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One Year Later: Entering the Profession of Optometry During COVID

Reflections from a class of 2020 InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, School of Optometry graduate

By Irina Yakubin, OD

Just over a year ago, I was pouring my frustrations, fears and questions into an article about the emotional chaos of graduating optometry school during the COVID pandemic. My home city of West Hollywood was on lockdown, as was the rest of the U.S., and I had absolutely no idea about how I was going to graduate, get licensed and find a job.

Fast-forward to now-nearly a year later, and I am a licensed OD, working at a private practice alongside the inventor of the APD TesterTM, Babak Kamkar, OD, and I’m the junior producer of My Vision Show, an amazing virtual showcase for independents in eye care and optical.


Finishing boards during COVID has been stressful but, honestly, I have been very lucky to have my testing rescheduled only once. Many class of 2020 and class of 2021 students had their testing rescheduled several times, and often at the last minute. Traveling to North Carolina during Part 3 of the NBEO during COVID was especially nerve-racking. After successfully completing all examinations required of NBEO and the California State Law exam, I was all set to receive my license—eight weeks after I had submitted all of the paperwork.


As the class of 2020 prepared for graduation, there were a lot of big questions. How will we finish boards? Will we survive the pandemic as professionals and individuals? The answers proved different for each of us; some of us are still working through boards due to pandemic-related delays, and others are already seeing patients as licensed optometrists. And while we are entering the job market a little bit later than our predecessors, many of us are ready to do what we were trained to do: provide eye care to our patients.


While graduation was delayed by the pandemic, my determination to stay involved in my profession and to help other ODs led me to become a coordinator and eventually, a junior producer for My Vision Show alongside Charlene Nichols, the show’s founder and senior producer. Getting involved and networking within the independent segment of the eye care and optical industry allowed me to gain knowledge and connections within the industry that I would never have gained if I hadn’t embraced the opportunity to get involved with My Vision Show.

Another opportunity that I embraced, one that had actually been on post-grad checklist since my time as a student, was getting involved with my local society. From having been involved with the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) as an optometry student, transitioning to the Los Angeles County Optometric Society was an exciting moment, personally. While the group has yet to meet in person, the board has been incredible with communicating updated information and education.

Lessons Learned and Advice

One of my main reasons in sharing my perspective is to offer hope to those who are still struggling. I don’t know where you are in your optometry journey; you may be someone who graduated in 2020 and struggling to finish off boards due to increased stressed, or maybe you are a newly degreed class of 2021 graduate. Whatever the case, here are a few lessons that many of us should not forget after this pandemic.

This Too Shall Pass: Nothing lasts forever, including the horrible feelings of anxiety that many of us experienced over the past year. Wherever you are now, no matter how dreadful it seems, this stress is not permanent.

Give Yourself Permission to Revise Your Plans: Everyone’s plans changed this year, and many of us have had to revise our timelines. The point is to not give up. Even if you are not where you hoped you would be right now, you will get there, or you may even get somewhere better. Be flexible with your goals and timelines.

Get and Stay Involved: Whether you are playing the waiting game with licensing or are finishing your first year in optometry school, get involved in the profession. This could mean being involved in AOSA, your local society, or even industry events like My Vision Show and Optometry’s Meeting. Optometry is a legislative profession, and everything that we can do now as eye doctors has been fought for by ODs who came before us.

Since the COVID pandemic hit, many of us, myself included, have been in survival mode; now the time has come for us to begin to thrive.

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