Like many other students, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after graduating college. I knew I wanted to work with patients. I knew I wanted to further my education, but I didn’t know which direction I wanted to take things. I ended up taking a medical assistant and scribe position at an eye center. Fast forward four years, I ended up falling in love with the field and chose to pursue a degree in optometry. I was ready to jump back into school, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit anxious about returning to school after such a long time away! Now, as I wrap up my third year, I have no regrets about the path I’ve taken. Here are five thoughts that sum up some of my experience as a non-traditional optometry student:
- Your work experience in the real world is invaluable! There’s no substitute for professional experience in the working world. You might not feel it right off the bat, but once you get into the clinic and start working with patients, your previous work experience will definitely come in handy! You will have a better sense of professionalism and problem-solving skills from your previous experience that will help you enter your clinical experience with more confidence.
- There is an age gap between you and your classmates. This one might seem obvious but it can be a tough pill to swallow for some! I’ll admit I was nervous entering a program where some of my classmates were five to six years younger than me, but once things got rolling, I honestly stopped noticing that difference. You and your classmates are all in the same program together working toward the same goal, and that fact alone helps you relate to your classmates unconditionally.
- You know what life is like outside of being a student. You’ve already seen the light at the end of the tunnel! Compared to your classmates, you know what it’s like to have a job, to not necessarily have homework to go home to after work. The decision to return to school may not be an easy one, but the perspective you gained from some time away from school will definitely help you visualize your end goals and give you the drive you need to succeed.
- You have a jump start on a professional network. Having professional contacts is always a good thing. In the time you spent during undergrad and grad school, whether you know it or not, you were building your network. If you spent time working in the eye care industry, even better, but if not, those contacts still matter! Having people available to reach out to for professional recommendations or even advice can be a huge leg up.
- You’re not exempt from impostor syndrome. In grad school, everyone has feelings of inadequacy from time to time. When your classmates have freshly completed their undergrad studies, it’s definitely tempting to compare yourself to them. When I have these feelings, I remind myself that we’re all in the same boat together. The more you talk with your classmates, the more you realize how similar your struggles are. Having confidence in your knowledge and skills will help carry you through difficult times!