Kids notes, “Dr. Nate loves to trade LEGO mini-figs so bring one to your exam to trade.”
“Living in Florida, dinner can also be on the beach. We love the beach. It’s part of our life balance.”
– Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD ’04
Reflecting on his optometric career, Dr. Nate says the life he began at ICO benefits his own children, too.
“I love the fact that I get to eat breakfast and dinner with my kids,” he says. “Living in Florida, dinner can also be on the beach. We love the beach. It’s part of our life balance.”
Dr. Bonilla-Warford credits ICO with giving him the tools he needed to successfully build his own practice as a young optometrist.
“Because of the independent and entrepreneurial atmosphere at the college, I was exposed to the thought that I too could own and operate my own practice,” he says. “The faculty that taught there also owned their own practices which made for a much more real-world education—shadowing opportunities, private practice clubs and business advice. It prepared me in such a rich way. Without these experiences, it would have been harder to get to where I am now.”
Iris Matsukado, OD ’92
Dr. Matsukado’s story is an interesting one, involving (at different times) the Toronto Blue Jays, Sears, and the Moms of Mayhem.
Let’s start with baseball. A native of Hawaii, Dr. Matsukado knew very little about baseball when she arrived at ICO. In a baseball town like Chicago, she couldn’t help becoming a fan! While she was teaching in primary care following graduation and residency, she met a doctor from Florida who later called her to say he had a job opportunity with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It’s kind of a weird, wild path that I went on, but each practice really helped me grow and let me see different types of patients while still offering good care.”
– Iris Matsukado, OD ’92
“He had just gotten a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays to work with their major league team and farm team with vision therapy,” Dr. Matsukado says. “He did vision therapy but mostly focused on the vision and learning aspect. He … had no idea on how or where to start for sport vision. I was brought on to help with that and I’m glad I did.”
“For me, working in sports vision was great at that time because I was so into baseball,” she recalls. “It was perfect for me.”
After that contract ended, she went to work in corporate practices, eventually holding five leases at one time. As her family responsibilities grew, she scaled back to holding one lease and also employs another doctor there.
So, about those Moms of Mayhem?
Dr. Matsukado and her two best friends compete in karate competitions as the Moms of Mayhem. Her children also compete, and she says optometry has given her the flexibility to be part of karate and part of a rewarding profession.
“I am very happy,” she says. “It’s kind of a weird, wild path that I went on, but each practice really helped me grow and let me see different types of patients while still offering good care. You are able to practice wherever you want to, as much as you want to, and help different types of people.”
Millicent Knight, OD ’87
Dr. Knight’s history with ICO goes back to long before she was a student. Her father brought her to the IEI at the age of 8 after a teacher recommended she get an eye exam. At the time, neither of them could have guessed it was putting her on the path to optometry.
“I went to vision therapy probably once a week,” she recalls. “I was 8 and my dad said he picked me up from vision therapy one day and I just very matter-of-factly said, ‘Dad, I’m going to be an eye doctor.’ ”
She achieved that dream years later, graduating from ICO and launching a career that has encompassed many types of practice opportunities, from a hospital-based setting to private practice to corporate optometry. In April 2014, she was named to her current role as Vice President of Professional Affairs for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, North America.
“I was 8 and my dad said he picked me up from vision therapy one day and I just very matter-of-factly said, ‘Dad I’m going to be an eye doctor.’”
– Millicent Knight, OD ’87
While she no longer cares for patients in a direct doctor-patient role, Dr. Knight still believes what she is doing at Johnson & Johnson honors her ICO education by helping improve eye health for large populations rather than individual patients.
“When I was in practice, you come into the office, you look at your patient schedule, but you have no idea what each patient is going to present,” she explains. “You do know that you’re going to be, for the most part, helping them deal with an eye-related issue. Here, it’s very different. My day can go from having a meeting with my team to see how we best execute our company’s enterprise strategy, to talking with the marketing team. I may spend time on the leadership team board looking at our forecast for the year and moving forward. I spend time with research and development looking at what products need to come out of our pipeline, and I spend time with our students. So it’s really varied and it’s exciting, because it’s always something new and some new challenge every day and I sort of relish that.”
This year, Dr. Knight returned to ICO with a very special mission, to be the 2016 Commencement Speaker. As she looks out on that group of new optometrists, what does she think it takes for them to become as successful as she has been?
“I think you have to be committed and you have to be tenacious,” she says. “You can’t take ‘No’ for an answer. You have to be clear about what your objectives are, and you have to be smart enough to know that sometimes you have to redirect.”
Now Tell Us Your Story
The people in this article represent just a tiny fraction of ICO’s successful alumni network. We know the world’s best-prepared ODs were made at ICO- including you! Tell us your story. If you are interested in being interviewed or just want more information about the project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer for ICO Matters.
She may be reached at Jacqueline.email@example.com.