đź“· Heidi Sandstrom.

by Dr. Elaine Ramos
Assistant Clinical Faculty, Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation
Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry 

While I was in the process of applying for residencies as a fourth year student at SCCO, I reached out to many doctors for advice. One conversation in particular with Dr. Sue Cotter stood out to me. She said that residencies should produce doctors that would not just disappear once they start practice, but who instead would give back to the profession and continue to build on the foundation laid by those before them. Building a knowledge base and having strong mentors is important in any field, but I appreciate why continuing this effort is so significant to those like Dr. Cotter. They were the doctors who fought for vision therapy when it was labeled “quackery,” before the randomized clinical trials, and before it became more widely accepted.

I completed my residency in vision therapy and rehabilitation at SUNY College of Optometry last year, and I currently split my time between working as clinical faculty at Western University College of Optometry and at a private practice doing vision therapy and neuro-optometric rehabilitation. As a new professional starting off my career, I find myself seeking and surrounding myself with mentors more than ever before. I have found great mentors in academic institutions, private practices, in rehabilitation centers at hospitals, and even on COVD Match. There is a distinct, common thread between them all. They are well-read, frequently donate their time and talents to organizations and their community, and have an inspiring love for learning and mentorship that they eagerly pass on  to others. There’s nothing quite like doing what you love.

So, to channel my inner mentor (with the limited experience I have so far), here is some advice I would share with students or residents that, now looking back, I wish I had done more of myself:

  • Keep asking

    As a student, I wish I had asked more questions and picked the brains of the doctors that taught me. The most helpful thing I did was ask to peek into the exam rooms of residents and doctors while they were seeing patients and listened to the way they trained kids, consoled worried parents, and ran patient conferences.

  • Venture forth

    Don’t be afraid to apply to residencies away from home. I loved my training in California and SCCO gave me a great foundation. However, leaving for a residency in New York allowed me broaden my horizons and include the perspectives of developmental optometrists on the other coast. The difference was eye-opening.

  • Seek out the source

    As a resident, I tried to read as often as I could, but I still wish I had read more! I think it’s important to read as many books and articles as you can and to seek out the people who wrote them. If they are still in practice, see them in action before they retire. These are the minds that shaped what vision therapy and neuro-optometric rehabilitation are today. There is honestly too much more worth learning than can be covered in optometry school and one year of residency. Therefore, you will be introduced to many foreign concepts, but it is important to keep an open mind to treatments you are unfamiliar with.

  • Stick together

    If you have co-residents, they are your sources of consults and comfort throughout the year and I suggest keeping them close. I love my co-residents Drs. Charlop, Tilley, and Roe more than I can say.

  • Meet the COVD family

    Lastly, I would highly suggest going to a COVD Annual Meeting if you get a chance. If nothing else, it will give you a boost of inspiration and keep you hungry to learn more.

At every point in my education and now my career, I have relied on all the outstanding teachers and mentors I’ve encountered. I am grateful for the time they have invested in me and the doors that they have opened; the impact of their work has reaches far beyond what they could have imagined. On that note, if anyone still keeps in touch with Dr. Nathan Flax, please tell him thank you for me. My intermittent exotropes and I are still benefiting from the lectures he gave before I was born and we are infinitely grateful.