Advice Column

Strength in Numbers

Advice going through optometry is tough, mainly because each year has its own mountains to climb and goals to achieve. As you enter optometry school you have completed undergrad, which was a time commitment within itself. By using your study skills and time management skills you obtained in undergrad, you can build on those when you get to optometry school. For myself, I did not build the best study skills in undergrad and this put me at a disadvantage.  

When you begin your classes, my school did a good job of easing the students into a dense schedule. We started with classes that most people have taken during undergrad, with a couple other classes sprinkled in that relate to the field of optometry. Although this schedule is less strenuous then the future schedules (2nd and 3rd year specifically), it still requires the proper time commitment in order to succeed. Now, because I did not build the best time management skills during my days in undergrad, I would encourage all students to use this first semester to create the foundation for these skills. To be more specific, take out a part of your day after class to sit down and go back over what you were taught that day. I do not necessarily mean to “study” the material, but use this to better organize your thoughts about the subject. Optometry school will consist of many more classes per day compared to your previous college experience. So, with this heavy course load my brain felt congested with all the material thrown at me during a normal day. By using an hour or two to go back over the day’s work, it will create that foundation that help you succeed in the future.  

As the end of my 3rd year is approaching, I have been able to look back on my experience here at the Kentucky College of Optometry. I have made amazing friends and colleagues of the profession. Having these people by my side, as I have put in countless hours of studying and sacrifices, has been my saving grace. Although, your family and friends outside of school will always be there for you, only the people going through these four years can truly relate. Surrounding yourself with people that will push you to be better and pick you up when you are down is one of the greatest things I found here at KYCO. Without them, I do not believe I could have been as successful here at school. The quote, “strength is in numbers” rings so true when it comes to optometry school. Although your success is based on your own decisions, surrounding yourself with friends and colleagues that make you a better student will have a the most positive impact on your success. 

My last piece of advice is something that I have seen being in clinic with many other classmates of mine. Although all of the classes we take here at KYCO are important, our main goal is to be the best clinicians possible. Your school will give you every opportunity to help you become this successful clinician. I would encourage all students to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the school. It is the student’s own decisions and dedication to the program that will make them a better clinician. No matter what school you decide to go to, the decisions and commitment you make to that program will determine how good of a clinician you will become. I am trying to take my own advice and get as much out of the next year and half I have left here at the Kentucky College of Optometry. Soon, I will be in the real world helping many patients get exquisite eye care.  

Advice Column

Lessons My Patients Have Taught Me 

As optometry students, we look up to our attendings with their many years of experience and wealth of knowledge. They’ve taught us to make educated predictions about what might be causing a patient’s visual complaint just by listening to their chief complaint. We’ve learned what tests to order and what medications to prescribe for various conditions. We’re constantly being shown tips to be efficient and taught how to be smart with what tests should be performed. While all the lessons our attendings and professors have taught us have been invaluable, sometimes the greatest lessons can come from our patients. 

Lesson 1:  

A 30yearold female came into our binocular vision clinic and reported symptoms that I had only heard about in textbooks but never expected to encounter. She reported words moving on the page when she read, grocery aisles towering above her as she shopped and legs that seemed to lag behind her as she walked. As the exam continued, she seemed worried that she was the only patient with such unique symptoms. I could sense that she needed reassurance and told her that while her symptoms were extraordinary, she was not alone and that we believed her. She was immediately relieved to know that we believed that what she was experiencing was real and that there are others who also have out-of-the-box symptoms.  

From this experience I learned that while listening to our patients is incredibly important, it is just as important to make sure that our patients know that they are being heard and to provide reassurance to their insecurities 

Lesson 2:  

When I was working in our eyewear clinic, an older lady walked in looking to buy a new pair of glasses. We had a great time trying on frames that matched her blue eyes and that best suited her face shape. During the process we shared stories about new hobbies that we picked up during quarantine, and I had made a joke about how I randomly decided to bleach my own hair because no one was going to see. We laughed about it until she suddenly started tearing up. She apologized and soon opened up to me that I was the first person in a long time that she’s had a conversation with as she had been quarantining alone in her home for so long. 

Because we interact with so many patients each day, sometimes we forget that we may be the only interaction that our patients have had in a long time, especially during this pandemic. This encounter was a good reminder to slow down, be personable and remember how important it is to connect as human beings beyond just small talk 

Lesson 3:  

During my primary care rotation, I decided to chart review and saw that I had a patient with corneal neuropathy. In her chart, it seemed like her chief complaint was extreme dry eye and that she also was being seen by our school’s dry eye clinic. I saw that she had spent thousands of dollars for various treatments such as multiple treatments of Lipiflow, autologous serum, various steroids, scleral lenses, punctual plugs and more. I immediately thought to myself that if she were already being seen at a dry eye clinic and other specialists that surely I, just an optometry student, couldn’t possibly help her relieve her dry eye complaints. But as I reviewed the list of treatments that she has undergone, I noticed that there was no mention of an amniotic membrane, which was a treatment plan I had just learned about a week prior. So during my exam, I presented the idea and she was surprised to hear about it, assuming she had already tried everything. Due to insurance purposes, we thought it would be best to get the amniotic membrane done with her specialist, but she was appreciative of the suggestion. So while I may never know if that amniotic membrane actually helped her dry eye complaints, I learned that just because you’re not an expert or specialist, it doesn’t hurt to try to be creative and suggest other solutions for your patients.  

Lesson 4:  

I had an older gentleman come in who had been battling colon cancer for four years and other various medical conditions. Given everything he had gone through, he still had such a positive outlook and shared his passion for cooking and Scrabble. While I was doing RET, he explained how his favorite dish was steak despite the high cholesterol intake. Continuing on with the exam, my attending and I unfortunately found signs of ARMD. My heart sunk because I knew he was battling so many other health conditions and I didn’t feel it was fair that he would be getting more bad news. When we explained our findings, he became a bit more silent. Once the exam was over, I walked him over to get checked out and he began to chuckle while mentioning, “I think I deserve a steak today! If I’ve learned anything in my life, a good steak always solves the problem! And I’ll be sure to add some leafy greens as a side.”  

It’s often so easy to focus on bad news and get bogged down with life, such as the stress of studying for boards or worrying about grades. My patient’s positive outlook on life and genuine appreciation for all the small things that life has to offer reminded me to not completely lose myself in my studies and to make time for the activities that make me happy.  It also reminded me to appreciate how far I’ve come and how fortunate I am to have my health and this unique opportunity to pursue a career that makes me happy and fulfilled.  


Advice Column

The Life-Changing Magic of Staying Organized: The Optometry School Edition 

Do you struggle to stay organized? Maybe it was never your thing and it’s not important to you. But we all know that we can’t navigate through optometry school like we did during undergrad. Staying organized will make it much easier to get through all your classes and exams and stay on top of your assignments. If you want to try organization, welcome to the life-changing magic of staying organized: the optometry school edition. Here are my tips on how I stay organized through optometry school to manage my time and maximize it between studying, being involved with extracurriculars and keeping my grades up.   


Go through your syllabi 

Let’s face it, not many people like to go through the syllabus that our professors give to us at the start of each semester or quarter. But think of your syllabi as the Bible to your success in school. It will tell you the course policies, the topics covered in class, the breakdown of points for your course grade, etc. At the start of every quarter, I go through the syllabus for every class and write down what each course expectation is and what the point or percentage breakdown is for the course grade on a single page. Doing this allows me to easily go back to the one page and refer to what each exam or assignment is worth for which class. 


Your planner is your best friend 

I carry my planner around with me everywhere I go. I make sure to go through my block schedule and write down every exam and proficiency for the quarter. Then, as I find out about quizzes and assignments throughout the quarter, I will add them to my planner. My preference is to have monthly pages as well as weekly pages with the days of the week. The monthly pages allow me to look at what is coming up for the month and the weekly pages allow me focus on my tasks each week. I also like to color code on the monthly pages. I highlight exams and quizzes in one color, and assignments with another. 


Find out what kind of learner you are 

Finding out your learning style will help you maximize your studying and keep your mind organized with the various courses you need to stay on top of. Knowing your learning style will also help you be more of an active learner. If you’re not sure what your learning style is, there are some helpful tools and quizzes online that may help! 


Use a study calendar 

Study calendars are a great way to keep track of your studying and keeping up with your classes. From attending classes, labs and clinic to finishing assignments, it can be hard to find time to solely dedicate to studying. A study calendar will be a good reminder and a useful tool to set aside some time each day to study and review the material. There are a lot of free study calendar templates available for use on your tablet/computer or as a printout! 


Make to-do lists! 

To-do lists are my favorite, there’s just something so gratifying about checking things off. 

I like to plan out my week using the weekly section in my planner and making daily to-do lists. I try to make it as realistic as possible, and even though I may not be able to check everything off each day, it gives me a good idea of where I want to be by the end of each week. 


Create good notetaking and study habits 

The most important thing about notetaking is being able to go back to your notes and understand them. Find out what works for you, whether it’s writing your notes by hand or typing them. Creating good study habits also is  going to be useful in keeping yourself organized. Beginning with some realistic and concrete steps is a great start! Are you most productive during the day or at night? If you know you can focus better at night, plan your studying for the evening. The quicker you make good notetaking and studying into a habit, the more organized you will be in managing your time in the long run.  


Keep your notes in one place
I have found this to be one of the most useful tips during optometry school so far. Having my notes in one place allows me to know where all of my notes are at all times. I usually have my current quarter’s notes in my tablet and once I am done with a quarter, I transfer all my notes to an external hard drive where I organize my notes into folders by year, quarter and course. That way, I will always know where I can find my notes and turn to them when I begin studying for boards. 


Designate a spot for all your things
Whether it’s your notes, your optometry equipment, your backpack, or even your glasses, create a space for all your belongings and designate the spot as its home. Once you’re done using it, make sure to remember to put it back in its spot every time. You will be able to find whatever you need at all times and keep yourself prepared for any situation.  


Hopefully you’ll try at least one of these tips and find it to be useful! Optometry school is tough and a lot of work. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves falling behind at some point. It’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed with studying, doing homework and practicing skills, all while trying to maintain a social life during this pandemic. I hope you’ll find staying organized to be helpful and somewhat stress-relieving. Don’t forget to keep your mental health in check and know your resources on where you can turn  if you ever need help. Lastly, know that you’re not alone! Good luck, and happy studying (and organizing)! J 

Advice Column

Take That Break

Two things that I have told myself these past few months: You cannot have cereal for dinner again tonight, and you don’t need to feel guilty for doing an activity that doesn’t involve studying.

Let me explain.

I love cereal and I truly believe that you can eat it any time of the day, but when I am on my second box of cereal in one week because I have been eating cereal three times a day, I know that something must change. Sometimes as students we get so lost in all the studying, exams and due dates that we often don’t leave enough time at the end of the day to make dinner. Since in quarantine, we are at home for multiple days at a time and I think that now is the best time to discover your love for cooking. I used to hate cooking. But being in quarantine has made me realize that I didn’t hate it, I hated doing anything that took time away from studying for an upcoming test. There are so many quick, easy and, most importantly, inexpensive meals that you can make for yourself.

It took me quite some time to realize that I was forgetting that our brain needs fuel. I mean how many times do I need to learn about ATP and the mitochondria. I find that if I take a few minutes and really think about what I want to eat for the next two weeks for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, and make a grocery list that is specific for those meals, I am more inclined to eat full meals throughout the next two weeks. Meal prepping is a great way to ensure that you are fueling your body correctly, and it reduces the amount of time that you spend in the kitchen cooking dinner.

Secondly, I know that grad school was not the best time to start a YouTube channel, as if the coursework isn’t enough. But I started a Youtube channel! I recently came to the realization (this was the year of a lot of realizations for me) that I wanted to do something else in my day other than study for tests and practice for practicals. As I said earlier, I used to feel guilty for taking time away from studying to do anything other than prepare for my exams. Showers were short, TV was timed and naps were nonexistent. I didn’t feel like I did enough until it was 11 p.m. and I was incredibly tired. But I decided that this is not what I wanted for myself.

I think it is important to tap into the other side of what makes you you! You are hard-working and driven, but you might also be creative and talented. Taking the time scratch thatmaking the time to discover what activities you enjoy can fill your study breaks. It’s important to understand that IT IS OKAY TO TAKE BREAKS! You need to take regular breaks from studying. I like to use the Pomodoro Technique to keep me focused, especially on days when I feel like my attention span is really short and I have a lot to do.
The Pomodoro Technique is a great tool to increase your productivity. Basically, you study for a certain amount of time and then you take a quick break and after a few hours you take a longer break. The method that I like to use is the 50-10 method. I would study for 50 minutes and take a 10minute break, and after 2 hours I would take a 30minute break. You could also do the 25-5 method, or any other time frame you want. This technique works even better if you make a small goal for yourself to achieve by the end of the study session. How many lectures do you want to finish? How many chapters do you want to read? What topic do you want to fully understand? It’s important that you get everything that you need to start your study session (laptop charger, water, headphones, etc.) and you leave your phone a fair distance away from you or on donotdisturb mode. You must stay focused for this technique to work.

If you increase your productivity, you could spend less time in your day studying. With those extra few hours, you can work on that passion project, plan out your meals and make a grocery list for your next grocery run. Yes, you are a student, but that is not all you are. There is so much more to you. Take a minute to discover all the other talents! 

Health & Wellness

Reflections on Failure … and What to Do About It

“Failure” feels like a dirty word, something no student dares to mention for fear of jinxing themselves. It’s like the boogeyman, looming in the shadows, preying on the fear thatdespite all our effort, time and moneyit was all for nothing … and that light at the end of the tunnel dims. No one speaks of failure for fear of summoning it, yet it creeps up on us at the worst possible time and punches us while we are down. A quiz grade here, a skills test there, an exam that was SO CLOSE to passing, but didn’t quite make itfeeling like no matter what you do, you will never improve, that you are doomed to never be successful. 

These feelings are entirely normal, especially for students in high-intensity academic environments where failure can have serious financial consequences beyond the emotional toll. Optometry school is already stressful enough as it is, and the entirely legitimate fear of failure simply adds to it. Because we can’t wave our hands and magically hypnotize all of our professors into giving us As, the question then becomes: What can we do about it? 

It’s helpful to think of failure as a disease state. It does, after all, induce all the hallmark signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, potential causing headaches, nausea, rapid breathing, acid reflux, body aches, insomnia, fatigue and a weakened immune system (thanks, Cortisol, for the memories!). It also can frighten classmates into steering clear of the affected individual, as if it were somehow contagious (news flash: it isn’t). And because we’re thinking of failure as a disease state, that means we’re going to need:  

  • Adifferential diagnosis – finding the root cause(s).  
  • Atreatment plan – a step-by-step outline of how to recover.  
  • Prophylaxis –a way to prevent it from happening in the future.  


Okay, so you’ve failed your first quiz, exam, skills test or some other official assessment. Take your time to experience those emotions (as there will be emotions), and then your first step is to contact your professor, sooner rather than later. Your job when meeting with your professor is to go over all the concepts covered in that assessment and find out WHAT HAPPENED. If you misunderstood the information, your next step will be to arrange for tutoring or additional office hours to supplement your time in class. Do not hesitate with this and make sure to go over concepts every week leading up to the next assessment. If you are having difficulty memorizing the sheer volume of material, then you will need a different kind of help; you will need to work with your professor to help orient yourself around the material and get a good outline in your brain established that you can then build on with details (you also may  need assistance developing study skills; if so, reaching out to your school’s academic support office will be your next step). If you understand all the material and are able to recall it in front of the teacher but have difficulty with the format of exams and showing what you know on a highstakes exam, your next step will be working with your professor and your school’s academic support office on testtaking strategies, potentially even working with your school’s mental health services personnel on dealing with anxiety and blanking within the testing environment.  

 In any and all of these scenarios, it is CRITICAL to get this taken care of AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It is ABSOLUTELY possible to recover from a stumble (i.e., a quiz or a single exam) without it affecting your grades too much, but if it builds you can risk failing a course, which can be devastating depending on the policies of your school. This is where the prophylaxis comes in. Obviously, no one is planning to fail, but when it comes to optometry school, where the stakes are understandably high, it is important to plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you are afraid of failure, for any reason, at any time, make an appointment with a member of your school’s administration and talk to them about your fear and your reason for fearing. Listen to their advice, as they will point you in the right directionthey don’t want you to fail any more than you want toThey also can tell you what your school’s policies are for remediation and for taking a leave of absence if one is needed. Because every case is different, it is critically important to get this personalized assessment and to build a game plan that will help you succeed in your program.  

 Please note that in this entire essay, we have not yet discussed how to handle the emotional toll that comes with failure or the fear of failure. This is because the means of achieving mental health is different for each person and what works for one individual may or may not work for another. Whatever it is that you need to do to pull yourself together, then that is what you need to balance with your studies. My only piece of advice in this arena is more of a request: please, please, PLEASE do NOT hide your failure. Yes, it is embarrassing, and no, you do not need to advertise it, but recognize that when an academic community functions within a culture of hiding failure, it makes it so much more difficult to learn from it and to recover from itInstead, show the world your strength and resilience, for your failure is not what defines youyou are defined by how you choose to overcome it.  

Advice Column

Staying Motivated in Zoom University: Optometry School Edition 

Zoom University was not what I had in mind when I signed up for optometry school. The first quarter of remote learning started out rough, mostly because I had to reacquaint myself with studying after a long, gapyear break. As the weeks rolled on, I digested and learned to cope with the new normal and new learning system. Like many students, there were times when I lost motivation and had to search for ways to push on. Nevertheless, I survived the first quarter and continued to improve myself as I built on the lessons I learned. Today, I’d like to share some of my tips for staying motivated during Zoom universityoptometry school edition!

  1. Zoom call with your favorite study buddy/buddies!

I usually prefer studying alone and never really considered group studying. However, with the pandemic, it can be tiring and draining to study at home all day by yourself. In the middle of fall quarter, I found a great study buddy to Zoom call with. At SCCO, we have exams weekly, and my study buddy and I Zoom called every week to review materials for the upcoming exam. Our favorite studying method is to take turns quizzing each other. This really tests your knowledge and the other person can expand on the concept, if needed.  

Zoom calls also work for home labs! It’s always nice to go through a lab with someone, especially for optics as the subject isn’t always easy to understand. 

2. Missing the coffee shop vibes? Set up your own!

In a non-pandemic situation, I’d be sitting down at my local coffee shop, sipping on my hot caramel latte, and catching up on anatomy lectures. I definitely miss the café vibes, so I knew I had to create my own at home. 

(1)    On your laptop, search “coffee shop lofi” on Youtube for the music, and Google an image of “coffee shop background” to display as your monitor screen (this works even better with a big monitor!). I usually do this the night before so it’s ready for me the next morning. 

(2)    The next morning, make yourself some nice coffee and a good breakfast of your choice. Relax and immerse yourself into the atmosphere five minutes before starting any lectures. 

(3)    Got a candle? Light it up and use it to enhance the atmosphere! 

Definitely give this idea a try! It might seem a little extra, but it really does work! 

3. Stay organized!

With remote learning, it is so important to stay on top of your game! 

It took me half a quarter to figure out what method worked best to help me stay organized. In undergrad, I enjoyed writing down all my daily tasks on a sticky note every day, but I realized it wasn’t working for me during optometry school. Therefore, I understand that my method may not work well for everyone and would encourage you to experiment with different ways to find the one that works best for you. 

I also use Google calendar to track all my courses, exam dates, and club meetings. I use a Google Excel sheet to plan out my tasks for the week. Each column is marked with a day of the week and I would fill in tasks for that day. I like to underestimate my goals for the day, so I do not have to stress if I do not meet all the goals by the end of the day. Other apps you may consider for productivity: Notion, Google Keep, Forest. 

4. It’s okay to take weekend breaks! 

Yes, optometry school is busy work, but remember that your mental and physical health is much more important! In the beginning of the year, I was refusing to take weekend breaks because I felt that a Saturday would be wasted. However, a friend told me to look at it in a positive light. Take a Saturday off to enjoy yourself so that tomorrow, you will be reenergized to study again. 

I think it is important to remember that we are students, and we deserve breaks! If your heart is calling you to take a break, listen to that calling and go for it! As grad students, even though we hold ourselves to a high standard, we also need to accept that taking breaks won’t cause us to slip up or fail. 

I usually enjoy my Saturday off by exploring new boba places and getting take-out dinner. Sometimes, I would indulge into my favorite hobby, designing and making stickers! I’ve also seen classmates catching up on Netflix, baking their favorite chocolate chip cookies, or even going off somewhere nice for a weekend getaway! 

 I hope these suggestions are helpful, and maybe you’ll even give them a try! Feel free to connect with me on Instagram @blink.ling and let me know what you think, or if you have other suggestions for me! Good luck with your journey! 

Advice Column

School and Life; A Balancing Act

Optometry school is basically a full-time job. There are lectures to listen to, labs to attend, notes to take, skills to practice, assignments to complete, exams to study for and patients to see. Sometimes it feels like there’s no time for anything else. However, the most important thing you can do during optometry school in order to keep up with the intense demand of the program is to always take care of yourself. 

That’s really the key to balancing school and life: making time for yourself. That time can be spent any way that’s beneficial for you. Whether it’s working out, taking a nap, spending time with loved ones, playing an instrument or even just watching a Netflix show, it’s important to take time away from your schoolwork to decompress and focus on your own mental and physical wellbeing. This is especially important during those extra stressful weeks in the semester where you have your midterm exams, proficiencies or finals. 

Another vital part of optometry school survival is to have a great group of friends. It’s not a program that you can get through alone. Having a solid group of friends who understand what you’re going through and who can be there to study with you, share notes with you, and most importantly, to support you through all of it, is extremely important. I know that I wouldn’t currently be in the middle of my second year if it weren’t for the help and support of the wonderful friends I’ve made here. 

Finally, it’s important to not be too hard on yourself if you feel like you haven’t accomplished enough, or if you have a bad day. There are plenty of times during each semester where I’ll make a to-do list of things related to school that I want to and plan on getting done. Then, by the end of the day, I’ve only gotten through half of that list. Sometimes I feel really disappointed, but I have to remind myself that there will ALWAYS be work that needs to get done, and I’m only one person. Or there are times where I take an exam and it didn’t go as well as I had thought or hoped. This can be really discouraging when it happens, but it’s important to remember that as long as you did your best and tried your hardest, that’s really what matters most. I also try to use these experiences as opportunities to improve myself. If I didn’t do well on an exam, I use that as motivation to study harder for that class so I can make sure to do better on the next one. 

 When you’re in optometry school, I promise these same things will happen to you. Don’t be too hard on yourself and always give yourself some credit for completing even one task on that list, or for just passing that really difficult exam. 

Optometry school is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, commitment and time. But it’s also a lot of fun and as long as you’re passionate about the profession, you will really enjoy it. Always stay focused on your goals and work hard to achieve them, but also make sure to take time away from school to relax and focus on yourself. Succeeding in optometry school really does take a village, so surround yourself with good friends and never be afraid to reach out to them, your family or your professors for help. 

Health & Wellness

Mind, Body, Soul

I think it’s fair to say 2020 has been a tough year that has upended our lives in many different ways. Getting through a global pandemic, along with the added pressure of optometry school, challenged my mental and physical health in ways they’ve never been before.  

As someone who truly values routine in my life, I found myself struggling when this structure was no longer there. The turning point for me was when I stopped resisting all these changes and accepted it. This acceptance shifted my mentality from victimhood to a growth mindset which then allowed me to adapt to the changing circumstances. 

Now whether you’ve had a similar experience to me this past year or maybe you’re battling your own respective challenges, I would love to share some tips that helped prosper my health and wellness during these turbulent times. My approaches focused on nourishing the three domains of my wellbeing that I felt were most important: mind, body and soul.  


As students in optometry school, I feel like our mind and mental capacity are challenged on the daily. Or maybe it challenges how much information we can shove in our head four hours before an exam. Nonetheless, our minds are consistently engaged in this aspect. 

As important as it is to challenge our mind, I think it’s just as important to give it the rest it needs. Prioritizing my sleep has been one of my goals this past year and it has had profound impact on my mental health. If I have an exam the next day, I try my best to study all the material before a reasonable time so that I can get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. This shift was made possible after I self-acknowledged that my well-being is more important to me than getting a perfect score on a test. 

Another realm of our minds is our thought processes. This past year I realized the importance of having these thought processes challenged. Oftentimes, our views on certain topics and the way we think about certain things can be linear and based on the way we were raised along with our individual experiences. Having these thoughts challenged can possibly widen our perspective and provide a deeper sense of compassion. I believe developing compassion is one of the most empowering characteristics to possess as health care providers. 


As up and coming health care professionals, I believe the importance of staying active and getting a daily dose of physical activity has been stressed more than enough. I can attest to the countless benefits I’ve experienced in my everyday life due to this practice.  

Prior to lockdown, my routine consisted of going to our school gym first thing in the morning. However, once lockdown started, I was left in my bedroom with a yoga mat and some make-shift dumbbells that were less than ideal. My motivation to get that daily exercise became extremely diminished, but I knew it had to get done. That 45 minutes of physical activity resulted in a full day of increased energy and better mood. I also came to the realization that starting my day off with exercise made the other tasks I had to complete in the day much more attainable. 

If you’ve already established this habit in your life, I’m sure you’ve also experienced these wide range of benefits. If you’re someone who‘s been looking for some extra motivation to get started, I hope reading this has been able to give you some of that. You should get started with an activity you enjoy (biking or yoga) at a time interval that’s comfortable and slowly start working your way up. 


The soul is the core of our being. The times where I feel the most in tune with it is when I’m not thinking about anything and just focused on the moment at hand. As trite as it may sound, I feel the most connected when I’m walking through the forest. There’s something about the organized chaos that grounds me and engages all my senses in a way that nothing else can. I have tried to make this a habit once a week and I’ve noticed that it provides me with this sense of clarity and awakening that coffee can’t achieve.  

In today’s world, it can get hard to have some time to yourself where you’re not bombarded with notifications and the upsetting news around the world. Therefore, actively seeking those moments where you don’t have to engage in anything except yourself can be very powerful. I live close to a forest so those walks are what bring me peace, but your practice can be individual to you. Whether it’s meditation, yoga or just sitting on grass and watching the sky; I think you’ll find profound benefits in slowing everything down in a world that’s constantly moving. 

I personally don’t have it all figured out, but these are just some of the things that have helped me this past year. I’m sure these are things you already know, but sometimes it takes reading it at the right time to actually implement it. As we move into 2021, let’s prioritize our health and wellbeing and start to welcome change.

Health & Wellness

Building Community Care as Mental Health Support in Optometry School

My Experience with Mental Health
During my first year of optometry school, I had a difficult transition that eventually led to challenges academically. I wish I could tell a straightforward story of how I didn’t know how to properly study or balance my academic life, and that working harder led to my success–but my story, as with any person’s story, is much more nuanced than that. Living with mental illness, my story often gets reduced by the common discourse around mental health that is shaped by the medical model of mental health and disability​. The medical model defines a person by their impairments or differences, and focuses on how to fix or change these differences by medical or other treatments, with the goal of eventually curing a person so they can be normalized and reintegrated into society. Even language around mental health often uses stigmatizing words such as “suffering from” or “struggling with” a certain mental illness, and that the individual must be responsible for fixing what is wrong with them in order to be productive, functioning, and successful. Alternatively, there is the social model of mental health and disability. The social model focuses on the way society is organized and what barriers and opportunities are available for a person. It is not about what is wrong with a person, but rather what can be changed about the system or environment a person is in. Suddenly I realized that my difficult transition into optometry school wasn’t because of my mental illness–it was because accessing resources and support systems for me to thrive with my mental illness were particularly challenging in respect to my unique circumstances and marginalization of my identities. With this understanding of the social model of mental health, I became determined to share my experiences and work with others to shift the mental health discourse within my own community.
Mental Health During 2020
Fast forward two years to today, conversation about the increase in mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic has become widespread. In a September 2020 ​article from Science​,40% of surveyed graduate students in STEM had reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, increasing nearly 20 percentage points from 2019. When considering our optometric student community, I can only imagine how this has been a particularly difficult year,especially for our first year students or any students experiencing a drastic transition. But let’s remember to be specific about what’s causing this current increase in mental illness. This year’s COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice brought us a heightened understanding of inequity and injustice–so when we speak about how COVID-19 has increased mental illness, we must speak specifically about the social and economic conditions that impact mental illness because doing so enables us to find tangible ways to shift our focus from awareness to action.
Student Action
Last year, a small group of us students formed a Wellness Committee to augment the existing mental health resources at our school and highlight events throughout the city that address mental health and well being. But this year, we recognized awareness and self-care
wasn’t enough. As diversity and inclusion efforts at colleges of optometry have been working to address systemic racism and the environments of our schools, we saw that ableism and mental health were often addressed separately or left out of this picture. Shining a light on privilege causes us to no longer assume that everyone can access the same routes of healing or have universally successful experiences with mainstream mental health care. We decided to form the first optometry school chapter of the national organization ​Project LETS​ (Let’s Erase the Stigma); a peer-led grassroots organization that centers the voices of people with lived-experience of trauma, mental illness, chronic illness, disability, and neurodivergence. Our goal became that of building: community care, peer support collectives, inter-sectional education,and our capacity for responding to and transforming harm.
What is community care?
Community care is how we will be able to begin addressing issues of oppression such as racism, xenophobia, Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and soon​. ​It is the ways in which we facilitate community interactions, conversations, and structures of support. It is rooted in how we hold empathy within groups and between groups, such as that of students, faculty, staff, and patients. It is our understanding that there are factors affecting all of us that self-care and individual pursuits of healing alone cannot achieve. When it comes to trauma and oppression of marginalized peoples and identities, we need relational healing.
What are different barriers to mental health support?
We cannot assume everyone has supportive friends and family, are able to talk to someone, has access to therapy or medication, has insurance, is able to advocate for themselves, is able to safely share their story, can access certain mental health language or information, or is empowered by the same resources. For example, not all students can feel safe sharing their experiences to individuals of greater hierarchical power such as faculty or administrators. Not all people find hotlines or textlines helpful during times of crisis, and could potentially be further harmed if police or emergency responders are called while in crisis. Our widespread discourse can also be a barrier to mental health support. As a community, challenging the medical model of mental health and disability, and opening up to other models could be a helpful tool for some to contextualize and navigate healing in a way that won’t further their feelings of being isolated and pathologized due to their experience. In doing so, we also can shift away from thinking happiness means being free or cured of mental illness. We can begin to view healing as a non-linear journey that is about the process more than it is about the end goal. Considering the ​intersections​ of a person’s identities, we must also recognize the barriers that exist due to systemic and societal marginalization and oppression. These are factors we don’t always consider when we are thinking about a student’s academic success.
What can peer support in optometry school look like?
Having structures for peer support is important because it breaks down some of the barriers listed above for accessing mental health resources. Peers can share their similar experiences and help their peers find autonomy and hope. For us, forming a chapter of Project LETS enables students with lived experience to apply to become Peer Mental Health Advocates (PMHAs) and be provided training by the national organization. This is a ​16-hour training that isdeveloped by peers with lived experience, and informed by Intentional Peer Support (IPS) and Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) curricula. PMHAs engage with a variety of topics during training including: principles of Disability Justice, the history of psychiatry,empathetic listening skills, crisis response skills, cultural competency in peer support,building crisis and safety plans, etc. Our hope in the future is to have faculty and staff become PMHAs for each other as well.
Why is community care important for the broader optometric community?
When we talk about community care, we are extending our responsibility of addressing mental health, ableism, marginalization, and harm to the greater community and society rather than the individual. With community care, we are viewing mental health through a disability justice lens. Our goal in optometry is to help people see, but through a disability justice lens, our goal is to prevent or reduce the impacts of visual disability and make environments more accessible. For example, it could even be as simple as ensuring a person with myopia has eyeglasses so they can learn at school–but through the social model of disability we know that accessing eyeglasses isn’t so simple for everyone. It is through these frameworks that a parallel between mental health and optometry exists, and we become better able to address the barriers for people with mental illness, and the barriers for our optometric patient community. Without recognizing this, the ableism that we internalize as students later becomes the ableism we practice with as optometrists.