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Working Together by Being Together

On April 13, 2020, I started my full-time role as Senior Manager, Myopia Management at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – nearly two years ago.

My laptop and phone arrived, and I put together my desk in the guest room of our basement.

Over the next couple winters, there wasn’t a lot of natural sunlight that made its way down. I was forced into meeting hundreds of co-workers virtually instead of physically in-person.

Three-dimensional human beings with friends, families, personalities, relegated to a two-dimensional rectangle if the video camera was even on at all.

Fast forward to today. Our professional affairs team has now grown to ten optometrists alongside a dedicated support team touching as many organizations, associations, and eye care practitioners as humanly possible.

About a year ago, we committed to meeting in person every three months to carve out that time and not be as distracted by the flood of requests coming in. When we’re apart, the decision to call, e-mail, or text is a decision to be made all hours of the day. And just a few minutes with your teammate in-person can solve so many things.

Not to mention, that e-mail or text thread to nail down a virtual meeting time with colleagues external to the company when you can’t see each other’s calendars.

As optometrists specialize, there is a tendency to become more fragmented and siloed. This was why we saw such a warm response when we held an in-person residency summit where contact lens and pediatric residents were both invited.

There was intentional downtime built into Saturday afternoon so three groups could go to the botanical gardens, the aquarium, or an art exhibit and have a chance to just relax and be themselves instead of sitting in a lecture or workshop.

At a pediatric ophthalmology conference, I got a chance to sit down one afternoon at 3:00 pm on an expansive patio with an amazing group of optometrists and ophthalmologists at a children’s hospital in Chicago – comical that it’s easier to meet at a conference organically than drive nine miles sometimes. And then just getting to converse over dinner to hear what gets us excited and how success can look different.

I also ran into a childhood friend who practices in California. Her, amongst others, have made me realize that the diversity of clinical practice spans quite the spectrum. And I appreciated meeting new colleagues simply from optometrists having relationships with pediatric ophthalmologists. And to even find medical students in their early to mid-20s attending a specialty conference they haven’t even committed to yet. Oftentimes, it is truly just one or two degrees of separation.

So, as they say, the hallway conversations can sometimes be more valuable than an engaging seven-minute lecture. The actionable steps and possibilities reinvigorate the work we wake up to every morning.

Although physically tired, I am that much more inspired that we can better help our patients across North America and the world at large. When an in-person conversation can go anywhere, that’s when we feel most alive and connected.

Justin Kwan, OD, FAAO