top of page

ICO News

Catch up on the latest happenings at ICO.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Zoltoski, PhD

Updated: Jun 13

You're one of the few teachers at ICO who isn’t an optometrist. What have you learned about optometry over the years, and how does optometry relate to your field of biochemistry?

Biochemistry is important to the eyes and the body. Those basic pieces of information feed into the disease process that these students treat. So, I feel that I have an important role here.  


My first few years, I taught biochemistry from the standpoint of a biochemist. That is until I attended a course at Northwestern. There, I learned a lesson I have carried with me ever since: if you give students a reason to learn something, they can learn anything. 


So, I flipped my course on its head. I asked, 'From a biochemical standpoint, what's important about various sections of the eye?'  


I started at the front of the eye and specifically tears. There are lots of proteins in tears. So, we talked about the basics of proteins. For tear production, you need lipids. So, we talked about lipids, both the lipids in our diet plus how we make them in the body. Then we got to the cornea. The cornea has a high energy demand. So, we talked about the Krebs cycle. Instead of going from chapter one and onward in a textbook, we jumped all over the place because I was giving them a way to look at biochemistry through the eye. 


At the time when I was doing this, I was one of the few teachers who took this approach.  I’ve always wanted the students to see why biochemistry is important for them, and it gets students excited about the lessons. 

How have you seen ICO and optometry grow since you arrived at ICO?

The scope of practice has significantly expanded since I arrived 28 years ago. What students need to know has also significantly expanded. ICO has changed how they approach teaching and how they organize the coursework for the students. 


One thing that's changed for me is that I've started teaching pharmacology. Luckily, there’s quite a nice overlap between this and biochemistry. I focus on the systemic and general information for pharmacology, while Dr. Bhakhri teaches the ocular pharmacology sections.  


This course also directly relates to the diseases students treat in the clinic. In pharmacology, we spend time on diabetic drugs. A lot of our patients are diabetics. We spend time on hypertensive drugs. A lot of our patients are hypertensive. So, students keep up with the current treatment plans for these systemic diseases through both their biochemistry and pharmacology courses. 


I also think the students have changed quite a bit. I've always said that the students are the reason we're here, and I have loved working with all our students. However, when I first arrived, there was a sense of competitiveness amongst the students. We don't see that much anymore. Students are really caring, and they’ve had more exposure working with medically underserved populations, and they want to continue serving these populations into the future. I really enjoy working with students because I know that when they get to the clinic, they're going to be good clinicians. 

ICO's student-faculty ratio allows for direct, personalized instruction. Here Dr. Zoltoski is using a tool that represents a brainstem to review important cranial nerves information.

What’s one thing you want incoming students to know about the field of optometry? 

This is something I talk about a lot when I interview candidates. Students need to understand that they're treating a whole patient. They’re working with a population that they may not be familiar with. So, they need to approach optometry with the attitude of 'I want to give this person the best vision I can'. Students must also know that treating patients is a collaboration between them and the patient. Not all patients will follow their prescribed treatments. Students need to be able to meet patients where they are and understand the challenges they might be facing. 


They also have a lot to learn before they get into full-time patient care. Our coursework is challenging. Even more so because we are on a quarter system. They have to be good time managers, and they have to put in the work every day. 


I always tell students, if you're not doing well in a course, reach out to your professor. They're the final source of information for it, and they’re there to help you. If that's not working for you, work with a tutor. Tutors are an important part of ICO’s educational process. Sometimes my words don't work, so you need somebody else's words. Tutors can step in and provide a completely different perspective. We also set up opportunities for you to build connections outside of the classroom, like ICO Connects.  


With ICO Connects, students get to know a faculty member in an informal context, which then helps to open up lines of communication. ICO is a small school, so students can make strong connections with faculty. I remind them, we're all future colleagues. When you graduate, you will be an optometrist just like them. You can start that process of building those connections as a student. 

Dr. Zoltoski helps a second-year student review a pharmacology quiz that they had just taken to prepare for their final exam.

Dr. Zoltoski primarily teaches first and second year classes. Here the Class of 2027, is reviewing questions about eye movement and related areas of the brain.

You are one of the first people that students meet when they come on campus. What are some pieces of advice that you have for students who will be coming in soon? I think that's a good way to go, so I'll make sure to add quite a bit of what you had there. So, okay, anything else before we end it?  

I know I'm biased on this, but I think ICO does a great job of educating students from a clinical standpoint, and from a pre-clinical standpoint. If students are considering ICO, they need to visit. Come to campus, check it out, meet some people, and get the opportunity to see what ICO has to offer for incoming students. The students that are here are just fantastic. They’ll happily connect with you and they’re all so willing to help. 


My longevity here has everything to do with the students. I meet them on almost day one because biochemistry is a first quarter course, so they see me from the very beginning. The students are a fantastic group, and I think they're the reason so many students join ICO every year. 


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page