Tens of thousands of us have come together in ODs on facebook for over 11 years, day after day, sharing and seeking unique insights, seeking support and advice from those with experience, keeping our ear to the ground to stay ahead of what’s going on industry-wise and networking, socializing and having fun. We share commonalities, such as the standards of care we maintain, education, licensure requirements, and an interest in providing high-level care for our patients. While our similarities are what brought us together, what keeps the conversation interesting is not our commonalities, but our differences. We differ in personalities, thought processes, passions, interests, value systems, goals, the prism we view the world through and other intangibles. Each of these makes us unique in the way we perform our craft and most of us who post here are seeking different ideas for practicing, different approaches to problem-solving and new knowledge. Most of us value differing opinions and discuss them respectfully and professionally, I find it ironic that the driver of our conversation, our differences, sometimes results in the conversation taking an ugly turn. This was especially apparent during the height of the pandemic. 

2020: The Year Unthinkable Became Thinkable

Three years ago, almost to the date, the unthinkable happened. We found ourselves facing the first pandemic of our lifetimes. What to make of this illness? First, there was disbelief, then people we knew started getting sick. Rumor, innuendo, and misinformation sparked fear and led to intellectual chaos. Mental illness spiked and became a second pandemic.  As the first wave crashed over us, we stared into an abyss of two years of confinement and isolation which abruptly ended the privileged lives we so took for granted. In many ways, the isolation we had from social connections was the hardest part. We were stuck at home, kept away from our businesses, staff, and patients. Masking emphasized the isolation we felt, depersonalizing the few real-world connections we could make and creating a perceived barrier between us both figuratively and literally. 

During the worst of it, all my energy went into being there for friends and family, keeping income coming in, mentoring, sharing advice, and supporting our community. Over the holidays I was able to get outside of my own head and permitted myself to contemplate what we had been through. I let myself accept that we had just experienced a calamity of epic proportions. I allowed myself to face the profound sadness one faces after surviving a tragedy. I practiced gratitude for those who survived and mourned those who didn’t. I let go of all those feelings, let myself have a good cry, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had been telling myself everything is OK now that life is returning to normal, but I hadn’t truly accepted or dealt with the enormity of the situation.

The Only Way Out is Through

Through it all, we supported each other through so many unknowns and so much uncertainty. More people than ever joined the conversation looking for support, answers,  and seeking some type of normalcy through our online connection. We shared frustrations, fears, and provided support and advice in an effort to allay some of the very real and visceral emotions of it all. Optometrists kept their “ears to the ground” in ODs on facebook to stay abreast on what was going on in the industry and learn what they could do to help their practices survive and to learn what standards others were applying in order to practice safely. Many of us sought pearls of knowledge and suggestions that might help them stay afloat until the light at the end of the tunnel was no longer an oncoming train.

What I’ve Learned

During COVID I spent an inordinate amount of time ensuring our original mission remained intact, the mission being “….a safe place to share clinical and practice management information and have fun, but not at anyone’s expense.” Generally, this includes keeping certain divisive topics out of the conversation, namely partisan politics and rhetoric and hurtful, hateful comments. It’s always been a challenge but COVID made this much more challenging. I had to make a concerted effort to understand the strange actions and reactions of my colleagues and not judge; to remind myself it was our differences that made the community great and to do my best to allow conversations on certain divisive topics because they were of a clinical origin thus important for our community to discuss. I did my best to not let these strange times negatively influence my judgment or cause me not to apply guidelines consistently and fairly. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t perfect at it but did the best I could under these exceptional circumstances. 

The experience of moderating through the pandemic has taught me a few things. 

1. Your colleagues are not your enemies.

If you see a comment you don’t agree with or don’t like for whatever reason, going on the attack is not the right response. Aside from attacks being disrespectful and unprofessional, the intent isn’t always easy to infer from the written word, so the poster may have had a different intent in mind than what you interpreted it to be. Instead of going on the attack, ask a question to clarify the poster’s intent. If you disagree, do so respectfully. Remember, it’s our differences that make our community great so practice patience and understanding before responding professionally. 

2. Optometry has real enemies out there.

Some people go online looking for a fight. Some feel the need to “stir the pot”. If that is you, remember, our enemies are not colleagues who say something you feel is ignorant or something you would have approached quite differently. Our enemies include organized medicine influencing state legislatures to limit our scope of practice. Our enemies are some of the insurers entrenched in our vertical. Our enemies are often amoral entrepreneurs painting Optometric physicians as greedy middle people in order to siphon off patients and shift the conversation away from health care for the sake of profit. Our enemies are not doctors spread across the country looking for support and advice. While we were busy finding fault in each other fighting over which ideas were best to combat COVID, pushing agendas, projecting our fears or acting out our frustrations, our real enemies, those who attempt to control our practices and our profession were busy hatching their next set of plans to dominate the industry. While we were at each other’s throats about wearing masks, they were busy in their boardrooms figuring out the next way to take a piece of our pie, applying their misguided sense of entitlement to figure out how to hold dominion over us, finding ways to control our industry in the interest of profits, not patients.  

Some of us use the perceived distance the internet creates to act in ways we never would face to face, and this is to the delight of our professional enemies. This does nothing but weaken and divide us at a time when we need to be united against those who seek to control our professional practice. We are not each other’s enemies; our community exists not to pass judgment or diminish others; it’s a place where we support one another, support our profession and help each other to be our best. 

COVID will remain with us endemically, but we have learned to live with it. In 2023 let’s look forward with the purpose and mission to support one another, fight our common battles, leave our non-professional differences aside and focus on sharing wisdom and forging friendships within this amazing space we’ve created. Together we have succeeded in creating a community that influences the entire industry so let’s use it to organize to fight the right battles, not to emphasize petty differences. Let’s use it to remind the companies we do business with that they depend on us, not the other way around. Let’s use it to positively influence the industry, support colleagues, and support our national organization. If you don’t like the way our industry is moving, use the power of a network of 45,000+ colleagues to organize; be an agent of change. Challenge those companies who seek to control our professional practice and make a positive difference in each other’s lives. Happy new year!