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Dr. Amy Falk.

Dr. Amy Falk Wins Trustees' Award for Teaching Excellence

  • At this year’s commencement ceremony, Amy Falk, OD, Associate Dean of Academic Programs, was presented with the Trustees' Award for Teaching Excellence.

    Dr. Falk was recognized for her exemplary work in the classroom at the event, which took place at Gillette Stadium on May 6, 2017.

    “It’s a really funny feeling, being awarded for something you love to do,” said Dr. Falk in her acceptance speech, in front of an audience of thousands of faculty, staff, and graduating students and their families. Dr. Falk spoke about her goal to instill in each student a “self-confidence in their own abilities”.

    We sat down with Dr. Falk to hear her insight into her teaching style and the optometry field.

    In your view, what makes the optometry program at MCPHS unique?

    First, we’re set up to be truly inter-professional. Older schools tend to be standalone institutions that only offer optometry. It’s harder for them to be interdisciplinary. Here, we have many other disciplines who are willing to work with us.

    Second, our clinical program is second to none. We cherry-picked the best aspects and teaching models of all the different programs, and emulated all of our best teachers. For instance, one of the things we stress in the classroom here is the “So what / who cares?” model, to bring it back to that bottom line of patient care. When I’m teaching neuroanatomy to optometry students, it can get a little dry! You’re naming structures, and there’s a lot of memorization. By asking “So what? Who cares?” it reminds me to tie in that clinical relevance.

    What excites you about the optometry field?

    In terms of areas of specialty, I’d say glaucoma care. Since I graduated, there’s been a huge explosion of glaucoma research. There’s more technology for diagnosis, more management plans—essentially, our ability to treat glaucoma patients has skyrocketed. It’s a really good time for optometrists in terms of scope and understanding.

    Tell us a little about your teaching style.

    I’m always trying to appeal to every type of learner – from those who get the most out of reading the book, to those who need to hear the lecture, to those who are really hands-on. I talk a lot in class and tell a lot of stories, so those auditory learners can really grasp it. One student said in my course evaluations that my course is like story time.

    How do you create hands-on learning experiences?

    For those who need to touch and have hands-on experience, I bring in household items that can be used as hands-on examples. For example, Kleenex® tissues make great retinas. Retinas are layered, just like 2 or 3-ply tissues and can be peeled apart very delicately. I use Play-Doh to talk about optic nerves, and those touchable items make high-level disease and anatomy concepts accessible to students hearing them for the first time.

    How do these teaching techniques help students succeed?

    I teach a course on glaucoma, a multifactorial, complex disease, that many practicing specialists don’t really understand. But then course evaluations come back, and my students have written “Glaucoma is so easy! I feel like a glaucoma specialist!” We get feedback from hospitals confirming that these students really know glaucoma; it’s great and a little funny to me, because there are experienced practitioners who struggle with this.

    What skills and qualities does a student need in order to become a successful optometrist?

    They need to be good at problem solving. We’re all going to be clinicians, and that means thinking through problems. That’s actually a pretty hard skill to teach. I can teach the textbook presentation of a disease, but when you see a real patient, they’re not going to be textbook. There may be an interfering condition, or they may have an allergy to the front-line medication. You won’t diagnose head-on, and you won’t treat head-on.

    When you look toward your future at MCPHS, what excites you most?

    Our national reputation is growing; at first, people didn’t know we were here. But within the past five years, that has been shifting; people have heard good things about us. That inaugural class of optometry students going out across the country and getting jobs were our ambassadors. They are good – so we’re becoming known for producing strong optometrists.

    The Doctor of Optometry program at MCPHS–Worcester is a four-year, full-time program designed to prepare students with the requisite skills, experience, and confidence to practice and advance as a professional optometrist in a wide variety of clinical settings.