Despite uncertainty, optometry grads are moving forward, together

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Group photo of Optometry Class 2020 outside a home

The “Class of 2020” may have the most appropriate name possible for a graduating class of optometrists. The fourth year and final year of Waterloo’s optometry program is unique in that it focusses almost entirely on practical “hands-on” training. COVID-19 not only made that impossible, it also prompted the postponement of board exams in both Canada and the US and forced a detour on graduates’ career paths. Waterloo optometry graduates are resilient and flexible. They have found ways to give back to their communities, keep their skill sharp and for a few find a way to start their careers.

A gift that grows

Working on her externship in rural Oklahoma, Olivia Young had to rush to get home before the US/Canada border closed. Olivia decided to put her time to good use. She began making cloth face masks to help protect people in her hometown, volunteering both her time and the materials. Instead of payment, she asks for donations to Roots to Harvest, a local program that employs youth in sustainable food production. So far, Olivia has raised more than $4,000 for the charity.

Internships in Alberta

Zoe Stein moved to Alberta with her partner Jonah Gilham, also a Class of 2020 graduate, before provincial borders began to shut down. Both were able to find positions as clinic interns, a unique situation that some provinces offer without the requirement for completed board exams. Zoe had been waiting to hear if she would be able to continue with her residency at the School next year, one hurdle that has been resolved with residencies back on schedule.

Preparing for board exams

The closing of the border found Morgan Jackson between final exams with the US National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). Board exams are a culmination of their four years of training and require intensive review and preparation. Morgan Jackson’s exams were postponed several times, but she was just recently able to fly from British Columbia to North Carolina to complete the final part of her American board exams. 

Students who were planning to write the Canadian boards have not yet had that opportunity. In the interim, the class is working together to support each other and are collaborating online to keep their skills up-to-date. Video chat study groups are the new normal, and they have also taken advantage of the many webinars and other free online discussions available within the optometric community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building eye care resources online

Diana Nguyen co-launched and launched two eye-care information projects — an educational web resource called eyeX and an online community for patients with dry eye disease. Through collaboration with both optometrists and ophthalmologists, these webinars have grown into the eyeXwebsite.

Diana has also begun to create information resources for patients through @MyDryEyeSpace, an online community specifically for patients with dry eye disease, a common and debilitating condition. She writes educational blogs, interacts with patients through social media (Instagram and Facebook) and also helps connect patients with optometrists who specialize in dry eye disease.

Toasting the Class of 2020

On June 18th, The University of Waterloo hosted a virtual graduation for the Class of 2020. About a week later, graduates and their families, along with School of Optometry & Vision Science faculty and staff, gathered online to recognize and celebrate 89 new optometrists who are about to begin the next phase of their professional lives. 

Congratulations Class of 2020!

Read the full story on the School of Optometry & Vision Science's website.