Even the best students can struggle with taking tests. When it comes to the high-stakes and costly optometry boards, the stress is extra. Camille F. Cohen, OD, FAAO, and Janis James, OD, FAAO, who began helping students with a test review program during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now doing even more to help. Their program focused not so much on the review of material– there are plenty of those resources– but on the way to approach and manage taking the tests.
Indeed, in founding Eyerie Academics, the two doctors incorporated project into the journey toward fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry last year. Now, they have two products to help students create efficient schedules and habits and also explore some holistic ways to manage the stress.
The Eyerie Journal has writing prompts, coloring pages, relaxation exercises and techniques and motivational quotes. The Eyerie Planner provides a step-by-step guide on how to study, how to organize a schedule efficiently and a habit-tracker to make sure students eat, sleep and maintain an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle, says Dr. Cohen.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Dr. Cohen had acquired a new Pearle Vision location in Brooklyn, New York, two weeks before the pandemic shut the New York City metro area down tight. During that time, she and others began reaching out to students who were stressed about losing their usual learning environment in advance of their boards. Dr. Cohen is a natural at nurturing, says Dr. James. “She connects to the students. They were flocking to her. She was so transparent about her own struggles that people were coming out of the woodwork,” she recalls.
Dr. James is the organizational master, says Dr. Cohen. “She has an uncanny ability to get to the heart of organizational challenges.” With Eyerie Academics, they each play to their strengths. Dr. James worked primarily on the planner to help students determine what distracts them and how to study. “Before optometry school, I took tests, but I didn’t study,” says Dr. Cohen. Many students with solid academic backgrounds come into optometry school unprepared for the organizational work. “It’s not a lack of intelligence, but it might be their focus or mindfulness,” she says.
Dr. James agrees, noting that when she tutors optometry students, she spends more time on reviewing how to organize notes than on subject review. “Students memorize what they can, but there’s too much to recall for boards. Their review is going to be more effective if they’re organized,” she says.
She learned that lesson the hard way. In optometry school, she bombed her second pharmacology exam. “I realized I needed to change how I study. My father was in the military, so he modeled the organizational skills, and that’s when my left-brain side took over when it comes to studying,” she says.
In contrast to her logical, fact-focused approach, Dr. Cohen is the “right brain with creativity and imagination and addressing the emotions,” Dr. James says. Working on the journal, Dr. Cohen talked with mental health counselors who provided journal prompts. There are coloring pages so students can take a little creative detour.
At an optometry program where they presented their guidance, Dr. Cohen recalls doing an exercise with the group. “Outside of your title, how do you recognize yourself? We want students to know that regardless of their grades, they’re worthy and they’ll find a way to move forward,” she says.
Optometry students are often over-achievers, says Dr. James. “At presentations, we’ve asked for a show of hands for how many students were on honor rolls in schools. Almost all of them were. So it’s a trauma to get to optometry school and find out that you may not be the smartest one in the room,” Dr. James says.
Those kinds of adjustments can be difficult. That’s why Dr. Cohen included resources such as a suicide hotline for readers who feel trapped and crushed under the stress. “These are things people don’t talk about, but the economy, the pandemic and the isolation of having spent time in virtual learning affect students,” she says.
According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, the national average first-timer pass rate for Part I of the boards dropped from 77.67% in 2021 to 72.19% in 2022. Even though the rates do fluctuate year to year, the data does show that there are routinely 20% -plus students who are struggling.
“The impact of the pandemic will be felt for a while,” says Dr. Cohen. “Students in school today may not have had a graduation ceremony from their undergraduate programs. They know people who got sick or died. Even though schools are back with in-person learning now, they haven’t regained that community that was lost during virtual learning.”
Dr. Cohen says that helping students shift their approach and organization can help. They tracked their success with their study group, 85% of whom had failed Part I of the boards two times. “We had an 80% pass rate for those who consistently showed up. With a success rate that high, we knew we had to create some way to get this work out to others. Both editions are available on Amazon here and here.
Listen to a Quick Takes video with Dr. Cohen on the benefits of mentoring.