Veteran Educator Transitions from Role as Director of Medical Student Education – and Leaves Behind a Legacy

After 17 years in the role, Daniel Knoch, MD officially stepped away on July 1 from his role as Director of Medical Student Education – a position he’s held – and deeply embraced – since 2007.

“This is certainly a bittersweet moment,” said Dr. Knoch, a professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “Being the Director of Medical Education has been a part of who I am for a long time, as both an educator and a person. I have so many incredible memories that will be with me forever – talking to students, motivating them, inspiring them to overcome challenges and be their best. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Dr. Knoch is handing the reins to Jennifer Larson, MD, one of the many people whose career he’s influenced.

Drs. Larson and Knoch

“I am very grateful and honored to be following in the footsteps of my mentor,” said Dr. Larson. “I personally have benefited from Dr. Knoch’s exceptional teaching as a University of Wisconsin medical student and ophthalmology resident. As a junior faculty, Dr. Knoch has guided me to expand and cultivate my own teaching skills, and thanks to his mentorship I feel well prepared to take on this new role.”

Dr. Larson has served as an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Wisconsin since 2018. Before joining the department’s faculty, she completed medical school, an internship and an ophthalmology residency all at the University of Wisconsin.

While this recent transition may sound like a retirement, it’s anything but. Dr. Knoch will remain in his role as Professor and Vice Chair of Education and Faculty Development and Chief of the Ophthalmology Service at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In December 2023, Dr. Knoch was named the Carl and Mary Ann Berg Family Professor of Ophthalmology. The professorship is the first of its kind, designed to help maintain the highest level of care to our veteran population.

Dr. Knoch, who specializes in comprehensive ophthalmology, completed his ophthalmology residency training at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in 2007. He joined the UW faculty immediately following.

Throughout his career, Dr. Knoch has been honored locally, regionally, and nationally with multiple awards for his teaching and clinical service.  These include receiving the UW Health Provider Champion Award twice, being named Clinical Teacher of the Year by the ophthalmology residents three times, receiving the Outstanding Teacher Award from the ophthalmology residents in 2021, being named the sole recipient of the Clinical Teaching Award from the UW SMPH class of 2011, receiving a Medical Alumni Association’s Clinical Science Teaching Award, receiving the Dean’s teaching award, receiving the national American Academy of Ophthalmology Secretariat Award, and receiving the national Award for Excellence in Medical Student Education from the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

He has served on national committees, worked to standardize testing criteria for medical students, and through his outside activity, helped create an accessible, online curriculum that can be accessed by outside medical students who may not have ophthalmology rotations at their home institutions.

He is known at home for fostering a fun learning environment and for knowing how to push a learner to achieve their highest potential, while not feeling uncomfortable in the process – a challenging feat.

Ophthalmology resident Claire Hermsen, MD says Dr. Knoch has been a great mentor, guiding her through her surgery rotation and ophthalmology internship, as well as the residency application process.

“Dr. Knoch dedicated significant time to my education, frequently staying after clinic to teach and answer each text or email with a thoughtful reply (plus his signature dog/rainbow/unicorn emoji combo),” said Dr. Hermsen. “He cultivated my autonomy with one of his favorite precepts ‘pretend I’m dead,’ which pushed me to progress in my clinical skills and confidence. I am extremely thankful to be one of the many medical students who have benefitted from his kindness and mentorship, and I look forward to learning from him as a resident in his new role at the VA Hospital.”

Dr. Knoch’s impact on his learners appears to have serious staying power, too.

“The impact Dr Knoch played on my clinical education is absolutely profound,” said Bob Stenberg, Emergency Ultrasound Director at Cleveland Clinic Akron General. “He is such an engaging teacher. Now over eight years out from his rotation, I still often reflect on his teachings in my clinical practice, permitting me to take great care of patients: highlighting the ‘vital signs of the eye,’ and his focused teachings, I have diagnosed subtle strokes that would have been easily missed otherwise. While it is sad to hear students won’t have the same opportunities I had to learn from him, I will do my best to continue his pearls and practical approaches as I teach emergency medicine residents and students.”

Minh Nguyen, MD, is an Assistant Professor in Ophthalmology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He rotated with Dr. Knoch in his third and fourth years of medical school and offers a similar sentiment.

“Dr. Knoch’s exceptional bedside manner, characterized by the care and compassion he extends to each individual as if they were family, has had a lasting impact on me since day one. Under his mentorship, I not only mastered the basic slit lamp examination well ahead of residency but also gained a deeper appreciation for the importance of empathy and personal connection in patient care. I also vividly recall the day I sought his guidance regarding my residency application; instead of a typical meeting, he graciously invited me into his operating room to watch exciting cataract surgeries. Dr. Knoch’s teachings continue to resonate with me, shaping my approach to patient care and my dedication to trainee education.”

Though Dr. Knoch no longer holds the role of Director of Medical Student Education, it’s clear his impact will live on.

“Dr. Knoch’s teaching legacy has and continues to impact the care of countless patients,” said Dr. Larson, “and I am excited and humbled to try and live up to his high standards and likewise make a positive impact on future learners and their patients.”