Student Experience

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.  
Student Experience

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! 
Student Experience

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Optometry School Networking

Wake up. Make coffee. Watch lectures. Study. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Sound familiar? 

It’s easy to get caught in our daily routine as optometry students, and it’s even easier to forget that there is a world outside of optometry school especially when we get thrown in an online remote learning environment. Moreover, when we fixate so heavily on the goal of doing well in that class or mastering that clinical skill, we often forget one key ingredient in career advancement: networking 

Networking can help you better understand the evolving profession, come up with new ideas and perspectives, and set you up for lifelong success. It can help you evaluate where you are, where you are going, and where you want to be. Furthermore, it can help you realize how much potential you really have under your belt. So why are we afraid to do so?  

Connecting with optometrists and other like-minded individuals early on in your career may seem like a daunting task, especially when you don’t know where to start. Nonetheless, pushing your own boundaries and taking risks allows you to learn more about yourself, gain knowledge and expertise in the field, and acquire skills you would not have had otherwise. Optometrists and other professionals you meet also can play pivotal roles in shaping your future and open doors that you never knew existed. 

If you don’t know where to start, start small. Spark up a conversation. Grab a cup of coffee with that person and connect over passions within or outside the field of optometry. Don’t be afraid to meet people and put yourself out there. Remember, they’re interested in optometry, too! Understand that networking is about creating relationshipsnot just adding names and phone numbers to your contact list. It involves connecting with others on a deeper level and continuing to grow the relationship over time. Know that networking does not come naturally for all people, so it may be a skill that you need to work on throughout your career.  

Still not sure where to start? Here are five ways to get you connected to others in the optometry community:  

  1. Reach out to your professors. Believe it or not, your professors want to see you succeed! Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentoryou may be pleasantly surprised to find that many, if not all of them, are kind people who enjoy getting to know their students. You will, after all, be their colleague one day. 
  1. Get involved in various optometry clubs and organizations. This is an excellent way to start meeting other optometry students with similar interests and work directly with faculty. AOSA, NOSA and CAOS are great places to start. You also can become a student member of professional associations for FREE including the AAO, COVD and NORA among others. 
  1. Attend conferences. Enjoy the benefits of being an optometry student by registering for conferences and annual meetings at student rates! If you are interested in a certain field of optometry, you are guaranteed to be surrounded by experts who would love to share their ideas and expertise. For those who are thinking of practicing in a different state, this also is a chance for you to connect with doctors from that area 
  1. Connect with doctors and future doctors on Instagram. Social media isn’t going anywhere, so why not use it to your advantage? You’ll discover that the Instagram optometry community is a tight-knit community of optometrists helping optometrists and optometry students helping optometry students. Here, you can find study inspiration, experience the day-to-day life of an optometry resident, and even explore unique clinical cases. 
  1. Other avenues. Networking also will happen when you’re simply out and about living your life. Be open to the idea that someone you least expect can change your perspective, introduce you to new opportunities and, ultimately, help you become the optometrist you desire to be. Don’t limit yourself and remember that you are right where you are supposed to be. 
Student Experience

Evolving: Perspectives from a First Year Student

Let me start by telling you that these will be the best and most memorable four years of your life. Your studies will finally be focused on something that you are passionate about as you catch yourself saying, “Wow, that is so cool!” at least once during every lecture (at least, I did). You will be making lifelong friends who help make the journey a little easier. They’re the friends who can relate and understand what you are going through, who will remind you of deadlines, and who will be there when you need to vent, laugh or cry. There will be lots of fun experiences throughout as well as a ton of self-growth.  

As I’m sure you know, not everything is sunshine and rainbows as an optometry student. Halfway through my first year, I developed an anxiety disorder due to the excess pressure I was putting on myself to perform well in school. I kept telling myself that I need to become the best optometrist that I could be but, at the same time, I was questioning and sometimes doubting how I will even become a doctor. These thoughts made it difficult to focus on my schoolwork, and it also became difficult to enjoy time with my friends. Thankfully, my optometry school is very supportive about mental health and has provided us, since the beginning, with the resources we might require. I quickly took advantage of those resources, which have helped me tremendously. By listening to my body and acting quick, I was able to prevent my grades from dropping and enjoy what I was studying again.  

As you start your journey through optometry school, always make time for self-care. This is easier said than done as you will be incredibly busy with schoolwork and might forget from time to time to take care of your body. Set yourself a reminder if necessary or find a spot to fit it into your busy schedule. Whether it is meditating, exercising or a spa night, your body will thank you and you will most likely perform better on your exams and proficiencies. Keep in mind that putting a little pressure on yourself can be helpful, but don’t be too hard on yourself.  

Not only will optometry school teach you everything you need to know about eyeballs, but you will learn so much about yourself during your time as a student. So far, I’ve learned that I am much stronger than I thought I was and I am capable of handling big and unexpected obstacles that come my way. I also have  found ways in which I could keep myself calm during chaotic times.  

Something else I have come to realize is that I am not the only one going through personal struggles. I found that a lot of my classmates were going through the exact same thing, making me feel less alone. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend and let them in on what’s going on. And don’t forget, your professors and faculty members are some of your biggest supporters. They want you to succeed and, though we are listening to them lecturing most of the time, they are great listeners, too.  

I hope I was able to give you insight with my experience during my first year as an optometry student. You are all going to be amazing doctors and help so many people. I am already proud of you all!  

Student Experience

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).

Student Experience

Optometry Externship In Bush, Alaska

After three crazy years of trying to balance classes, clinic, labs, and life, everyone in my class at Southern College of Optometry (SCO) was looking forward to our fourth-year clinical rotations. At SCO, we select two sites one institutional and one private in addition to our in-house rotation. In the summer of my second year, I was introduced to an institutional site in Bethel, Alaska: the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC). This site is an Indian Health Service located in the heart of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the southwest Alaskan tundra. After researching all night when I should have been studying for pathology or pharmacology, I began counting down the days until I could begin my journey in the Last Frontier.  

When SCO closed secondary to the pandemic, my first thought was: Would this carry over into the summer? Fortunately, I was still able to fly north to work at the hospital, and I am extremely thankful both SCO and YKHC Optometry granted me this incredible opportunity.

Helping at-risk populations and those in need of eye care has always been a burning passion of mine, and this past summer in Bush, Alaska, re-fueled that love. 

 So, what is optometry like in an area surrounded by water that is only accessible by plane, boat, or snow machine in the winter? I was wondering the same thing about four months ago. 

The YKHC provides comprehensive care— medical, dental, optometric, auditory, and more—to the village of Bethel as well as the 58 surrounding villages in the Delta. The region is about the size of Oregon and contains over 23,000 people. There are five sub-regional clinics in the area, and each village has its own clinic that houses traveling workers, such as nurses, dentists, and optometrists. The YKHC opened a brand-new hospital last year, including an eye clinic with an in-house optical, a technology room with a fundus camera, OCT, visual field, an anterior segment camera, and over 10 exam lanes for patient care. 

In the summer, optometry does not travel out to villages as frequently because most people are fishing or at fish camp smoking and preparing their fish. Due to this, more patients travel to the YKHC to receive eye care. Usually, there are a plethora of flights bringing people into Bethel, but flights were very limited this summer as a result of the pandemic. Most of our patients took a boat from their villages, some traveling several hours both ways to receive care. To offset this, YKHC Optometry traveled to eleven villages between May and August; I was fortunate enough to partake in two of these village trips. 

For my first trip, we traveled via plane to Akiak, and on my second trip, we took my preceptor’s family’s boat upriver to Kwethluk. The populations of these villages were just under 400 and about 750 people, respectively. Our housing was located at the back of each clinic as there was a room with bunk beds and a kitchen, as well as a private bathroom with a shower. Both trips were similar in that it was me with one other extern and one staff doctor providing care to as many people as we could in one week. Case history, chair skills, and ocular health examination took place in a nurse’s exam room, and we performed refraction in the dental room. Between the two clinics, we saw a total of 136 people. Most of the patients were either young children or elderly people who were either unable or uncomfortable to travel to Bethel due to the circumstances. There were a few patients we had to refer to Bethel for specialty testing or emergency follow up care at the hospital.  

To protect ourselves and our patients, all of us providers had to be tested for COVID-19 before traveling to the villages. In the clinic, masks were required at all times, and if a patient did not have one, face shields were provided. Tonopen was performed to check IOPs, and between patients, we completely sanitized our rooms, including chairs, equipment, and anything the patient had contact with during the exam. Patients were scheduled in 15minute increments to cut down on the number of people in the waiting room at a time. When choosing glasses, there were only a few options, and each frame was disinfected afterward. Additionally, a janitor cleaned the entire facility twice a day, including our housing quarters in the back of the clinics. 

 My experiences this summer in Bethel, Akiak, and Kwethluk were unforgettable, despite the impact from the pandemic. I could not have asked for a better rotation as my preceptors, fellow externs, and patients all greatly contributed to my growth as a fourth-year clinician. Alaska has a special place in my heart that I will cherish as I wrap up my optometric education and begin my dream career. 


Autumn Killop (SCO) with Danielle Dyke AZCOPT(left), and Dr. Krystle Peñaflor (right)

 

 

Student Experience

First Year Experience

There are many words I could use to describe my experience as a first-year optometry student. None of them seem to do my time at Midwestern University justice.

Coming from my undergraduate studies at Northern Arizona University, I felt an immense shift in the atmosphere when I transitioned to optometry school. Instead of the classes I had at Northern Arizona University, which sometimes had upward of 100 students or more, at my optometry school all my classes had the exact same 56 students. My optometry class of 2023 consists of 56 students, whom I spend every school hour with. This amount of interaction allows us to be as close as family. It starts off as vague familiarity and creeps up on you until suddenly you know everything going on in their life and find yourself video calling their family.

The class size and classmates were not the only transition worth noting. There were also the studies that were a sizable difference from undergraduate schooling. Starting off fresh from my undergraduate major in biomedical science, I thought that having a large science background could help me achieve a better foundation for my classes at Midwestern University. During orientation I found out that many of my classmates came from very different backgrounds. Many had kids and some were much older than I am. It was interesting to hear how long some people had been out of schooling and some, like me, who only had a summer off. Talking to my classmates at the very beginning made me feel uneasy about their solid amount of experience and knowledge in the optometry field. Because many of my classmates had been technicians or opticians, I suddenly felt as if I were out of my league coming into optometry school knowing next to nothing. I felt immensely underprepared and was afraid that I wouldn’t be up to par with my classmates. Even listening to our first lecture, I was having trouble trying to puzzle out what the cornea was. Luckily the faculty at Midwestern University is exceptional and can provide an amazing educational atmosphere. Many of the doctors at Midwestern are younger and make their teachings more relatable.

It was so nice to be around people who take this seriously and want to help people.

Immediately after school started, I was finally feeling like I was on the path to becoming an optometrist. The first time I felt like I was going to become a doctor was in my methods class. Practicing on each other and performing eye health tests was the first time I could envision myself doing this in the future. It was so nice to be around people who take this seriously and want to help people. I am so thankful I was able to experience my first year of optometry school, and I can’t wait to see what else will come.