At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Camille Cohen, OD, was thrown into a world of making decisions in a role she had never experienced before: owner. After taking on a Pearle Vision in Brooklyn, New York, on March 2, 2020, she had to shut the doors temporarily a mere two weeks later.
“It was my first time as a business owner, I was learning the basics of not just coming in as a doctor.” After being introduced to optometry as an ophthalmic tech in Miami, Florida, she decided to take the plunge and attend what Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, graduating in 2014. After school, she transitioned into a private practice and recently was offered the chance to take over this Pearle Vision from a soon-retiring OD in Brooklyn. At first, she declined, but after consulting friends and family she was encouraged to take the leap.
Almost all ODs have had to close their doors in some form or another in this global crisis, and many will be sympathetic to Dr. Cohen’s less-than-stellar luck in being open for only two weeks of practice. Still, she is able to find a silver lining. “It’s day by day… some days I feel hopeful and like we have come a ways,” she says. For example, she used the time to implement her new electronic health records fully. She had wanted to go paperless, which can be daunting, so this unexpected hiatus helped her and her staff get more training. “In an optimistic way, it was nice to have the quarantine,” she laughs, “I feel more knowledgeable.”
HELPING STUDENTS WITH BOARDS
In fact, Dr. Cohen has found one major way to keep herself busy and still serving others: tutoring. She knew from her own days in optometry school that there was a lack of a tutoring program for second and third year students studying for their boards.
While programs existed to review the clinical material, they were expensive and sometimes not accessible to students. “I put out a post for people who were graduating who had become more vulnerable and needed help,” she says, “I ended up getting a flood of emails and calls. A lot of these students graduated a while ago and are in limbo because they can’t practice until they’re successful with their board exams.” Dr. Cohen saw an opportunity in the quarantine because some other ODs now also were able to help.
After putting out some questionnaires to find out what exactly kind of support students wanted, her most resounding response was not content, but test anxiety. She held a Zoom session for students to recognize the signs of test anxiety and determine if they needed help in that area, and then acknowledged that students really needed the one on one. “We didn’t do a typical content review, but we focused on test anxiety and helping them get more organized.” She had help from three other National Optometric Association (NOA) members: NOA board president Sherrol Reynolds, OD; Janis James, OD; and Jacqueline Davis, OD, MPH.
She notes, “Students can become so overwhelmed with different review materials, but nobody talks about how to study,” she says. A lot of smart students experienced what she did: undergraduate school wasn’t that taxing, then grad school is harder and studying for boards is harder still. “You need to study for weeks. This was more of a lesson on how to approach the testing rather than a content review.”
Dr. Cohen recorded a video session with a licensed psychologist, Jamilla Codrington, PhD, in Bronx, New York, talking about test anxiety. People can watch it here.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
While the tutoring program is still in a relatively experimental phase, Dr. Cohen looks forward to seeing how the program will benefit the students she has worked with so far. “The shame that comes with not passing means people don’t ask for help,” she says. “People called me crying because they didn’t know who to ask for help.”
Adding additional anxiety is the fact that many of these students were supposed to take their boards in March and April of 2020, a feat which quickly became impossible. Now boards are scheduled for July.
“I think people gloss over settling your mind,” she says. “It was the biggest point for me. If you are failing repeatedly, it’s not a matter of intelligence. But you’re not going to match your potential, if you’re afraid. That applies in real life,” she adds. “For me, at the moment my practice closed I could have had a whole anxiety attack and not be able to troubleshoot. It’s something you will use in life, not just exams.”
She advises doctors and students to “find the beauty in the chaos.”
Want To Help?
Dr. Camille Cohen hopes that efforts like this will encourage others inside and outside of the schools and colleges of optometry to consider how students facing board might have more time and support to prepare. “These students are an investment in the profession itself,” she says. She encourages open dialogue and/or volunteers, who would like to assist as tutors in the NOA Tutoring initiative.” They can contact the NOA directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Cohen.