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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Raman Bhakhri

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into optometry?

I actually got into optometry because of a few good friends of mine. Back in Canada, they introduced me to the profession. I wanted to learn more so I started shadowing my own optometrist. I was really impressed at how content and happy he was at work, so I asked him, “You’re always smiling. I’ve never seen you upset. Why?” His response: “‘Because I love my job.” I was sold. From there I applied to optometry school. All my friends and I were accepted into PCO/Salus. So, that’s where we went.

What drew you to ICO?

As a student, I was really interested in low vision. I did a rotation at PCO/Salus in the low vision and disease unit, and I loved it, but I knew I wanted to/needed to learn more. I was looking for a similar clinical experience but also wanted to learn outside the environment that I was accustomed to for the past few years. Faculty members at PCO/Salus spoke highly of ICO so I started doing my research in terms of possibly applying for a ICO residency. The ICO Low Vision/Ocular Disease residency was exactly what I was looking for: a program that would strengthen my knowledge and skills while also introducing me to the teaching aspects of optometry. None of that was possible without help though. The mentorship and advice that I received from the faculty during that residency year is something that I’m appreciative and grateful for. I wouldn’t be teaching if it wasn’t for them. I still lean on those mentors today for support and guidance.

I enjoyed my time at ICO so much, I wanted to stay on as faculty, but at that time there weren’t any open positions. Before becoming an optometrist, I wanted to be a high school teacher. For me, it took me doing a residency at ICO to realize teaching needed to be part of who I am as an optometrist. So, I took that dream of becoming a high school teacher and set my sights on becoming a professor.

Luckily for me, a position opened at the Southern California College of Optometry. It was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. The seven years I spent teaching there were amazing. Again, I was lucky enough to have great friends and mentors there who helped me become a better teacher and optometrist. However, in the back of my mind, there was always a thought of coming back to ICO. Luckily for me a position opened, and I’ve been here now for three years, I’ve loved every moment of it.

You were just awarded the golden apple by three out of the four classes. What values do you try to bring into your teaching? What role do the students play in this larger ecosystem of patient, student, doctor interactions?

Understanding and compassion. Every student is different and therefore learns differently. You can’t have the same approach with everyone. I try to adjust and adapt my teaching approach to make concepts simpler and more straightforward for them. I think every professor can attest to this moment when lecturing: you look up from your notes, and just by looking around you can tell: “Yep, you understand exactly what I’m saying” or, “You have no clue what I just said.” When I get those blank faces, that just motivates me to get back to the drawing board to see how I can rework and rewrite the content.

I also try to relate to them. I really believe there is no such thing as a dumb question. I want them to always keep asking questions, and I try to be as available as possible, whether that’s through email, informally in the hallway, or of course, in class.

In the end, ICO students are the future of this profession. We have to prepare them as much as possible. That's what it always comes back to for me. The other faculty members and I work hard for them because we know they will ultimately change our profession. The better prepared they are, the better off optometry is in terms of both patient care and in terms of advancing our profession.

Do you believe that teaching makes you a better practitioner? How do you see optometry changing in the next few years and how do you hope to be a part of it?

Teaching makes me a better practitioner. As a teacher, you can’t just keep teaching the same material or get too comfortable. You have to stay up to date in terms of advancements in the field. Luckily for me and the rest of the faculty, ICO students and residents always keep us on our toes!

Optometry is shifting towards a disease-based model. Ophthalmologists are overwhelmed with the number of patients and diseases they manage. Fortunately, optometrists are prepared to handle many of the cases ophthalmologists see. The question is do we handle them? More and more the answer is yes. Especially at ICO, students are exposed to many different diseases and their management. I find it exciting, not only that we are now managing all these conditions, but also just how well prepared our students are to take care of them. At ICO, there is a challenging workload, but it’s for a reason. Our students are required to know more because they will be treating and managing more complex cases every single year. And that’s my message generally to incoming students: Optometry school will not be easy, it’s lots of work, but you can do it. We want you to be the best you can be after you graduate from our program. You just have to grind every day to make it through.

I get to be part of all this being a teacher at ICO. It’s inspiring to see how the classes my colleagues and I teach are preparing students for the future.

What’s one thing you would like incoming students to know about the field of optometry?

The field of optometry is incredibly beautiful in terms of its many modes of practice; it’s not just glasses and contacts. There are many specialties that students can choose. Mine originally was low vision. At that time, I was often treating patients where glasses and contacts were no longer enough. For them, vision had to be maximized with magnifiers and other technologies. I loved having that as my foundational work as a recent graduate, but I was also able to shift from low vision to ocular pharmacology because it was something I was interested in. At ICO, there are many different specialties that you can choose to pursue: primary care, pediatrics, cornea and contact lens, neuro, and glaucoma. It’s amazing just how many different places your optometry degree can take you. Look at my own journey, my residency is in low vision, but when the opportunity came to teach ocular pharmacology, I said yes right away. That’s the beauty of our profession, you get to choose what you’re passionate about. You get to build your own journey.


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