It Takes Two: BFFs Shreya Bhandari and Lara Bregman are Tackling Instagram Together

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Shreya Bhandari and Lara Bregman are second year optometry students at the Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry. The pair originates from Toronto and while both went to the University of Western Ontario for undergrad, it wasn’t until they moved to the States that they connected and became friends. “It’s kind of a funny story actually. Lara and I attended the University of Western Ontario but we did not know each other,” Bhandari explained. “We first met at our optometry school interview at Salus in Pennsylvania. We instantly connected and spent the entire interview day chatting. When Lara saw that I joined the Nova incoming class of 2021 Facebook group, she reached out to me and we have been best friends ever since.”

Though optometry school brought them together, the road to Nova was quite different for the two gal pals. For Bhandari, the decision to pursue optometry was personal. After witnessing both her grandfather and another close friend lose their vision due to multiple strokes and retinal detachment (respectively) she took on a job at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) during her undergrad and decided that optometry was the path for her. She stated, “My grandfather was declared legally blind after suffering multiple strokes in 2009. This condition had a large impact on his life as he went from being completely independent to needing assistance with basic tasks.”

She continued, “Then, in grade 12 one of my best friends was suffering with a retinal detachment. He lost all vision in one eye at the age of 16 and at 18 had to undergo a surgery to have the eye replaced with a prosthesis. At the time I did not know what this meant, and my curiosity got the best of me, so I did some research on his condition. I found out that if he had approached a doctor a little bit earlier, his vision could have been saved. This served as yet another reminder of how important vision is, and it is something most of us take for granted.” Bhandari went onto join the CNIB as a tech, and the rest was history.

For Lara Bregman, one could say that the medical field was pretty much in her DNA. The daughter of a dentist and dental hygienist, Bregman grew up seeing her parents working together and changing people’s perceptions of themselves on a daily basis. “My father is a dentist and my mother is a dental hygienist, and together they run an office in Brampton, Ontario,” she told VMail Weekend. “Growing up, I would go visit them and observe both the staff and patients. Seeing the way that patients’ faces changed from scared to comfortable once they were in my dad’s chair made me realize that I wanted to build the same doctor-patient relationships.”

Though dental wasn’t her calling, Bregman found love in the field of optometry. “While the dental field never quite appealed to me, I did my research and came across optometry. I then reached out to some optometrists in my area and began job shadowing. As I began to see and learn more about the profession, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to dedicate my life to. For me, it wasn’t really one experience or an ‘ah-ha’ moment that led me to optometry, but the culmination of a bunch of different factors and opportunities.”

  

Now, on track to graduating as ODs in 2021, Bhandari and Bregman have begun to make their presence known within the optical industry. After Arian Fartash, OD (Glamoptometrist) presented at their school last year, they were inspired to create a platform where they could connect with fellow optometry students, optometrists and other healthcare professionals. And in June of last year, they did just that with the launch of their joint Instagram page: Eye.Spy. Eye.Spy is a page that is reflective of both Bhandari and Bregman’s personalities. It’s a space where the BFFs showcase their love for optical-related trinkets, journey through optometry school and of course, their undeniable chemistry as friends. “We had both spoken about wanting to connect with optometrists and individuals in the optical field that were back home in Canada,” Bregman stated. “Going to school in Florida, it is difficult to establish these connections without social media. Creating this page allowed us to communicate with people across borders while being in Florida.”

Because they are still students, a lot of the things they learn at Nova inevitably make their way onto the page. Though they aren’t always able to update Eye.Spy on a daily basis, they make sure to keep their audience engaged via InstaStories. “As students we are constantly learning new things about the optometric field and when we learn new things we are excited to share them with our followers,” Bhandari explained. “We are constantly creating stories about the new skills we learn in ophthalmic optics or binocular vision lab. We take what we learn in class and combine it with what interests us to create an informative platform that can reach a wide audience.”

Instagram’s capability to reach a wide audience is not lost on Bhandari and Bregman. One important aspect of their page is the audience engagement. Under each post, the ladies always pose a question for the followers to answer. Some questions are rhetorical and pose as opportunities for the girls to educate, others are feel good and just check the temperature of the reader, while others ask for opinions on a specified post. If they don’t pose questions, the ladies of Eye.Spy always encourage their followers to leave a comment. “I think that the engagement in the comments opens the door for networking with people in the optometry field all over the world,” Bregman stated. “It’s interesting to see the difference in responses between those who are immersed in the field and lay individuals. Monitoring engagement also allows us to get feedback about the kinds of posts our followers enjoy based on the volume of interaction.”

With Eye.Spy steadily growing, Bhandari and Bregman have also taken helpful advice from seasoned social media gurus such as Jennifer Tsai, OD, known as @drjenandjuice to her Instagram followers. “After creating our page Dr. Tsai came to our school to present on social media and how it has impacted her life. The piece of advice that she gave that stuck with us the most is to post more pictures of us, rather than pictures off of Pinterest,” Bhandari said. “She said that would help our followers feel like they can connect with us better, because they are able to put faces with our page, and people like it when they get to see what you are up to. We took her advice, and ever since we’ve grown our account more and more.”

Now, with the page close to 1,000 followers, Bhandari and Bregman hope that Eye.Spy remains a place where people cannot only learn more about optometry, but also understand the various opportunities the field has to offer. In order to keep Eye.Spy entertaining and educational at the same time, the women have had to slate time in-between their studies to choose, edit and caption their posts—a process that can take hours, but has turned out to be rewarding nonetheless. “The best part for me has been interacting with our followers. We’ve gotten numerous DM’s (direct messages) from students who are pre-optometry and are looking for help with deciding which school to go to, or whether to go into optometry at all. It is super rewarding to hear from these students as they make their decisions. We have also gotten a few DMs from followers who have told us that our Instagram page has inspired them to create their own page,” Bhandari stated.

“For me, the most rewarding part has been taking what I have learned through school and being able to share it with other people and starting a conversation around these important healthcare topics. The account has fostered many productive relationships and has become an outlet for both us and our followers,” said Bregman.