A COVID-19 Curriculum: The Real Education

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re an optometry student navigating through a transition to online learning and you don’t need to be told that COVID-19 has been a disruptive force. Suffice it to say, 2020 is taking on a whole new learning curve. This year we are learning not just about optometry, but are also learning a great deal about ourselves.

Quite unexpectedly, this shelter-in-place lifestyle has become a sort of litmus test for mental health. The 24/7 pace we were used to is behind us. Now it’s up to us to adapt and re-prioritize. While it’s important to unwind and “keep calm,” I’ve found it’s a schedule-oriented mindset that’s so important in maintaining mental balance.

At first glance, it’s overwhelming to have optometry schools relocating from lecture halls to Zoom lectures. But, in terms of the workload and pace of new content, not much has changed. There is, however, a difference in the way that time is managed. The onus is certainly on us to stay motivated and use our resources effectively.

In addition to continuing with the planned academic curriculum, there has also been an unplanned component taking place outside of school: practicing optometry amidst a pandemic. There is a lot to learn from these optometrists out in the field right now. Some ODs are staying open for ocular emergencies while others are hosting educational webinars on managing COVID-19 patients. I know of countless ODs adopting new methods of practicing, such as through telemedicine, to help lighten the burden on local hospitals. You don’t have to search long to find eye doctors reaching out on social media to offer emotional support, answer questions, or dissuade rumors. These are just a few examples that demonstrate the strength and leadership taking place in our greater medical community right now. I am proud to see such acts during these uncertain times and consider myself fortunate to be joining such a respectable profession in just a few, short years.

When I’m not updating my spreadsheet of lectures reviewed, I’m keeping myself informed of local and global health-related news. It is quite sobering to witness optometrists adapting in real-time in their respective clinics as this situation unfolds. It makes me even more aware that staying on top of current events and understanding how to find reliable resources will be essential in my own future practice.

Now is an appropriate time to see the glass as half full and appreciate that our education is far more complex than just a bunch of ocular pathology and neuroanatomy courses. Our “real” education—our “life experience 101”—is about providing the best care to our patients during such a novel environment by connecting and empathizing with their situation, not unlike our community leaders are doing each and every day. Management of preventative optometric health may be the lion’s share of the work, but during these times, we get to be and do more. So, let’s learn beyond the e-textbooks and the countless zoom meetings we attend in our pajamas.  Let’s practice being natural leaders and compassionate optometric physicians.

I know COVID-19 was not listed on anyone’s optometric syllabus this semester. And yet, I truly believe it will leave an indelible mark on our real-world education and future perspective as eye care providers.

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