ODs look back on 2020

Optometry Times Journal, December digital edition 2020, Volume 12, Issue 12

ODs comment on lessons learned and highs and lows of the year

Let’s look back at 2020. Optometrists thought 2020 would be the Year of Vision, and…it wasn’t.

The Optometry Times® team wondered what ODs learned from 2020, what were their highs, and what were their lows.

Find out what they said.



Joseph P. Shovlin, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Scranton, PA

Definitely 2020 is a year like no other. But in spite of the devastation in the numbers lost and financial hardship, we are pretty much back to full schedules and doing well. Patients seem to be willing to come in for even routine care, not just for urgent or emergent visits.

The resiliency of our staff members is a high point. It’s simply remarkable how willing they are to accommodate my needs, and most important, the needs of our patients.

One of the low points is not being productive during the shutdown, but I probably logged more CE hours in 6 weeks than in the past decade.

I am somewhat amazed how patients seem to still be able to purchase spectacles and contact lenses in our area, which is often considered a depressed region.



Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Sacramento, CA

This past year has been a time of reflection and priority setting, both personally and professionally. Slowing down and savoring quality time with my family has been a highlight.

I do miss the travel, conferences, lecturing, and seeing all of my amazing colleagues, family, and friends.

Hopefully 2021 will bring some sort of normalcy.



Kathy Mastrota, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

New York City

2020 was not 20/20.

Views were blurred by fog.

Patient care... backlog.

IVA was late. DME did fulminate.

Vision lost.

NCT, no. PPE yes.

Disinfect, stand 6 feet, no shake to greet.

Cubbies of quarantine, disinfection, depression.

Naso-pharyngeal violation, patient isolation.

2021, more to come.

Cope. Adapt to remote.

Eyes smile above the mask.

Lessons learned.

Bond. Flex. Vote.



Chris Wroten, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Hammond, LA

Two words come to mind to describe 2020: loss and perseverance.

Loss as in:

The tragic loss of life experienced by many of us as family, friends, and patients succumbed to COVID-19

Loss of time with extended family and friends

Loss of freedom to go places I’d normally go

Loss of “normal” patient interaction

Loss of clinical efficiency

Loss of practice revenue

On the flip side, some distractions were lost, too, allowing me to focus on things that really matter, like spending more quality time with my wife and kids, whom I have come to cherish more than ever.

Perseverance has been a front and center lesson from 2020. Many great people throughout history have said that at any given moment things are never as bad as they may seem. Keeping a level head, focusing on what we can control (and not on what we can’t), seeking advice from those we respect, and approaching the challenge in front of us as the next problem to overcome eventually make us stronger and lead to better times.

So many of our colleagues persevered through the peak of the pandemic, providing urgent and emergent care in the face of a threat we still don’t fully understand, dealing with the uncertainties of the risk to their own health (and subsequently that of their family, friends, and staff), making daily decisions about patient safety and practice health for which there was no precedent, and enduring interruptions to personal and practice income.

Yet here we are, nearly 9 months later, having persevered thus far.

Cases are rising again in many states, but I think we are closer to the end of the pandemic (at least to the worst of it) than we are to the beginning.



Dori Carlson, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Park River, ND

I feel like 2020 has given me whiplash. We started out being excited about the year all optometrists have waited to celebrate. In our office, we put together a marketing plan for celebrating the year, and suddenly, like everyone, we were closed to all but urgent care.

April 2020 was perhaps one of the most stressful months of my entire career. During that time, however, I took the opportunity to look at each office expenditure. What expenses could we cut? What could we do more efficiently?

We used the time to remodel our exam rooms in one of our offices and arranged the drawers so that each room was identical, making our exams more efficient. We tried to make something negative into something genuinely positive.

Going forward, we have taken a hard look at all of our business practices. Just because we have always done it one way doesn’t mean it’s the correct way going forward. As a result of cutting expenses, we are on track to pay off some loans earlier than expected—our goal for 2021 is to be leaner and more efficient.

I keep saying that 2020 will be an interesting sociology lecture 10 years from now. I wonder what long-term changes will occur as a result of the pandemic.

What will happen to trade shows? How will professional education be affected? Will we continue to embrace telehealth? Will telecommuting continue? If so, will that help our rural communities attract those who are tired of the big city?

I am thankful that health care is relatively resilient to economic cycles. Optometry will survive. ODs seldom change until they are forced to do so. As much as people inherently hate change, it is sometimes exactly what we need.

On a personal note, after I finished my Masters this summer, including an independent research project, 2020 has made me learn how to relax. I think that has been the hardest lesson for me. This is the longest I haven’t traveled on a plane since 1996. Instead, I have come to appreciate our lake cabin in Minnesota, particularly in the off season. I have read more books. I have tried new recipes. I have learned how to use my Crock Pot, and I even tried my hand at canning.

Sometimes change is exactly what we need.



Sherry Bass, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

New York City

I learned about respecting science and changing my behavior during this pandemic. I learned to be more sensitive to racial and cultural diversity and to improve my cultural competency with patients and with people I work with and know personally.

My highs include:

Successfully adapting to virtual learning so that our fourth-years could graduate on time

Successfully delivering continuing education lectures virtually

Having my articles published in Optometry Times®

Lows include:

The rise in COVID cases

The violence in this country resulting from cases of racial discrimination and police brutality

The loss of jobs and businesses as the result of the ongoing pandemic



Jeff Anshel, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Encinitas, CA

I was so excited to be an optometrist working in 2020, the year of optometry, even had my ads for ortho-K read, “See 20/20 in 2020.”

Well, that didn’t last long as we had to close for a few months, and the patient load has yet to recover. I am nearing retirement age, so it is looking more likely every week, but I do still enjoy taking care of those long-term patients who return regularly.

2020—good riddance!



Leo Semes, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Ponte Verde Beach, FL

What a debacle. While we were all optimistic, 2020 turned into a trainwreck! The pandemic became a wedge within our country—what a shame.

What we should have learned is that there are experts whose advice should be heeded. It is a leap to be able to say that someone is smarter about this than I am. This is one of the lessons that I learned early in my career at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) from my former colleague, Larry Alexander.

He would say, “I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know something.” And Larry is one of the smartest people I have ever known within our profession or outside it.



Michael Brown, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Huntsville, AL

I always felt we might get burned by all the hype and build up to 2020 being “our year.” I reminded people that 2015 and 2010 are, technically, better.

I’m glad that so few of us are gifted with clairvoyance. Had we seen what was coming, we would have all likely curled up in the fetal position and looked for the nearest hole to crawl into.

Instead, optometry, and the health professions in general, caught a vicious left hook, square in the face. We hit the mat and were down for a count of 9. But we struggled back to our feet, lurched forward, bloodied and bruised, and met the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic head on.

Watching our resilience, creativity, and ability to absorb a new reality and actually change some of our notoriously stubborn ways was encouraging. That probably would have never happened had we not been tested so severely.

My biggest disappointment was watching basic public health advice and tools, such as a simple and effective face mask, become hyperpartisan pawns in a deadly game of political chess.



James F. Hill, III, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Charleston, SC

I guess my biggest take away so far from 2020 is how fragile things in our small world really are. Health, relationships, the economy, and perceptions were turned upside-down literally overnight. This has brought an amazing amount of stress and anxiety that affect everyone, yet no one equally or the same.

Some of the biggest lows of my life in 2020 are the isolation of my parents from me, my sister, and her family. We missed Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and summer vacation together for the first time in recent memory.

Professionally, my low vision occupational therapist was first furloughed and ultimately terminated due to budget concerns after being the perfect teammates for our visually impaired patients the past decade.

Yet, I have so much to be thankful for, too. My parents have stayed healthy thus far, my personal relationships have become stronger, and my work family has bonded and become a better team—albeit stress levels are still high.

When we come out of the other side of this pandemic (hopefully sooner than later), we will know the hardships and sacrifice make us stronger and more connected as human beings.



Stuart Richer, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Chicago

It became apparent that many of our veterans were protected from COVID-19 because the same nutrients we were using to prevent age- and diet-related degeneration in older patients (zinc, vitamin D3, selenium, and vitamin C) were exactly the same nutrients needed to boost immunity.



Marta Fabrykowski, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

New York City

I learned in 2020 that more regimented scheduling of patients (spaced apart further to prevent waiting) has resulted positively in more time to spend with patients, more conversation, and more humanity.

My high was publishing my first white paper!

My low was the hiring freeze across the hospital systems.



Diana Canto-Sims, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Chicago

COVID-19 brought a silver lining to my practice. In 2020 I learned to streamline my processes and procedures in the office. These changes made my practice more efficient and effective. I was able to have more revenue with fewer patients by making tweaks.

In addition, because people spend more time on the computer due to remote learning, working from home, and doing Zoom, there is more exposure to blue light. Our patients are now buying multiple pairs of blue blockers and computer glasses in addition to their everyday pair, creating a 20 percent increase in revenue this year.



Milton Hom, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Azusa, CA

2020 has been quite a year. Office flood, COVID-19, riots, demonstrations, multiple wildfires, seems like one thing after another.

But it has also brought out a lot of good in people: the realization that we are all in this together. I am sometimes amazed at the character shown by my patients, family, friends, staff, and industry people throughout it all.



David Geffen, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

San Diego

2020 was called the Year of Vision and it turned out to be quite a vision, more like a nightmare!

We started the year off with strong patient visits and purchases. Then suddenly in March we were ordered to close down except for emergency care. For 2 months we had the opportunity to fix our houses and lament we were not in the office and worried about furloughed staff.

We learned how to manage telemedicine appointments and provide some service to needy patients. When we were ready to reopen, the office was changed. We know had to limit visits, not allow patients to just walk in to get adjustments or pick up things. We ran about 70 percent of normal flow with less staff, and everyone is a little overworked to keep up with new protocols.

However, patients remarkably have come back strong to our practices, and many of us are doing better than we could have imagined. We have learned that it is not necessarily the volume of people coming to see us but the quality of the person. Patients coming in are our most loyal population, and we are providing an exceptional experience for them to make them comfortable in this environment. We have had many tell us this is their first venture out of their homes besides the grocery store, and we have made them feel “OK.”



Jim Owen, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Encinitas, CA

The superlatives, cliches, and 20/20 references are endless and warranted. What I will remember from 2020 is the over 500 post-LASIK patients I spoke with over a 9-week period during the start of quarantine. All were concerned, most of the concerns were simple, but most were increasingly anxious. Given time to reflect, when they were anxious is when I needed to be calm. I failed at that many times, but as the weeks dragged on I slowly learned how to be most effective: listen.



Ben Gaddie, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Lexington, KY

2020: Well, this was supposed to be my year in so many ways: 50th birthday, 20th wedding anniversary, 20-year cancer-free anniversary, and the year of 2020 for the eyecare industry. It’s been a tough road, to be sure.

Instead, we got COVID-19 life, no industry meetings, no celebration of the year of the eyes, and to top it off, I fell and broke my femur to kick off the shutdown of the U.S. With that, I am reassured with the resilience of the humans and in particular Americans, to be able to adapt and continue to live our lives.

There is a some sunlight in our front door, it is just within grasp, and I am ever confident we will return to life with more vigor and grace in the near future. With improved access to testing and all the new interventions for those who do get sick, it is encouraging to see an exponential reduction in mortality from this disease.



Marc Taub, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Memphis, TN

My personal low without a doubt was losing my father to cancer in April. To make it worse, I could not travel to say goodbye or to the funeral.

The high occurred a few weeks prior with the Bar Mitzvah of my youngest son. We had to turn on a dime and change all of the plans we had set in motion and ended up streaming the service from our living room. My son was awesome and made the moment his own. I learned who supports me and has my back in these trying moments.

The college at which I work, Southern College of Optometry, met the challenge of this pandemic in 2020. The teamwork shown every day was and continues to be outstanding. I have also been assisting the Optometric Extension Program Foundation in setting up lectures to continue the mission of education about vision therapy. It has been so rewarding. These organizations are both amazing and are the definitions of teamwork.



Mo Rafieetary, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Memphis

2020 was supposed to the year of “vision,” but destiny had other plans.

Thomas (Tom) Frieden, the past director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an internationally respected infectious disease expert in his testimony to the U.S. Senate in 2016 regarding health threats and the Zika virus said, “Vaccines and antibiotics have made many infectious diseases a thing of the past; we’ve come to expect that public health and modern science can conquer all microbes. But nature is a formidable adversary…”

Once again, nature showed us that in the great scheme of things how little control we have to events that shape our lives. What still holds true is that our actions and reactions to disastrous events are controlled by us. We often forget that in dealing with adversities like the corona pandemic, we are all sailing or sinking in the same boat. We need to put our political philosophies and personal ideologies aside for a unified solution.

Also, as justifiably the pandemic has taken most of our attention and preoccupations, we still need to be on our guard to protect ourselves our loved ones, our communities, our nation, and the world. We need not forget all other adversities sufferings that go on. The affliction of addiction, the distress of other natural disasters like hurricanes and floods inflict on people, and more come to mind.

I believe nature gives us enough to occupy us that as people sharing this earth, we should come to live in peace with one another.



Paul Chous, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Tacoma, WA

Professional lessons from 2020:

Patients really value our care and miss us when we are less available

Good care can be delivered to most patients by using sophisticated imaging modalities as a partial substitute for clinical examination at close quarters

Many patients have little idea how to properly wear masks

Even some physicians mock public health recommendations and advocate improbable and inherently undisprovable conspiracy theories when receiving eye care

Personal lessons from 2020:

I miss traveling to my favorite places and will never take them for granted again—if I ever can safely leave my home

Even the Walt Disney Company can make me very sad, as it did when it permanently dismissed YeeHa Bob Jackson from Port Orleans Riverside Resort after 23 years of pure joy singing and playing his piano to thousands of adoring fans. Nobody had more fun than we did

We live in a country that largely thinks it is immune from authoritarian and profoundly undemocratic tendencies, but it is not

I really love my family and miss my friends



Melanie Denton, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Salisbury, NC

2020 reignited my passion. When you are backed into a corner, you have to fight. This forced me to rise above and create new opportunities for myself and my practice.

I think we will still be dealing with a lot of restrictions due to the public health crisis we are in, and rightfully so. However, I see my practice thriving and continuing to build upon our 2020 pivot. Our new dry eye center is poised to explode, we have all the potential in the world to thrive with our new online presence, and I have noticed our patients are more appreciative of us than ever. They recognize our efforts to keep them safe and it seems they are placing a higher value on supporting local. I’m pumped. Onward!

Also, I’ll plan on calling perfect vision 20/21 instead of 20/20…20/20 is so over. LOL



Jenny Coyle, OD, FAAO

Fullerton, CA

My highs: It was inspiring to see how quickly faculty across the country rolled with the challenges and almost instantly converted as much of their curriculum content to a virtual platform overnight. They have approached continuing to educate our students under the constraints of our new normal with creativity, and energy.

Optometric educators are unsung heros in 2020! Their workload increased exponentially with the pandemic: Suddenly they had to learn technology to record lectures, develop virtual lab experiments, write up engaging case reports for clinical discussions, navigate clinical education in the area of COVID-19 safety protocols, and they are teaching double the number of lab sections to allow for social distancing.

My lows: We all remember that magical moment when we crossed the stage to be hooded and receive our diplomas after surviving the intensity of optometry school. I am proud of how we provided a unique virtual graduation experience for our students, but I know many in the Class of 2020 missed having that face-to-face celebration.

Likewise, although we are all doing our best to facilitate student engagement and bonding in the new Class of 2024, first-year students across the country are struggling to connect as a cohort in the same way we all were able to as new optometry students.



Jeffry Gerson, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Leawood, KS

For 2020, my biggest learning was the importance of patience and being flexible. As quickly as plans were made, they had to be changed and adapted to the current situation/climate. This was true for work, home, school, and everything else.

A high for 2020 has been being able to really help people in need of care who felt comfortable enough to come to the office.

A low was the day after we shut our office to anything but emergency care and wondering when work would come back to normal.

Something that I often say is “We don’t have a new normal, but what we are experiencing is today’s normal. We don’t know what will be normal tomorrow or the next day.”



Barbara Fluder, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Valdosta, GA

Highs: I am thoroughly enjoying my new job and was happy to be able to meet my 2020 goal of being able to cut back on my workload. The people I work with are amazing. I am happy to say my family and friends are safe so far. I love no longer living in a cold weather area! I have more time to myself.

Lows: I am devastated by the loss of people from this virus. My heart aches for the parents and children of lost loved ones from COVID. I feel like an entire year has been lost to worry and anxiety instead of the wonderful blessings life has to offer. I am angry at a country that has failed its people during a time when we should have done better. The world should have done better.



Kelly K. Nichols, OD, PhD, FAAO

Birmingham, AL

Pardon the vision pun, but this year was also not the year for the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” for 2 reasons (at least): 1) we all never saw this coming, and 2) who wants to look back? Warp speed ahead!

From the standpoint of academia, we learned together that all things are possible when you have a great team. The collective concern of administrators, faculty, and staff alike to ensure the optometry students learn, see patients, and maintain confidence and well-being amidst the changing landscape in adherence to our high educational and patient care standards was humbling and (I dare say) rewarding. Having the common goals excellence in education and patient care kept everyone pushing forward even through the lows. That is what our optometry family at UABSO does—and we are so proud, together.

As much as we all have “Zoom fatigue,” technology allowed us to teach and see patients in ways that would not have been possible just a few years ago. Virtual lectures and continuing education and access to lecturers who live “far away” in addition to expanding telehealth have been silver linings.



John Rumpakis, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Lake Oswego, OR

I think 2020 actually was the year of vision, just not the kind of (eyesight) vision we had originally contemplated. For me, any type of crisis or disruption is an opportunity to reset your vision for your future. As the saying goes, we can’t change the past, but we can affect the future.

For my business in helping colleagues and industry partners, the disruptions this year allowed me to assist others in helping them not get distracted by the day-to-day issues but to focus on short-, mid-, and long-term changes they needed to make to their businesses. For many OD colleagues that I worked with, the pandemic allowed them to re-evaluate current business practices, prioritize specific areas of change, and put plans in place to make formative changes to not only the clinical aspects of their practice, but to foundational elements of their business itself.



Art Epstein, OD, FAAO

Phoenix

2020 was easily the biggest disappointment I never expected. We lost family. We lost our beloved dog Talulah. My life was turned literally upside down, my routine blown to smithereens. My trust in U.S. medicine was upended, but I’d rather look at the positives, the highs, and the things I have learned.

First, I was reminded that relationships are the most important things that we have. I reconnected with friends and family and rediscovered what was really important. We expanded our practice in the middle of the year, and when things were at their worst, we continued to provide emergency care for our community. Today, we are actually busier than ever. We are seeing more interesting and more challenging patients, and our staff has nearly doubled in size. Being in the office more has had its benefits.

I have spent a good part of my life on the podium, and I love connecting with colleagues all over the U.S. and the world. This year I realized that virtual connections can be as strong and even more effective educationally than in-person CE. I will be pushing for equivalence between in-person and virtual CE in 2021.

Our new associate is just brilliant, and he fit right in to our family.

Our understanding of dry eye and the ocular surface has grown exponentially, exploding over the past few months. We have several papers in the works, and we are actively engaged in clinical research.



Justin Bazan, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Brooklyn, NY

2020 felt like somebody hit the reset button. I am back doing full-time patient care with a very small but mighty team. Life is much much much simpler now. Slowing down isn’t all that bad, but I also realized how very much I miss travelling to see colleagues.

Affirming my love and passion for optometry was a high for sure.

Taking a hit on income is an easy choice for low.



Marc Bloomenstein, OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Scottsdale, AZ

Ah, the 2020, the optometric equivalanet of perfect, excellent, good, ahhhhmazing, or so we have been led to believe! How many of us started this year with hopes of marketing the intersection of the year and Snellen acuity? I for one wrote in my article that I did not relish the idea of balancing this perception and reality, especially since 2015 is better (just saying). And yet, if someone said that 2020 would actually turn out to be the Möbius strip of sadness and despair, you would have laughed.

The last 11 months have been the longest decade of my life, both professionally and personally. Although I don’t know anyone personally who has suffered during this pandemic, I grieve for those who have lost loved ones.

I have realized that as physicians it is important that we model best behaviors and be diligent to ensure the safety of our staff and patients.

2020 for me is now synonymous with “resilience in the face of adversity, adaption, and doing what is right for the greater good.”



Jade Coats, OD

Editorial Advisory Board member

Rogers, AR

Although 2020 was flipped upside down, I learned that a lot can still be accomplished, even during a pandemic.

Professionally, I have found 2020 to be my busiest year—I was able to continue writing articles for several publications and participate in numerous virtual advisory board meetings. Zoom meetings and virtual CE events have evolved to become the “norm” this year, and I hope they will continue to be an option in the future. These new platforms have totally transformed the way I have interacted with colleagues and industry in 2020.

As a cherry on top for 2020, Arkansas (finally!) passed its expansion of scope bill, making it official for Arkansas optometrists (with training and certification) to perform SLT and YAG, certain injections (excluding IV and intraocular), remove benign lid lesions, and chalazion incision and curettage.

My 2020 lows professionally include the fact that I have lost several patients, friends, and colleagues to COVID-19. We are continuously grieving the deaths of people we love and that has definitely taken a toll on overall 2020 spirit.

Personally, my highs in 2020 were that my husband and I (both ODs) remodeled a bathroom (electrical, plumbing, tiling, all of it!) during our 6 weeks of being shut down. Since the housing market was hot, we sold our home quickly and were able to purchase our dream home with great interest rates. None of that was exactly on our 2020 to-do list, but we tried to make the best of it.

On a low note personally, 2020 destroyed everyone’s travel plans. I absolutely love to travel, so not being on an airplane in over 10 months has made me stir crazy. This year we were planning on backpacking through Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia. We are hoping to get our feet on the ground when this pandemic has improved in a manner in which we can (safely) travel internationally.

This is not exactly the kind of year we had in mind when we envisioned 2020—but surely it can only get better from here.

I hope that 2020+1 looks slightly better than 2020!



Andrew Morgenstern,OD, FAAO

Editorial Advisory Board member

Bethesda, MD

I learned from 2020 that no one is safe. ODs need to be ready and on the front lines of public health. Readiness is everything.

Highs: I got to co-author the American Optometric Association guidance on COVID-19 for practices, doctors, and patients after consulting with colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and other federal public health organizations.

Lows: Having to take calls at all hours from doctors of optometry all around the country at the initial peak of the pandemic asking how I can help or give advice to protect their staff/patients and save their businesses from going bankrupt.



Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, FAAO

Columbus, OH

Highs: The arrival of my second grandson in October 2020; the opening of our new clinic building at Ohio State Optometry in November 2020; the Charles F. Prentice Award from the American Academy of Optometry.

Lows: Pandemic fears (ongoing); the absurdity of an incumbent president who will not concede an election he lost.



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