Advice for Those Flying Under the Radar of Success to Become A Bright(er) Signal: My Interpretation on How to Be Successful in Optometry School

Success is different depending on your goals, and it can be achieved in a variety of ways. The key is to set your goal, define success then take the path that works best for you. What is your definition of success in school going to be? There’s no wrong answer! The definition I use (and love) is, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. Maya Angelou.  

This article will share a little about how I learned to live the definition of success and some tips that may help you live yours 

Let’s start from the ground up. To get through this thing, you need to like and care for yourself before you can show up for others (family, friends, classmates, PATIENTS). 

  1. Keep yourself healthy. Mind, body, soul. This is a non-negotiable! What grounds you in the middle of chaos? What types of self-care help you look and feel your best? Personally, I rely on a routine as a template for my day. It helps me use less brain power on setting up my day and more on learning as much as I can during it (efficiency hack!). I work out every day before class/lab/clinic. Call me crazy, but exercise keeps mawake and ready to learn. It also has improved my confidence, motivation, and overall health. While it isn’t easy, it is possible and worth every ounce of dedication (even if it is only 15-20 min). 
  1. Find amazing friends who match your personality. These are the people who will get you through the next four years (shout out to my person, Shelby Tomek). They are your optometry school ‘Google’ when you have absurd or picky questionsjust in case it’s on the exam! Make a study schedule with them and decide when to work on homework assignments, study for exams, and go to open lab hours to practice skills. They will be your accountability partners and make you not feel alone through your journey 
  1.  Have self-discipline. Avoid self-sabotage.  If you aren’t on your own team, who will be? I’m not saying don’t have fun, just plan for it. Your schedule doesn’t allow for an excess amount of freedom, so be intentional with your time. Self-discipline will put you on the fast track to success. An episode or two of your favorite show is fine. An entire series binge on a weeknight: not okay! Moderation is the best of both worlds. Enjoy and relax, but don’t let a lack of discipline set you back. 

 

Now, how are you going to like what you are doing? Spoiler alert: Optometry school is not a walk in the park, so you’ll need to find the aspects you love to keep you going. 

  1. Get to know your faculty. Believe it or not, they are not all that scary! They are people just like you, not just tough [insert subject here] professor.” They want you to be great and are there for you. Its their job to get you to where you need to be, and they are a resource for your success as a future doctorTrust me, class will be more enjoyable (and dare I say fun?) when you are comfortable enough to participate and ask questions. 
  1. Pursue your interestjust not every club on the list. Don’t spread your time and energy thin on things to ‘add it to the resume.’ Spend your time on what gets you excited. This will create a positive feedback loop. That taste of excitement will be in the back of your mind when all you want to do is complain about a subject you don’t care for. This is a fantastic way to bring light to your end goal and remind yourself you are ready for whatever it takes to get there.  
  1. Don’t turn down opportunities that will help you grow, even if it seems like a lot of extra work. Growth is about stepping outside your comfort zoneAt the beginning of my first year, I applied for the U.S. Navy health professions scholarship program knowing my chance of acceptance was slim, and toward the end of my first year, I applied for the T35 summer research program out of curiosity and never thought it would lead to me entering the OD/MS program. Here I am, only a few semesters away from my masters thesis defense and currently, an ensign (0-1) in the U.S. Navy awaiting my base assignment as a lieutenant (0-3) once I graduateTake chances on potential opportunities; it may change your career path and potentially your life!  

 

Finally, there are specific actions that can launch you into success throughout your career as a student.  

  1. Learn and study with efficiency and purpose.In class, relate topics to your future patients. Don’t think “when am I possibly going to need to know this stuff?” The truth is, the more you know about how the body works and how diseases can affect the entire body, the better doctor you will be. Don’t be average, strive to stand out and solve problems! Study for understanding not memorizationMake connections between courses and different aspects of optometry. This is not the time to cram because the rest of your life will be cumulative.  
  1. Learn to think for yourself. Do your own research, piece teachings together, and craft what works for you. You know yourself better than anyone, so craft how you want to practice someday. Feel confident in the clinic by using methods that work best for you. You don’t have to be a robot and just do as you are told. Just be able to explain to your attending why you performed certain tests/procedures. They will appreciate this and think highly of you for being able to do so!  
  1. Keep the faith through it all. Find positivity in everything you do. Believe in yourself. This is your time to ask questions, accept that you are here to learn and that sometimes can mean setbacks. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you fall short of your expectations, figure out a plan on how to do betterPray, meditate, vent, go to office hours, get lost in the music, dance it out, whatever you need to do, do it! Be kind to yourself and have a positive mindsetStudy hard, capitalize on what you enjoy, bring light to your strengths, and groom your weaknesses. You’ve got this!  

 

5 Things I learned as a Non-Traditional Optometry Student

Like many other students, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after graduating college. I knew I wanted to work with patientsI 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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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! 

NBEO Part I is Over – Now What?

Thirdyear optometry students across the country have been spending much of their time over the past few months preparing for Part I of NBEO.

Now that the exam is finished, how should you spend all of this newly discovered free time? 

  1. Talk to your attendings about your strengths and weaknesses in the clinic. Focus on the areas that need improvement for the rest of the semester to better prepare yourself for fourthyear rotations. 
  2. Secure your housing and other miscellaneous tasks associated with fourthyear rotations that may require relocation. Reach out to older students who have been to the location to help you better prepare for the experience. 
  3. Make sure you are up-to-date with your doctor’s appointments, especially if you will be relocating this summer or may have forgotten about one of them while studying 
  4. Explore residencies that you may be interested in using the ASCO Residency Program DirectoryIf a residency is not on your radar, consider reaching out to practices with specialties in your areas of interest and set up a time to shadow.  
  5. Keep advocacy at the front of your mind by signing up for Optometry’s Meeting®, which has been relocated to Denver, Colorado, June 24-26, 2021!  
  6. Pick up a new hobby or get back to something you put on hold before the big exam. Need some ideas? Try painting, playing an instrument, needlework, photography, reading or becoming a plant parent.  
  7. Take care of both your physical and mental health. Get back into the gym or enjoy the beautiful weather outside by incorporating a daily walk into your schedule. Stock your fridge with fruits and veggies and try a new recipe. Practice yoga or meditation to slow down your mind. Make sure to get eight hours of sleep each night.  
  8. Set aside quality time to spend with your friends or family. Explore metro or state parks in your area. Try a new coffee shop or restaurant. Or simply have a movie night with your favorite snacks. 

 

Most importantly, choose something that will make you happy. You have just completed one of the largest exams of your life–you deserve a break!