The path to happiness is winding. According to Dan McGehee, OD ’88, it’s fine to change your mind, backtrack, and switch direction. Dr. McGehee himself was once determined to be a dentist. Then, after experiencing optical and geometric physics in college, he realized, “This is really cool!” He switched gears to optometry, and headed for ICO.
Dr. McGehee admits he wasn’t the perfect student. “Academically, I wasn’t as strong as some of my peers, but clinically, I felt more at home. The location of the clinic at ICO and the types of patients that we’d see really provided a well-rounded education.” Changing paths from dentist to optometrist turned out to be the right choice. Dr. McGehee’s experiences at ICO prepared him to see as many patients as he desired, “but also have a life outside.”
The world beyond optometry is just as important to Dr. McGehee as his OD. He met his wife, Mary, at ICO, and discovered a love for teaching while waiting for her to graduate. Exercise and athletics have always been huge parts of his life. Now, he enjoys cycling in the beautiful landscape of Arizona.
It was family, in fact, that brought Dr. McGehee to the desert. Mary’s sister had moved there first. When the couple went to visit, they “realized it’s a pretty nice place.” Career-wise, Dr. McGehee found “very few optometrists in Arizona compared to other states.” While breaking into a new state’s medical scene wasn’t easy, it again turned out to be the perfect path.
Academically, I wasn’t as strong as some of my peers, but clinically, I felt more at home. The location of the clinic at ICO and the types of patients that we’d see really provided a well-rounded education.
Dr. McGehee had been at Swagel Wooten Hiatt Eye Center for 6 years when he felt the teaching bug bite again. He realized this was an opportunity to “give back to optometry a little bit.” He contacted ICO about becoming an externship site. Today, ICO students have been a presence at his clinic since 1999. “I feel like the students have helped me as much as I’ve helped them through the years,” he affirms. He always finds his ICO externs to be high quality, connected to current medical trends and technology. “It keeps the clinic day fresh.”
Dr. McGehee describes his lifestyle as “divide and conquer.” He balances work, family, teaching, a side job doing research, and his passion for the outdoors. Endurance cycling, sometimes competitive, is his favorite form of exercise. On weekends, he takes his bike for “6, 8, even 10 hour rides. “That way,” he says, “I can come into work and be more focused. I envy those individuals who can stay focused on one thing constantly. For me, that would be burn out.”
To prospective students looking for this same kind of lifestyle, Dr. McGehee says, “the best way to find the path that you feel you need to go down is to investigate different avenues.” He is the perfect example, from would-be dentist to academia and beyond. “If I didn’t step out and see other things,” Dr. McGehee admits, “I wouldn’t have realized what my path should be.” He recommends shadowing optometrists and attending industry events- places where the profession finds its “new, young faces.”
Today, after 28 years in practice, Dr. McGehee doesn’t want the fun to end. “I sometimes wonder,” he muses, “do I actually need to retire? It would seem odd to me to go three weeks, a month, two months without walking into a room and seeing a patient. The gratitude that patients will show you when you’ve made a difference in their lives is the most rewarding thing in optometry.”
As both a cyclist and an optometrist, Dr. McGehee embodies the spirit of exploration. He didn’t start out sure about his future. Once he knew where to go, though, he kept pedaling. ICO helped him see and achieve the vast options within optometry. Now, he gets to perfectly balance all of the things in life that make him happy- family, work, and more than a few bike rides into the sunset.