Alumni Spotlight: Deborah Wang


Seeing the world more clearly

CHC alum Deborah Wang carried a heavy patient load in her optometry work, but her affinity for helping those around her began long before she became a doctor.
Story by Mirandah Davis-Powell
Clark Honors College Communications
deborah wang portrait in her medical coat

CHC Class: 2015 
Coffee or tea: I try not to drink anything caffeinated, but I like sodas. Citrusy flavors like Squirt or Fanta are some of my favorites. 
The one person you'd have to dinner would be: Lights, my favorite electropop singer
Song on repeat: Goodnight Moon” by Go Radio
Favorite color: Sky blue
Advice to CHC students: Grasp any experience you can possibly get your hands on. I really enjoyed the Honors College because there was a lot going on, and I got to try a bunch of different things. 

For a time, Deborah Wang was the only doctor at her optometry clinic in New York City. She would see nearly 40 patients on her busiest days. After waking up early and commuting an hour on the subway into Brooklyn, she never knew what the day had in store for her. Sometimes, she’d urge patients to head to the emergency room because they had more serious ailments that needed attending to.

“A lot of people don’t realize that optometry is really medically based,” says the 2015 CHC graduate who majored in human physiology. “You can see so much about a person’s health from their eyes. Optometry saves lives every day.”

Optometrists can detect varying health conditions that would otherwise be asymptomatic, such as dangerously high blood pressure or brain tumors. “It can be stressful when you see someone with a medical emergency, but you also know that what you are doing is important and helping that person,” she says.

Before she was the only doctor at the clinic, Wang dedicated hours of her day to teaching the ophthalmic technicians how to scribe and perform workups on patients. She’d gently correct them, explaining the process so they better understood it. “Giving that feedback, having that time to go over it with them was important to me,” she says.

Whether managing general care for people’s vision, handling medical emergencies or helping others at her clinic understand how to be more effective in their jobs, Wang has always been interested in supporting and uplifting those around her. After doing clinical work for a little over three years, she’s now moving to the next phase of her career. She just wrapped up her first weeks in her new role at the State University of New York’s College of Optometry.

Wang is serving as the director of career development, which means she’ll get the chance to connect students to opportunities in their field of study. It will allow her to continue her legacy of helping others. “I always wanted to work in a field where I was helping other people,” she says. “Medicine was a way that I could build upon those interests.”

Bringing people into her worldview  

Born in New Jersey, Wang and her family settled in Oregon after moving around for her father’s work. As the only child of two academics, her parents insisted that she choose a job that called out to her. “(Medicine) was just always something I wanted to reach for, something I wanted to work hard for,” she says.

Wang graduated from Hillsboro’s Glencoe High School in 2011. When she was not studying, you could find her at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library, where she volunteered. A self-described bibliophile, she performed nearly every job a library volunteer could.

She worked in circulations shelving, ran technical services and helped sell discontinued books while hosting her own book blog. She recalls ending up in so many different roles because she would always ask if anyone needed extra support.

Her favorite part was leading Storytime, where she translated Mandarin Chinese books into English. It was a way for her to invite others into her culture. Growing up in a community where there were not many Asian influences, especially a Taiwanese community, left her searching for more.

Wang’s parents only spoke Mandarin with her while she grew up. Preschool was her first exposure to English, and the second language quickly became second nature to her.

“UO is so big, so you can kind of get lost in the crowd. But at least with Honors College classes, you have a really good community that you can be around.” 

Deborah Wang, human physiology major, CHC class of 2015

She went from growing up in a predominately white suburb to attending a college that fed her cravings for connections with those from a diverse community. She joined the Taiwanese Student Association and the IMPACT Mentorship program to embrace a multicultural network.

She became an advocate and liaison for international students during her time at the CHC. Using Mandarin became more commonplace as she helped them get oriented to the UO. It allowed her to embrace her culture and help others feel a sense of belonging.

Wang came to the Honors College knowing that she wanted to go into optometry. But she knew she wanted the small community feel that it offered. “UO is so big, so you can kind of get lost in the crowd,” she remembers thinking. “But at least with Honors College classes, you have a really good community that you can be around.”

two female students posing for a selfie in front of a brick wall
Wang (left) and Ellen Rojc have been friends since 2011, when they connected in their freshman year at the CHC. They both lived in the same wing of what was formerly the Honors College dorm—Dyment Hall—and were roommates for several years after that.

She met some of her closest friends in the Honors College as early on as the first-year orientation. One of them was Ellen Rojc, who was her friend throughout college and a roommate. They remain close, so much so that Rojc had Wang in her wedding party.

“I found out that I was in the LGBT community in college, and Debo was probably my biggest support during that experience,” Rojc says now. “She was just always very open and positive and very supportive.”

Rojc remembers Wang’s ability to make connections. Whenever anyone asked about her coursework, she would always make sure people understood. Rojc remembers how Wang would include doodle drawings in her presentations as a way to explain scientific functions.

“Sometimes one is very self-centered as an undergrad, so the fact that she was already so interested in giving back so early is very impressive,” Rojc says. “She’s definitely continued that into her adult career.”

Taking time to be at home

Last year, Wang took some time off work to help care for and support her mother, who was battling terminal cancer. Her parents retired in Illinois and Wang flew there regularly to assist with the end-of-life care for her mom. She passed away in early February at the age of 62.

Her mom had battled cancer for more than two years, and the lessons that Wang learned from the experience were immeasurable. She recalls that it wasn’t until her mom was diagnosed that she realized how many friends had people in their lives who had cancer. “It’s a terrible disease,” she says.

portrait of deborah wang with her mother
Wang spent the past several months caring for her mother, Sheng Lin Ting (left). She passed away in early February after battling terminal cancer for more than two years. 

As a patient advocate, seeing her mother through her medical appointments helped give Wang a new appreciation and understanding of patient care. “When you’re a young, healthy person, you don’t go to the doctor very often,” she says. “This has really taught me how I want to be treated, how I wanted my mom to be treated, and how I should be treating my patients.”

Wang says that the process has made her much more cognizant of the small details in her interactions with patients, especially in today’s overbooked healthcare climate.

While she acknowledges the emotional toll that caring for her mother took, she has focused on the good days. Her mom always loved drawing and painting and would create art in her free time. A paint-by-numbers kit offered a way for them to connect when everything else seemed overwhelming. “She never really had the energy for hobbies toward the end of her life,” Wang says. “She couldn’t do it for very long, but to be able to do that together to pass the time was very special.”

Even her dad, who dislikes participating in art, would paint a couple of clouds on the canvas when they were together. “Just being able to spend time together was a good memory,” Wang says.

After her mom passed away, Wang spent a few weeks with her dad to help handle her mother’s affairs. She says she didn’t want to leave her father alone after such a big loss.

vacation photo of deborah wang, her parents and boyfriend posing with oceanscape and rocky island in background
Wang, her boyfriend, Jordan Naumann, and her parents on vacation. She’s grateful to have experiences like these to remember her mom by. 

Looking to the future

Today, she’s settling back into her life in New York City. She’s just begun her new role as the director of career development for SUNY’s College of Optometry.

She describes her re-entry to the city as hectic but exciting, and she finds herself missing her father. As she continues to mourn her mother, she also looks forward to the next chapter of her life, given her recent career change.

In her first weeks at SUNY, Wang is already connecting with students. She’ll be working with students from the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, which works to provide higher-ed opportunities for students from historically unrepresented or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

She’ll be advising students on the transition from student to doctor. Having experienced this transition herself, she’s grateful to be able to give back and provide the same support she received in optometry school. 

She’s also working on planning for a career symposium for students next month. When she’s not coordinating guest speakers or running around for meetings, she fills her spare time by decorating for the upcoming event.

“It’s what I’ve been doing since college,” she says, “It really ties together everything I’ve done — I’ve been really enjoying it.” 

(Photos courtesy of Deborah Wang)