The Tale of Two Clerkships: Urban Vs. Rural

Even before entering optometry school, students wonder about their options for clerkship or externship sites. It is brought up during the frequently asked questions portion of the interview process or even highlighted in a school’s presentation to promote their program. It can even be the basis on which some students decide to finalize their offer from a school. It is an exciting decision, requiring carefully narrowing down the various options and weighing the pros and cons of the sites on the list. Of course, having the freedom to select where one can practice for a few months is a blessing and a curse. When the time for making these selections finally comes, many questions arise, including the important decision of whether to select a site located in a major city or in a rural town. During my selection process, I opted for a mix: one site in each of the two settings. Here are the highlights of my experiences.


Rural site: Grande Prairie, Alberta

This was my very first clerkship site, and I chose a great multi-doctor clinic in “northern” Alberta. In my mental map of Alberta, Grande Prairie was as north as you could go, hence the quotations. Having grown up in Vancouver, I was shocked to find out later that you could travel even more north, to what I can only assume is polar bear territory. It was interesting driving four and a half hours out of Edmonton, the closest major city, surrounded by the unfamiliar sight of expansive crops.


One of the most interesting aspects of this site was the lack of ophthalmologists in the area. There was only one surgical OMD in the area who was no longer accepting new patients due to being far too busy. It was strange to be in a situation where we needed to educate the patient that they must drive all the way to Edmonton for a simple procedure. It was always a big decision to send a patient into the city to see an ophthalmologist, so making sure to educate the patient well on the importance and time-sensitivity of the situation was key. In the city, it can become a habit to refer as it is easy to do and not too much of a hassle for the patient, but at a rural site, you are challenged to debate if a referral is truly needed.


As one of the only eye care providers in the surrounding area, most of the ocular disease cases will come to you. I often got the feeling that we were the emergency room for eyes and it was exciting going to work every day. For example, I would practice my fine motor skills by removing metal foreign bodies at least once a week. It also was educational to follow more advanced glaucoma patients who would normally be followed through an ophthalmologist in the city. Severe cases would need a referral, but moderate cases would be monitored via our office as it was easier to maintain compliance for follow-up appointments.


In addition, the patient may have traveled far to get to our office. We were sought out by concerned patients, elevating our importance in their health care that much more. Valuing the patient’s time and factoring in their convenience was important as it was tough for them to return multiple times for different scans and follow-ups.


Urban site: Calgary, Alberta

My second clerkship site was a single-doctor, private practice in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, my business-savvy supervisor owned three different clinics across town, and we would travel to each clinic multiple times a week. This was a great learning experience for a variety of other reasons and provided a whole new set of skills to learn.


Some of the most important lessons to be learned in the city are how to run a successful business and handle the competitive nature of working in an urban and well-populated area. Although this is not what many students search for in a clerkship site, it is a very important aspect of optometry. Most optometry programs only offer one or two business courses. For this reason, a good hands-on experience is priceless. You will get the opportunity to see your supervising doctor manage staff and sales as well as interact with sales representatives. This is incredibly beneficial if you are hoping to own a business of your own, especially in a busy city.


In contrast with the rural sites, there are a variety of specialists to whom you can refer. This makes working in the city a great opportunity to practice interprofessional care and each office has its own areas of focus and wait times. In addition, there also are many other referrals that can be made in the city to providers such as social workers, physiotherapists, and psychologists. Of course, we can refer to specialty optometrists, too! Whether it is for the purpose of vision therapy or specialty contact lenses, there are often more options for specialized care.


Along those lines, if you would like to learn beyond the limits of the clinic you have selected, there also are opportunities to shadow ophthalmologists and other optometrists in the area. Of course, this may be during your off-days or after hours but if you are keen and want to observe what it is like in an OMD’s office, this is an option for you. For example, I have an interest in specialty contact lenses, so I reached out to a local office that services many difficult-to-fit patients and shadowed one of their fitting days.


Of course, we cannot forget the exciting activities that are offered in the city. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, there were limited activities available, but the food and entertainment scenes were still more diverse. Even takeout is more interesting than just the chain restaurants. On your days off, you have the chance to explore and enjoy the city. Unfortunately, the cost of living is higher in the city so that must be factored in as well.



Author Bio: Cindy Shan is a student at the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science. She is the class president for the Class of 2021 and was the director of internal affairs for the UW chapter of the AOSA. She has a special interest in practice management, specialty contact lens and myopia control. Cindy also loves to travel and explore other parts of the world, test her skills at DIY projects and hike the beautiful mountains in British Columbia.

The Most Valuable Non-Optometric Lesson I Learned in Optometry School

Representatives in every organization exist for the purpose of solving both everyday and major issues that interfere with everyone’s workday and to brainstorm ideas to make our workplace better. Our main workplace during these past four years has been optometry school. Student representatives are an essential component of the school’s ecosystem to ensure our student experience, both in learning and having fun, is fulfilling. There is a role for every personality whether it is social media, event planning, accounting, student representation and more.  

Advocating to make your learning environment better is one of the most satisfying experiences you can go through as a student because you can see the direct results of your hard work in the lives of your fellow students and future generations. As both theory and practice learning are evolving at a swift pace, even more so during the past year with online learning, it becomes even more important to bring our ideas to the faculty’s attention and advocate for student rights. It might not always be a clear-cut path, and it is not always the perfect result we were expecting, but doing something is always rewarding. All those small victories are worth it and make our lives better. Not everyone is comfortable with public speaking or dealing with authority figures, and that’s OK. However, the more you try, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes. Being involved in the team that works to make your school better, often the student association, means you are not alone in this.  

Through talking with fellow students, I have realized that many people don’t get involved by fear of being late in their schoolwork or not having time for themselves and their family and friends outside of school. In my experience, it’s all about how you go about it. The teams you work with, the people you meet, the fun you have being involved make the school experience so much more enjoyable. By not studying 24/7, when you sit down to do your schoolwork, you are more rested, and your mind can focus on it 100%. However, this is true for any activity you do outside of school! Volunteering in your local organization for the cause that you hold dear can only make you more productive when you get back to your schoolbooks.  

Another way to make sure you do everything on time and not burn yourself out is to embrace having an agenda and keeping it near and updated. This is true for both schoolwork and leisure activities.  

Finally, an important part of being an active part of your student community is knowing your boundaries regarding workload and advocating for yourself. When you need some rest, say so, and the other members of your association will be able to help you out.  

Advocacy at the school level can give you good insight on how to go about advocating for optometry after you graduate. Moreover, advocating for our profession can start right during school with organizations like AOSA and events such as AOA on Capitol Hill. Amazing blog posts on Foresite can give you very good idea if you’re curious about it!   

As much as I am excited to finish optometry school, leaving the student association after all these years is going to create a voidI hope some elements find you and give you a new perspective into school advocacy and self-care, two concepts that sound so opposite but must coexist. We will remember far more the experiences we have, the friends we meet and the goals we accomplish rather than our grades. wholeheartedly encourage you to get involved and make the most of your four years in optometry school.  

Wishing you all an awesome student experience,  


Student Involvement: Just Do It!

Optometry school is a new experience for all of us. I remember when I started, we were encouraged by upper-classmen to get involved. I didn’t listen I thought I wouldn’t have time. I was married and had a one-yearold daughter at home. I just wanted to get home as fast as I could so I could spend time with my family. I also was worried about my ability to balance family and school would I be able to handle the course load while getting involved in extracurriculars? At our club day, I was disappointed to find that none of the clubs spoke to me. I had been hoping to join the ocular disease club, but it turned out we didn’t have one. Because they didn’t have the club I most wanted to join and I still wanted most of my time to be with my family, I ended up going through my first year of school without any real involvement. However, that all changed my second year, and it has changed more as time has gone on.  

It started when I decided to do a summer research internship through my school. As I was talking to one of the professors I could work with, I mentioned I was interested in ocular disease, and that I was disappointed to know that our school didn’t have a club. I mentioned that I wished someone would start one, and the professor I was talking to said she would be interested in supporting it as a faculty advisor. From there, the whole thing snowballed I found myself asking administration about the process of starting a club, then actually going through the process. By the time the next year started, we had a club put together. It wasn’t something I ever planned, I just stumbled into it.

When I started the process, I was somewhat worried that it would take me away from my family too much or impact my grades, but as I went through the process I discovered something amazing: getting involved doesn’t mean selling your soul.wasn’t spending massive amounts of time on it. Yes, it took some leg work, but most of it was just sending emails. It only took a couple of minutes a day, and it ended up being a little bit less time wasted online. I learned a lot about leadership and volunteering, as well as had a club that I actually wanted to attend. I was away from home for an evening once a month, which was a sacrifice I felt willing to make for such great benefits, and it didn’t impact my schoolwork at all. 

The fact is, getting involved didn’t mean attending club meetings three nights a week or missing my daughter growing up. Getting involved doesn’t need to take all your life and time. If you are on the fence, just dip your toe in. You would be shocked to find how much you can contribute while not giving up your lifestyle. The difference you make for those around will be great, but the best thing is it will prepare you for your future in our legislated profession. It’s a fact of optometry that if we want to practice to the full extent of our training, we need to continue working with legislators to make changes. That doesn’t happen unless everyday optometrists you and me get out there and work to make a difference.

Changes aren’t accomplished by one super-optometrist who does everything.

If you start getting involved now, it will make involvement in your future career easier, will build your resume, and help you improve the quality of life of the students around you.  

To sum up, Nike got it right. If you aren’t sure about getting involved, just do it. The results will be more beneficial than you realize—I guarantee it! 

How Physical Activity Makes Us Stronger Students

Optometrists are leaders in eye care. When we become doctors, patients will rely on us for information and guidance so their vision is the best it can be. This starts with us working as the best students we can be. We know there are plenty of lectures and studying involved in optometry school and taking care of ourselves will ensure that we are prepared and focused for the work to come. One of the most meaningful ways we can do this is through physical activity and regular exerciseEven if only a couple of times a week, we can still get many benefits from exercise.  

Mental health 

Grad school can be a stressful time for anyone, and going through school during a pandemic brings its own extra stressors into our lives. It is crucial to seek counseling or help for mental health issues if necessary. Additionally, physical activity brings immediate benefits such as rejuvenated energy, mood boosts, and decreased stress. These short-term benefits also offer the most motivation for sticking to an exercise routine, (1) and we could all use a little less stress in our lives.  

Physical health 

Some of the commonly discussed health benefits of physical activity are improved cardiovascular health, increased bone density, a decrease of systemic diseases such as diabetes, and improved sleepBesides this, we know that overall health is connected to eye health. Just one example of how exercise can help our eyes is its connection to alleviating oxidative stress. As future optometrists, understanding the importance of physical activity will allow us to better treat our patients holistically, and not just as the eyes. 


Physical activity helps us focus more efficiently on our schoolwork and improves study habitsResearch has repeatedly demonstrated that regular aerobic exercise improves cognitive function. (2) Incorporating exercise regularly into our schedule gives us an extra opportunity to practice self-discipline, and this makes it easier for us to adhere to a study routine.  

One of the best things about physical activity is that there are endless ways to do it. I like to go for walks and follow along with exercise videos on YouTube, but cycling, hiking, running, yoga, weightlifting, and many more give us the opportunity to improve our health as well, allowing us to be better students, and eventually  


  1. Gellert P,ZiegelmannJP, Schwarzer R. Affective and health-related outcome expectancies for physical activity in older adults. Psychol Health. 2012;27(7):816-28. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2011.607236. Epub 2011 Aug 25. PMID: 21867397. 
  2. Voss MW,Nagamatsu LS, Liu-Ambrose T, Kramer AF. Exercise, brain, and cognition across the life span. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Nov;111(5):1505-13. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00210.2011. Epub 2011 Apr 28. PMID: 21527670; PMCID: PMC3220305 

What I Wish I Knew: 1st Year

Optometry school is the next exciting part of your life. You are one step closer to reaching your goals. Here are some things I wish I would have known my first year of optometry school.  


  1. Patience is essential. It is incredibly important to be patient with yourself. Optometry school is not only a major change in the level of academics but also a major transition in life as well. Don’t get down on yourself if things aren’t going perfectly right away. It takes time to adjust and balance to all of the new challenges you will be facing, in school and out of school.
  2. Comparison hurts more than it helps You are in optometry school! That in itself is amazing! You are surrounded by likeminded people who are all very smart and have the drive to be successful. It is okay to not get an A in every class or the highest grades in your friend/social groups. You are learning and will be utilizing the same information that they are and you are earning the same degree. Be the person who lifts others up, and don’t let others bring you down. 
  3. Find balance Optometry school keeps you busy. You must find a balance between school and life. Restarting hobbies you may have had when you were younger is one example; making time for yourself to relax needs to be a priority. Take the time to go for a walk, hike or to watch that Netflix series you’ve been dying to start. Spending even an hour or two away from classwork can totally rejuvenate your mindset and will make your experience in optometry school much more enjoyable. 
  4. Be open to new study tactics. In undergrad, I studied by myself. Study groups have been a miracle worker for me since starting optometry school. The volume and difficulty level of this material compared to your undergraduate studies can be overwhelming. Many times, the methods that worked for you before simply don’t work now, and that’s okay! Studying with classmates and categorizing material have been two of the key changes I have had to make. There is no shame in admitting you might need to switch up your tactics. 
  5. Use your resources. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Utilize information from upperclassmen, professors and mentors. These people were in your shoes not too long ago, and they understand what you’re going through. They will have so many helpful tips and things to tell you. Also, take advantage of any tutoring and counseling opportunities that your school may offer. Reaching out for help, whether it be for school or your mental health, is always an honorable thing to do.
  6. Find a support system. Having somebody to vent and talk to, whether it is a best friend, roommate, family member, mentor or even a pet, is essential. There are bound to be moments that you feel totally overwhelmed or just need to rant and get something off  your chest. Find the people in your life who can be there in those moments and remember that they are rooting for you!
  7. Be involved. You will have so many different opportunities to get involved in your school from clubs to research to social events. Finding a group and purpose through school will make your experience even more enjoyable. Now is the time to find out what you are interested in, so do it!
  8. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Now is the time to make mistakes. You are in an amazing learning environment, and one of the best ways to learn is through the mistakes you make. Take those failures and allow yourself to grow from them, that’s how you will find the most success.  
  9. Keep up with your lectures. Cramming the couple days before an exam may have worked for you in the past, but that strategy is nearly impossible in optometry school. One of the best ways to not let yourself fall behind is to review your lectures daily and try to learn the information as you go, instead of the day before the exam.
  10. Be adventurous and open to change. Some people may start optometry school with a direct goal in mind while others have no direct path in mind. Either is completely okay. Take advantage of the amazing academic opportunities available to you and try different things; volunteer for research opportunities or local eye care clinics. One of these opportunities may offer you a new perspective of optometry.  

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!