As president of the Southern College of Optometry, Dr. Richard W. Phillips is responsible for the execution of the policies established by the board of trustees for the day-to-day operation of the institution and coordinating faculty, staff and student activities.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
He also represents alumni and remains very active in the community.
In his spare time, he rests.
Named president in 2007, he began his endeavor to work in a direction he felt would be most beneficial to the college as well as line up with what the board expected when they chose him.
“Obviously you can’t improve, by definition, without change,” Phillips said. “We kind of began with a large-scale strategic plan initiative. … The mission that now shapes everything we do is to lead the profession by educating the best possible health care providers, promoting lifelong learning and fostering a personal commitment to service.”
Under Phillips’ leadership, the college is constantly seeking innovative technology to aid in educating tomorrow’s physicians.
One advancement recently implemented in that area is a unique computer learning system called Tegrity. Every class lecture is recorded with Tegrity, and once logged on, students can perform keyword searches to locate data and play it back from a remote computer as needed.
Interactive, flat-screen monitors installed in classrooms allow every student to answer questions during class using a “clicker.” The responses are immediately tabulated and displayed for review. Students can also take tests using this automated system and receive instant feedback.
Phillips believes technology is key to top-quality education and is promoting lifelong learning by recruiting top students and developing their critical thinking abilities so they’re able to apply their knowledge base and skills to new technologies and approaches as they are established.
“The entire medical field is changing so rapidly with new diagnostic capabilities and therapeutic modalities that so much of what someone who’s been in practice 10 to 15 years does is significantly different from what they learned,” Phillips said. “So, we have to instill in them the capability of discerning and critical thinking as to these new procedures and give them a general-knowledge base that allows them to apply to that.”
SCO students are involved in charitable work locally and nationally as part of the university’s ongoing commitment to service. Students also are involved in some of the area’s charter schools and tutoring programs. They also attend rural-access medical events to provide free care, and they screen all Shelby County Schools children on a rotating basis.
Last year, SCO students made 10 trips to third-world countries to provide eye care. They also participated in Memphis Rotary’s “Stop Hunger Now” initiative.
“We want to demonstrate the importance of service to our students by not just talking about it – admonishing them to do it – but by demonstrating it and being out there working with them,” Phillips said. “We have faculty and staff going on all of these missions and efforts with them.”
Accepting only top students into one of the largest eye centers of its type in the U.S. has led to a remarkable pass rate. Drawing from 40 states and Canada, SCO accepted only 130 students out of 865 applicants last year, and those students have a 98 percent graduation and national board pass rate.
Phillips believes his pupils are the primary stakeholders in the college, and, with that in mind, he focuses daily on making them successful in their practice and as clinicians. As part of his oversight strategy, each year he invites the school’s student government officers to his home to get feedback on ongoing change within the institution.
“SCO has gone from good to great … and has even been called the Harvard of eye care,” said Dr. Steven Reed, SCO graduate and board member. “The faculty and staff are continually seeking ways to improve education and patient care. It is a culture of excellence. Even though SCO is well-known in the eye-care world, it is still relatively unknown in the Memphis area. SCO is a gem in the crown of the Memphis community. I believe that Memphians would be proud to know of its accomplishments.”