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Dean's Column

Thoughts from the Dean

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David Damari

Greetings from Michigan College of Optometry. 

I am writing this during a Thanksgiving week when our second- and first-year students have already left campus to spend the holiday with their families, and will remain there through the entire rest of the calendar year. Our third-year students are wrapping up the final two days of patient encounters in the University Eye Center before they leave to join their families for Thanksgiving, but they will be back on Monday to see more patients. These are just some of the ways in which the MCO experience is a bit different this year as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to keep everyone here safe and do our part to assure that the hospital systems in Michigan and everywhere our students and their families live are not overwhelmed with patients suffering from that disease. Our lectures are now all remote for all of our students. We have done this to minimize the amount of time they spend in one room together during the pandemic. Everything we know about SARS-CoV-2 indicates that cumulative exposure time is highly correlated with likelihood of infection and severity of disease, so to have students sit together in those rooms for four hours at a time when viable, albeit not exactly equivalent alternatives are available, would be irresponsible.

We are minimizing exposure in the classroom so that we can continue to offer rich face-to-face laboratory and clinical experiences. We have changed the scheduling so that each lab section in the third floor Dow Laboratory can use the entire lab, not just half of it, in order to facilitate social distancing of student pairs and faculty. There has been no reduction in clinical laboratory experience. We did lose some time at the end of the spring semester, as the response to the pandemic began, but our students and faculty returned from the summer a week early, added hours in the first week of the fall semester, and have made up every single missed lab hour.

MCO alumni can be very proud of how the entire MCO community has responded to this pandemic and worked hard to keep the program on track while keeping everyone safe. Finally, there were some clinical encounters lost during the spring and summer semesters as everyone determined how to best see patients while keeping them and our students, staff, and faculty safe, as well as their families. It would be impossible to make up all those hours, but we did offer alternative case study discussions and other experiences that the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education had acknowledged as acceptable during that limited time.

Now we are back at full force. Our third- and fourth-year students are seeing just as many patients as before the pandemic. To accomplish this, our staff have had to do an extraordinary amount of work to educate our patients on new protocols, do advanced COVID-19 screening procedures, and make many more appointments for optical services and other things that for our patients used to be simply walk-in services, all with less staff than before as the University continues to have budget and personnel cuts in the wake of the enrollment declines we have been seeing at the University for the last few years. Finally, in all these measures, we have been doing the same best practices as almost every other college of optometry in the US. In fact, our faculty and administration were remarkably creative in determining how to make up for the lost time from spring, and some things we have done have served as a model for other schools and colleges.

You should also know that the Governor’s Executive Order has specifically exempted healthcare programs from the prohibition of face-to-face instruction. She understands how important experiential learning is to healthcare training, thanks in part to the strong advocacy of the MOA and MCO. In short, you can continue to be proud of the level of education at MCO. The students, staff, faculty, and administration here will always advocate for a program at Ferris that provides the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to create leaders for the future of our profession.

Continued engagement from alumni and alumnae like you help us stay on that course, and you are welcome to call or write me anytime you have questions or concerns.

Dr. Damari, MCO Dean