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.  

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! 

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. 

Snapshot of AOA and AOSA’s Plan to Increase Cultural Competency

During 2020, the murder of George Floyd catalyzed nationwide outrage and frustration around systemic racism and racial injustices. In response to these events, the American Optometric Association (AOA) released a statement condemning racism, intolerance and hate. Moreover, the AOA has reviewed how its structure, policies and culture around race has impacted the optometric profession. Minority members make up 38.8% of the AOA and 48.6% of the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) membership, according to the 2020 membership report. Although student membership of other minority groups, such as Asian members, has increased in the past years, the proportion of specifically Black and Brown have remained stagnant. 

In an effort to combat this trend and work toward a membership that better reflects the American population, the AOA formed the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in June of 2020. Current actionsinclude increasing the representation of all races and ethnicities in the optometric profession and working to emphasize and support cultural competency amongst its members. Cultural competency and racial representation are crucial in providing better patient care. Research has shown that diversification of health care providers results in more inclusive decision-making, increased efficiency and improved health outcomes. Similarly, the AOSA Board of Trustees formed the Diversity and Inclusion Project Team with the same actions in mind.

To increase diversity amongst members, the AOA is further promoting Black EyeCare Perspective events such as “Impact HBCU” and “Pre-Optometry Club”. Furthermore, the AOA has renewed its commitment to cultivate and expand long-term relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Specifically, the AOA, with the help of the AOSA, is working to increase awareness, interests and opportunities to students interested in pursuing a career within optometry, especially to Black and Brown students.

Ongoing efforts include joint AOA/AOSA meetings, diversifying AOSA’s social media content and addressing barriers to the application cycle. In January 2021, the AOA and AOSA announced a long-term financial commitment to support the newly created Opportunities in Optometry Grant program to assist in alleviating costs associated with the application cycle. Up to 30 students will receive grants in 2021. Additionally, the AOA/AOSA are working to set up a mentorship program with practicing doctors for grant recipients. For more information or to partner with the AOA/AOSA to ensure the success of this grant in future years, visit the official grant page here.

The AOA also is encouraging ASCO to expand its “Optometry Gives Me Life” campaign to include more targeted messaging to members of the Black and Brown community. To promote diversity among AOA leadership, the AOA has developed the AOA Leadership Institute, chaired by Andrea Thau, O.D. The program is targeted toward newly graduated doctors 5-10 years out of school, empowering them to become leaders on the state and national level. This year’s Leadership Institute consists of 125 doctors who were nominated by affiliates, schools and colleges.

To further encourage cultural competency, both organizations have engaged in conversations with doctors of color to gain the perspective and knowledge to influence the most effective change. AOA and AOSA leadership have undergone training on diversity and cultural competency. Furthermore, the AOA and AOSA are committed to evaluating policies and resolutions to reshape organizational culture. For the past three years, the selection process for authors and speakers for Optometry’s Meeting® has been based on content rather than demographics, resulting in an increase of young, female speakers. The AOA will continue removing demographic information during this process in efforts to minimize implicit bias.

In conjunction with AOA’s efforts to facilitate diversity, equity and cultural competency, this year’s Optometry’s Meeting will have several continuing education courses centered on diversity, including “Understanding Diversity & Inclusion in Eye Health & Vision Care for Enhanced Compliance, Continuity of Care and Practice Growth” and Improving Patient Communication: What Does Culture Have to Do with It?” Finally, the AOA intends to increase optometry’s exposure and accessibility to the topics covered in these courses by offering them virtually on EyeLearn Professional Development Hub, an AOA member-exclusive education portal.

The AOA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force consists of AOA Board of Trustees members Jacqueline Bowen, O.D., James P. DeVleming, O.D., Steven T. Reed, O.D., and Lori L. Grover, O.D., Ph.D. The AOSA Diversity and Inclusion Project Team consists of Jaime Antonio (OSU), Devyn Hayes (IUSO), Mikala Herr (WUCO), Kimber Mapili (ICO), Anjali Paramanandam (UCB), Helene Pippin (PUCO), Madi Sachs (UCB), Lotus Schifsky (IUSO), Veronica Schuver (OSU), Shaily Sheth (NECO) and Anna Venizelos (NSUOCO).