Connection: A Young OD's Perspective

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Working at a private practice in high school, I loved the freedom the doctors had to spend time with their patients and form meaningful connections with them. Today, as a new OD, I seek out those connections to enhance my patients’ experience and to differentiate myself as a doctor.

My favorite patient story is from my fourth year in optometry school, just a few years ago. I was examining a burly MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter who was told he could no longer fight due to the progression of his keratoconus. He had tried rigid gas permeable lenses and found them too painful. After some discussion, I persuaded him to give scleral lenses a try—he put one in and acted as if it was the most painful thing he’d ever experienced. I knew better, so I told this giant MMA fighter to toughen up and open his eyes. When he finally got the courage to look around and see how much clearer the world was, he became emotional and started to cry. That moment—being able to connect on that level and alter someone’s future—was life-changing for me.

This was just one of many meaningful connections that propelled me on this journey towards private practice. Others stemmed from my relationship with VSP.  In optometry school, VSP provided awards and scholarships that allowed me to go to industry conferences and expand my professional network. I also became very involved in the Student Optometric Leadership Network (SOLN), which VSP sponsors to help future private practitioners. Through these affiliations, I developed a network of like-minded peers who are as passionate about private practice and patient care as I am.

These professional connections are especially meaningful to a young OD recently released from the safety of the academic world. In school, you are quite spoiled—you have limitless resources available to you and are fully supported as you navigate new scenarios. When you are on your own, it is comforting to have those connections to turn to—and I do, often.

Today, connecting with my patients and learning about their everyday lives is a priority. The more I know about my patients’ day-to-day activities, the easier it is to effectively diagnose their conditions and come up with treatment plans they’re likely to adopt. One way I connect with my patients is to send them a hand-written card with a Nazar Boncugu bracelet following their appointment. Nazar Boncugu is a very traditional item in Turkey—a blue bead that is used as a talisman to protect the wearer from the evil eye, or negative energy from another person. 

Sharing this part of my culture helps differentiate me as an OD, while reinforcing that personal connection with my patients. 

As a new OD, I am very optimistic about the future of optometry. All aspects of healthcare continue to be disrupted, and I am poised to improvise and adapt. As I see it, the most important thing that we can continue to do as doctors is to forge meaningful connections with our patients so we can give them the highest level of care.

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