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Optometry

Donald Jarnigan
Dean, Arizona College of Optometry
Donald Jarnigan, O.D., is the Dean of Arizona College of Optometry (AZCOPT) at Midwestern University's Glendale (AZ) Campus.

Perhaps infection or something in the environment. Genetic factors might trigger the condition — or we may never know. But even with impaired daily function, patients may live well into their 70s. What better subject for research than multiple sclerosis? What better way to help people living with this mysterious disease?

Shaping a Career

The scent of discovery hangs in the air as the neuroscientist stands at the white board in front of the room, arm raised, marker in hand, poised to complete the graph. 'The multiple sclerosis disease state is fascinating,' he tells his students. 'More like a syndrome, you'll see many different disease profiles and several types. No two of your MS patients may share the same symptoms, so you must be observant and open to new information.'

Ever the researcher, the neuroscientist decides to investigate potential new pharmaceutical therapies to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). Always the educator, the pharmacologist wants to enlist others in the effort and share what he learns, hoping to improve patients' lives, stimulate students to pursue new lines of research, increase the knowledge base in the scientific community, and, perhaps, develop a cure.

Welcome to Mitchell Emerson's life. A self-described "science guy" since his teens, Emerson faced disease and disability early in life, when, at age seven, he lost his father to melanoma. Three years later, his brother developed a brain tumor. His brother's positive outlook, nourished during the twenty additional years he remained alive, shaped Emerson's perspective on healthcare. "In the face of disability, my brother's example taught me how to live my life the right way," says Emerson. "I know that's why I'm in the healthcare field. I wanted to unlock the secrets that would help my brother and share them with others." Today, Emerson applies his love of research and his passion for teaching to his position as Interim Chair in the College of Pharmacy–Glendale (CPG) at Midwestern University.

At MWU, I see the passion for students everywhere. It's impressive. As a faculty member, I know teaching is MWU's priority." — Mitchell Emerson, Ph.D., Glendale

Pursuing His Passions

"While I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center, I discovered how much I love teaching," says Emerson. "Rather than go to work in the pharmaceutical industry, I knew I wanted to find a university where I could both teach and continue my research." The student-oriented focus and emphasis on teaching at Midwestern University fit perfectly. "At MWU, I see the passion for students everywhere. It's impressive. As a faculty member, I know teaching is MWU's priority. But I also have the freedom to do pharmacologic research." In his laboratory, Emerson works on an animal model of multiple sclerosis, helps students gain practical skills in basic science research, and mentors pharmacy students who want to learn to design research experiments. He teaches course sequences in both pharmacology and physiology and advises student research projects.

'A-ha' Moments

"How does what I'm learning apply to patient care?" That's the question Emerson wants students to answer, whether they're in class or in the lab. Discussions and presentations in his elective class, Recent Advances in Pharmacology, address drugs in the pipeline for approval, clinical trials that will have an impact on patients, orinnovative research techniques. "Our orientation is clinical. We want students to learn practical knowledge that can be applied to patients," says Emerson. "The best learning moment, the 'a-ha,' comes in our small-group or one-on-one situations when we discuss an important pharmacologic process and students see the practical application of basic science research." His approach works — the first-year pharmacy students chose Emerson as 2006 Teacher of the Year.

Collaborators and Mentors

"The integrated nature of the accelerated CPG pharmacy curriculum — year-round for three years — models the collaboration found in the best professional healthcare teams of today and tomorrow," says Emerson. "CPG's two pharmacy departments, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacy Practice, have one goal: to educate the next generation of healthcare providers. We design courses together, we teach together, we attend each other's presentations. Our camaraderie rubs off on the students. They see how we care about our colleagues, how we want to continue our own learning. That's an excellent demonstration of the professional outlook and the team model for healthcare we expect students to use both here and in their work after graduation."

Emerson points to the team-oriented tone set by College and University administrators as the example faculty emulate in teaching. "Students see we have a common goal of patient care. In the MWU Clinic (Glendale), they see — hands-on — how this team approach to healthcare serves the patient. That helps Midwestern University achieve its goal of creating healthcare professionals who will benefit society."


Emerson, Ph.DMitchell Emerson, Ph.D., is Interim Chair in the College of Pharmacy–Glendale at Midwestern University's Glendale (AZ) Campus. Emerson also writes test items for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners, reviews manuscripts for several professional journals, publishes scholarly articles, pursues grant-supported research, and makes scientific presentations.


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