Alumni Focus on Joe Studebaker (OD’87)



Bloomington, IN (Age 0-1), Union, OH (1967-Present)

Were you the first optometrist in your family?

No. I was actually #7.

Which degree(s), related to optometry, did you earn at Ohio State?

Only my OD. I obtained admission to the optometry program at age 20, after two years of undergraduate courses at Ohio State—and after turning down offers from Indiana, The University of Akron Medical School and Washington and Lee University. I received my OD degree in 1987 at age 24.

Who were your mentors at the College of Optometry? Who had a positive effect on your education?

I had a lot of mentors at the college due to the outstanding caliber of the faculty. Dean Richard Hill probably did more than anyone to get me to develop what continues to be a lifelong curiosity and fascination with the human visual system and its incredible physiology, structure and function. Drs. Kevin Alexander, Arol Augsburger, Paulette Schmidt, Joe Barr, Greg Good, John King, Richard Talcott, John Schoessler, Kent Daum, Bill Brown, Ron Jones and Michael Polasky provided me with outstanding didactic and clinical educational foundations. To this day, I feel thankful and indebted to each of these fine optometric teachers and leaders for the time, expertise and effort they invested in my training.


Name of your employer(s) and title, including location.

Northwest Optometry, LLC, Englewood, OH (1987-Present)

Give us a glimpse of your typical day as an optometrist.

Most of my days are spent on a variety of clinical and administrative tasks for my practice as well as my regional network of 11 optometric locations.

Which optometric issues concern you the most?

Increasingly complex bureaucratic and regulatory demands placed upon health care providers, primarily by the federal government. Continued lack of public awareness regarding the high level of contemporary optometric training as well as the professional capabilities of today’s doctors of optometry. Loss of professional autonomy to large corporate enterprises. More pressure on new and established doctors—by dederal health care and managed care entities—to see larger numbers of high complexity cases in shorter time intervals for lower, “value-based” reimbursement in an era in which student debt levels are so high, and administrative demands (EHR, reporting, correspondence, etc.) on established practitioners are growing at such swift rates.

Why did you choose a career in optometry?

I thought it would be a career to pursue based upon some of my wide-ranging areas of interest in the physical sciences such as optics and astronomy—as well as my interest in medicine and clinical health care. My father’s experience in the profession seemed enjoyable and fulfilling—his practice was thriving and he needed a new partner—so the decision was obvious for me. A career in professional optometry was a way I could live near my home and the rest of my family in the community. It was also an opportunity to control my own destiny as an independent health care practitioner while assuring that the level of patient care I was rendering was of the highest possible order with no compromises.

Where do you hope to see your optometric career in five years?

Going strong at the current pace. Providing I have the fortune of maintaining good health, I plan to stay active in clinical care, administration, professional advocacy and education for a long time. Despite the occasional annoyances I encounter throughout my clinical days, I still get a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of working with challenging cases and trying to innovate and develop solutions to problems which are preventing a patient from performing at a maximum level of vision performance. I work with rapidly growing patient population with a broad range of ocular diseases. I also have the privilege to work with a large number of post-surgical contact lens patients as well as patients with keratoconus and challenging ocular surface disease presentations. Despite some of the current health care system problems, I think the future for optometry is bright in the years ahead. Patients are going to need the services and expertise of their doctors of optometry for many, many years to come.

What is one piece of advice you can give OPT IV students as they prepare to graduate and begin their optometric careers?

I actually have two pieces of advice for most students approaching the end of their training. First: Never assume. Slow down, listen to the patient and take an extra moment or two to double check your clinical analysis of the situation before moving forward with your clinical action plan. Second: One of my favorite quotations from one of America’s great patriots, Admiral Hyman Rickover, “Be ever questioning. Ignorance is not bliss. It is oblivion. Become better informed. Learn from others’ mistakes. You could not live long enough to make them all yourself.”


Why did you choose to attend Ohio State?

Everyone I talked to in optometry told me that Ohio State had the best program in the nation. My father had just finished Ohio State’s OD program in 1977 (after receiving his master's in Optometry from Indiana University in 1963) and was also highly impressed with the quality of the faculty. I wanted to best optometrist I could be and attend the best possible optometry program for my training.

What were your most memorable moments at Ohio State?

Outside losing my shoe (it popped loose between a pair of closing bus doors on my way to chemistry class in 1981) on my first day as a student at Ohio State, probably my most memorable moment was kicking a 40 yard field goal (barefooted and in a lot of mud) in a sophomore intermural football game. I also had the extremely good fortune of getting to sit adjacent to Coach Woody Hayes during a lecture on Russian history by a former assistant to Joseph Stalin. I was taking an International Studies course at the time. I distinctly recall Coach Hayes and his military history students engaged in a heated debate with the Russian lecturer, who—as it turned out—ultimately defected to the United States from the former Soviet Union the following year. As an aside, I finally (reluctantly) got Coach Hayes’ autograph after telling him it was for my brother’s birthday.

What does Ohio State and the College of Optometry mean to you and your family?

Each of us feels incredibly fortunate to have had the access to the quality education and training we received from Ohio State and the College of Optometry. These institutions are true Ohio, national and world educational treasures.

How do you stay connected with the College of Optometry as an alumnus?

I’ve had the pleasure of serving as an extern preceptor and clinical associate professor for the college. I think I’m now just past 50 students I’ve had the pleasure to work with clinically through my practice in Englewood over more than the past decade. I currently serve the College Alumni Society on the Dean’s Advisory Council with an outstanding group of dedicated colleagues who are devoted to promoting future College initiatives, goals and development objectives.


What are your current hobbies, volunteer work, interests?

Watching my teenagers (ages 14, 16 and 18) participate in middle and high School academic and sports activities, providing free care to needy individuals in the local community and providing as much support as possible to the college as well as to a variety of benevolent causes in eye and vision care. When I get the time I still enjoy experimenting with photography and new imaging technologies. When I started my practice career in 1987 I would have thought it unbelievable to have access to some of the current technologies which continue to revolutionize and dramatically improve patient care. I feel lucky to live in a time of so much technological and professional change in optometry. The change and variety, while occasionally bordering on the chaotic, has made it easy for me to remain engaged and creatively involved in my profession. It’s a great time to be a practicing optometrist.

What was the first concert that you attended / most recent? 

Probably the first concert of any type I attended was a Dayton Philharmonic classical music performance that featured the American opera great, Beverly Sills. This was probably at about age 8 or 9 when I used to attend rehearsals and concerts with my mother, who was an orchestra member and concert violist. I had the opportunity of meeting and listening, live, to many of the “greats” such as the legendary Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich and the renowned Ukrainian violinist, Isaac Stern. I probably didn’t appreciate the experience at the time as I can also remember reading a LOT of Marvel comic books during those rehearsals. The most recent concert I’ve attended was a Brad Paisley show in Dayton. I obviously have pretty broad musical tastes. My Apple playlists drive most of my family members and staff crazy.

If not an optometrist, I would be ...

Probably a meteorologist or astronomer or researcher in some other natural science discipline. I can probably think of about at least ten careers I’d love to have had an opportunity to explore over a lot more years than a single lifetime!