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Message from the Dean

Dear Optometry Community,

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. As we enter our fifth week of sheltering-in-place, I wanted to update you on our school’s evolving response to COVID-19.

The last four weeks have challenged all of us in ways we could never have imagined. The members of Berkeley Optometry’s community have astonished but not surprised me, with their resourcefulness, resilience and kindness. Our faculty and students have shown incredible flexibility and enthusiasm for delivering and receiving remote learning (and exams!) via video conferencing. And while it’s not how we’d choose to teach and learn, the spirit of cooperation and the willingness to find solutions has been inspiring.

Equally gratifying has been our clinical faculty and staff response to the crisis. We continue to provide essential eye care for our community – an arrangement that not only serves our own patients, but also plays a role in the school’s mission to help reduce hospital emergency room visits relating to eye care during the COVID-19 crisis. To reach patients that are not able to come to the clinic, we have marshaled the expertise of our staff and the can-do nature of faculty to offer telehealth appointments. This innovative approach to eye care, while not feasible for all conditions, will help us expand our ability to “see” patients without actually being in the room with them. So far, we have been able to consult with patients in our Sjogren’s clinic, contact lens clinic, provide ocular disease care, sports vision, vision therapy and binocular vision evaluation, and provide urgent care triage. This past week we had over 65 telehealth appointments, and we expect this number to grow each day.

Our endeavors have extended beyond our local community. I’m particularly proud of Berkeley Optometry’s Dr. Suzanne Fleiszig, who is leading efforts to mobilize scientists around the globe in an urgent quest to find innovative ways to test and treat COVID-19. Dr. Fleiszig, who is chair-elect of the Council on Microbial Sciences for the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), one of the world’s largest and oldest scientific societies, co-organized an historic summit of leading experts to discuss ways that scientists can work together to leverage existing resources and remove obstacles to develop both testing and vaccines to stop the coronavirus pandemic that is currently gripping the planet.

And our students, though we don’t get to see them on a daily basis, have touched our hearts. In a gesture that demonstrates the admiration, respect, and concern felt for their colleagues, the class of 2020 will direct their $5,000 year-end gift to the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for attending doctors, residents, eyewear specialists, and clinic staff. The generosity and thoughtfulness of this gift has had an immediate and emotional impact on clinic faculty and staff.

Student life goes on. Despite Optometry Meeting 2020 being cancelled, we were still able to host our first virtual UCB Quiz Bowl competition! It was encouraging to see the Berkeley Opto family in their Cal gear (and their super cool virtual backgrounds) cheering on their brilliant classmates. Our top three contestants were Joanna Toner (2021); Tyler Spilman (2022); and Kristina Lin (2021). Congratulations to all! Joanna Toner will be representing us at the national Quiz Bowl which will happen (virtually) in June.

Lastly, we still don’t know if we’ll be allowed back on campus for the start of the Fall semester. As the situation becomes more clear, we will share what we know. But I do know this: the resolve shown by our community throughout this crisis demonstrates that together we will carry on and find ways to serve our students, our patients. and our alumni. I could not be more proud.

Stay safe everyone!

John G. Flanagan
Dean and Professor
Berkeley Optometry