By Irina Yakubin
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Like most fourth years, I had expected to spend the last months of optometry school seeing patients in clinic, with a focus on becoming licensed in my state, of course, and job hunting. Just a few weeks ago, life was on track. Fast forward to now, and I’m sitting in my room, watching the videos my classmates made to commemorate our time together since graduation has been canceled, and wondering, what’s next?
Here’s what it’s like to be dealing with the pandemic as a fourth-year optometry student.
In response to COVID-19, optometry schools have opted to finish the year at home for all students. This turn of events presents a challenge for all schools and students in every academic year of optometry school. Fourth years are relying on clinical cases to complete our fourth-year rotations. A few schools, mine included, have canceled graduations, which is pretty sad considering that my class has been through several natural disasters.
Many students have had to leave their clinic sites in order to return home after rotations were dismissed. I’m lucky that I have my equipment and all of my belongings with me because I was on rotation in my home city and living with my family; I know that most of my class cannot say the same.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
While the end of the fourth year is typically riddled with unknowns, the class of 2020 is going to be an extra special case. Not only are we worried about finishing our programs and becoming licensed in our respective states, but we also, at some point, are going to need to find a job. What will job hunting look like in a post-COVID-19 economy? Even as I’m asking the question, I realize that the answer may change even before I graduate.
Despite the difficult situation, I believe that optimism is important. The class of 2020 will graduate, get licensed and find jobs. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I do believe that I and my fellow optometry students will get it done.
WATCHING AND LEARNING
In many aspects, my class is fortunate. We are not yet full-fledged optometrists who are worried about maintaining their practice or losing their job due to the crisis. Instead, we have the opportunity to learn from how optometrists are handling the crisis from our friends, contacts and, of course, through social media.
The profession of optometry has always been dynamic. But the COVID crisis is challenging us to change even more in order to meet future patient needs and to continue to fight for our rights as primary care providers. Among the rising trends is the increased use of telemedicine, which allows ODs to see patients and follow social distancing guidelines. While telemedicine has been questioned in the past, it is quickly becoming more prominent.
Likewise, because storefronts are closing, many ODs are focusing on their websites and social media in order to stay in touch with patients and provide important information.
One amazing trend that I’m seeing throughout this pandemic is communities coming together, and the optometric community is no exception. Recently, the American Academy of Optometry launched online courses from doctors who, I assume, are volunteering their time to present cases to students. Every day, I see optometrists exchanging advice, sharing news and even posting memes to cheer each other up during this trying time. Likewise, webinars and Zoom meetings, including Zoom Happy Hour, are becoming a way to stay in touch, exchange information and squeeze in a bit of social interaction.
DOING MY PART
As a human, doing my part means following social distancing guidelines and trying to help my family and friends remain hopeful. As an optometry student, I’m following my school’s guidelines and working toward graduation. As a future health care provider, I’m keeping up with the COVID-19 situation and discerning fact from fiction to help educate those around me.
Knowing that many doctors of optometry are being forced to transition online, I also have a unique opportunity with my writing skills. With many ODs seeking to remain connected to their patients, posting interesting and relevant content can be key. And while some ODs have a staff member who is able to take over online posting in lieu of regular work, others may be struggling. As a result, I am hoping to start reaching out to the optometry community in the near future to see whether my specific skills can be useful.