One of the more unique projects we do at Review is the annual compendium of educational meetings that’s enclosed with this issue, known as The Conference Planner. We talk to every CE provider we can find and ask what they have in store for the year ahead. Every year, I marvel at the breadth of optometric education available, from small meetings offering just one or two credits for a handful of people to the big, sprawling conferences that attract thousands. 

This year was different, to say the least. Of all the facets of the profession altered or sidelined by the pandemic, hardest hit was probably live education. There hasn’t been a major in-person optometric event since SECO concluded in early March, on the eve of the lockdown. In the weeks that followed, plans for in-person meetings kept getting knocked off one after another like the characters in a murder mystery. Would any survive to the end of the 2020 story? No, as it turned out.

Heading into 2021, the CE planners we talked to conveyed both a sense of frustration at the uncertainty they still face, but also a measure of confidence that their contingency plans will see them—and you—through. Everyone seems ready to go but poised to switch gears ASAP if needed. I can’t tell you how many times we appended a listing in the 2021 Conference Planner with the fateful words “subject to change” or “to be determined” but, trust me, it was a lot.

With encouraging news about vaccines offering a realistic chance that, by summer, in-person events won’t be a white-knuckle experience, there’s cause for optimism as we turn the page on 2020. Still, I wonder if some of the changes wrought by the pandemic will persist. Much of the response was improvised on the fly, but it also had the effect of accelerating developments that were already in motion. Telehealth consults, online dispensing and virtual CE all got a “baptism by fire” in 2020.

I think some online experiences will co-exist with traditional methods even once the pandemic has passed, especially in continuing education. When the Academy of Optometry switched its annual meeting to virtual, it was able to preserve seemingly the entire program—even the social events. And, tellingly, the potential audience expanded exponentially. The AAO told us its meeting usually has attendees from about 15 countries participate; in 2020, the virtual meeting brought in people from 55 countries.

Suddenly, it seems, optometry has gone global. 

Though the laws and customs of optometric practice are often radically different outside the US, I think your international colleagues will welcome the chance to experience the top-tier education that happens here, even if the credits don’t transfer.

If there’s one hallmark of the optometry profession’s storied history, it’s the ability to adapt to change. That spirit brought practitioners out of the jewelry stores and into private practices, and then to hospitals and teaching institutions. And perhaps now, the world stage.