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Keep Evolving—For You

camille cohen 200x200By Camille Cohen, OD, of Brooklyn, New York, Women In Optometry advisory board member

I am a first-generation Jamaican American. My family is large, loud and extremely loving. We moved to this country when I was three years old. My parents were educators in the Bahamas, and felt it was time to transition to the United States, so that my brothers and I would have more educational and professional opportunities.

As a child, I assumed that I would become a teacher like my parents. Then, I watched as my mother went back to school to become a registered nurse and my father went back to school to earn his PhD in education technology. It occurred to me that I didn’t have to be one thing. Careers and roles evolve.

camille cohen child
Dr. Cohen in her first pair of eyeglasses.

Optometry appealed to me, not just because of my own vision issues, but because I recognized that eye doctors are an integral part of their surrounding community. I can make a difference, by serving those in need with vision screenings, mentoring students, and simply by being present.

I never had a doctor who looked like me, growing up. My name confuses many people (even though the Jewish diaspora is vast, and ever present in Jamaica) but I always receive an extra special greeting from minority patients.

It’s mentally challenging to witness repeated killings of unarmed men and women who look like family members of mine and still show up to work with a smile on my face. It’s difficult to start a new business, in the middle of a global pandemic, while grieving the loss of family and friends. It’s ridiculous that when I call to check on my grandpa, who is recovering from COVID, the only thing he wants to discuss is how I’m wasting my life working, when I should be focused on finding a husband and “changing baby nappies.”

I am a black woman of immigrant parents who is determined to continue to evolve into as many roles as life continues to present to me. My challenge this year is working to grow a practice, while making space for my own well-being. I think for everyone, but particularly women, we have to remember to prioritize ourselves instead of evaporating into the background of everyone else’s wants and needs.

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