A Clearer Vision
M. Roy Wilson ’76 has a string of accolades and appointments that would impress the best in his field. A renowned ophthalmologist, researcher, and academician, he is currently vice president of health sciences at Creighton University and dean of the School of Medicine. He has been listed in Best Doctors in America for the past five years and was named one of the top three ophthalmologists in Omaha. In addition to his B.S. from Allegheny, he has an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and an M.S. from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a full professor at two universities-UCLA and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science before he was 40. His 42-page curriculum vitae lists dozens of appointments and consultancies, scores of publications, and multiple honors.
“I’ve had a lot of individual awards,” he admits. “But none of them mean as much to me as seeing minority students . . . turn out to be excellent physicians and ophthalmologists.” Wilson has guided countless young people to medical careers, accepting them into programs that might otherwise have rejected them. “A lot of times we had to look a lot deeper than their grades and test scores,” he says. “We had to look deeper into who they were as people.” Wilson’s insights led him to encourage students who validated his faith in them over and over again. “They’re just fantastic people who are fantastic doctors and ophthalmologists, making a big impact in their communities,” he says. “My proudest accomplishment is being able to see these people throughout the country and know that I had some impact in terms of their careers.”
Wilson began his education intending to become a psychiatrist. Intrigued by the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, he enrolled in psych classes at Allegheny only to discover a field saturated with behavioral theory, an area that did not interest him. He shifted gears to study pre-med. At Harvard, an interest in epidemiology led to a project involving glaucoma data, and he quickly became an expert in the fledgling field.
He continued to be a leader in the field when his population study in St. Lucia proved what some ophthalmologists had already suspected: Blacks are at a higher risk for glaucoma. Because of his findings, says Wilson, “Blacks are receiving better treatment for this disease than they used to . . . More people are being treated, and treated more aggressively than in the past.” The project led to his interest in international ophthalmology, and he went to Cameroon to investigate eye disease and vitamin deficiency there. Again, his work resulted in action: policy-makers paid attention, and changes were made to benefit the public health.
Wilson’s best memories of Allegheny involve the professors with whom he developed close relationships. His favorite was philosophy professor Jim Sheridan ’50, who took the young Wilson far beyond the hard sciences with many involved, one-on-one conversations about fundamental beliefs and esoteric thinking. He also remembers visiting English professor Al Kern in his home, and becoming friends with biology professor Eugene Chapman. “Allegheny is a small enough place that I was able to form some important friendships,” he says.
As a minority student in the 1970s, though, he sometimes felt “out of step,” and he strives now to nurture a culturally sensitive environment at Creighton. He created a high-level position to deal with the issues specific to non-mainstream students, and now an associate vice president of multicultural and community affairs addresses racial sensitivity, retention issues, and community impact. Responsible for several schools and departments within the Creighton Health Sciences program, Wilson also finds time for research and sees patients a half day a week. But his heart is in encouraging young people to succeed in a field he has embraced on so many levels. “Along the way, people have taken chances on me,” he remembers. “So I try to do that for other people.”
-Virginia Myers Kelly
This article was featured in the Winter 2002 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.