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The Meaning of Mentorship

At a Women In Optometry virtual board meeting, the matter of mentorship became a popular topic. While discussing the various ways one could get involved with being a mentor, three board members shared what being a mentor means to them.


Dr. Josephine Ibironke

Josephine Ibironke, OD, MPH, FAAO, Neda Gioia, OD, CNS, FOWNS, CFMP, and Essence Johnson, OD, FAAO, Dipl ABO, have all been mentors in optometry at one point or another. Dr. Ibironke, of Pikeville, Kentucky, is a mentor to her students at the Kentucky College of Optometry, Dr. Gioia, of Shrewsbury, New Jersey, to students through the Ocular Wellness and Nutrition Society and Dr. Johnson, of Dallas, Texas, to many through Black Eyecare Perspective. Each has been involved in their state and local optometry organizations and have become well-known names in the industry.

Dr. Neda Gioia

Dr. Gioia started the conversation by recommending a spin be put on the word “mentorship, to make it more approachable,” she says. “Mentorship often feels so formal. Sometimes talking to a mentor can be intimidating, like not wanting to ask something silly.” Dr. Ibironke agrees and says she hopes to take some stress off her students wanting to come to her for guidance.

For Dr. Johnson, being a mentor all starts with finding where you fit and are happy. “People don’t quit organizations—they quit management and modes of practice,” she says. “Being a mentor means not only being there for those that need you, but realizing that to be there for others, you need to also be there for yourself. Reinvent yourself, do things in new and innovative ways. You’ll find an aspect of optometry that you love while inspiring others to do the same.”


Dr. Essence Johnson headshot
Dr. Essence Johnson

The three ODs also discussed that it’s important for everyone—from students to established ODs— to remember that “everyone has a story,” Dr. Ibironke says. “Being a mentor doesn’t have a definition, but it starts with leadership. Treat everyone with empathy and be the leader you would want to see.”

Whether leading students to visit legislators at a state capitol to advocate for optometry legislation or helping students receive grants for school, Dr. Gioia says passing the torch is “instrumental. These students are our future and whether we recognize it or not, we are the leaders of today. As a mentor, I hope to help add more to our scope of practice and give voices to our new ODs.”

Dr. Johnson says mentorship can seem like “a daunting task, but everyone has a part to play, is bold, dynamic and phenomenal. We have all been through the mud!”


To read more leadership stories from WO, click here. 

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