Student Experience

The Fear of Finding Something

It’s spring semester of your second year of optometry school; you’ve finally made it to the most exciting and important step in your optometric journey: clinic. On your first day, you gather all of your things — your lens set, retinoscopy handles, prism set, BIO and your trusty tonometer tip — and head into the University Eye Center. You find your room and clean your machines. Your classmate opens the EHR and, by the luck of the draw, you have a patient.

A 30-year-old, white female walks into your room, sits in your exam chair and is ready for the fun to begin. Upon a gross anterior segment examination, you find a resounding case of corneal neovascularization—and you panic. The fear sets in. You’ve only had two weeks of ant seg classes. Are you supposed to know what’s causing this? Does she abuse her contact lenses? Does she have limbal stem cell deficiency? Or could she have a severe case of Fuchs endothelial cell dystrophy? Your head is filling with possibilities. Your hands are sweaty; you’re visibly shaking— what do you do next?

I’ve found that this is a common fear among second years and newbie student clinicians, but with a little less of the drama. We practice on young, healthy, relatively normal eyes in all of our labs. Except for the few cases of strabismus or corneal scarring, most of my classmates are only battling varying amounts of ametropia and astigmatism. I so desperately want to learn how to be a good clinician, how to identify diseases and oddities on my first day in clinic, but the only way to succeed in achieving this is by seeing abnormalities in person. Pictures can only be so helpful. The eyes in them aren’t blinking or photophobic or constantly moving to find something to fixate on. It’s scary to find something even slightly different than normal on a real, paying patient.

As much as I was hoping to see something cool in clinic my first day, I also found myself hoping that I didn’t see anything at all. What if I misdiagnose them? What if I find something vision-threatening and they need emergency treatment? What if I see something so bizarre that I can’t even begin to explain it to my scribe? The fear can be all-consuming, but it’s comforting to know that everyone has been there, even the most well-renowned doctors saw corneal arcus for the first time and started shaking.

The most important thing to remember is that we’re not alone in the clinic. We have so many resources and minds to help us make the correct diagnosis and treatment plan for our patients. And when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for help — that’s literally what all the precepting doctors are getting paid to do. In the end, the fear will make us all incredibly knowledgeable and competent doctors of optometry someday very, very soon.

Student Experience / Health & Wellness

Why I took a gap year and what I did to remain a competitive applicant for optometry school

Taking a gap year was the best decision I’ve made during my application process. Instead of rushing to fit a certain timeline, I decided to take a mental break from school and spend more time expanding my patient care experience. This extra time before optometry school helped me become a better prepared and more confident applicant when completing my applications.

Before graduating college, I knew I wanted to spend my gap year before optometry school exploring different practice modalities. The idea of working in an OD/MD group practice has always intrigued me and I was lucky enough to find a job opportunity working as a medical scribe for an ophthalmology/optometry practice located in my hometown. I’ve had prior experience working in patient care, but this job expanded my knowledge of the optometry profession completely beyond an annual eye exam. I was exposed to a range of specialties in optometry such as pediatrics, low vision, ocular disease management and myopia control. The doctors of optometry and ophthalmologists worked closely as a team to handle many post- operative appointments for cataract and pterygium surgery follow-ups. This was a side of optometry I didn’t even know existed! As time progressed, I became more comfortable interacting with patients coming from different age groups and cultures. I even got to assist with in-clinic procedures, such as punctal plug insertions, laser peripheral iridotomies and medical Botox® appointments! This would not have been possible for me if I didn’t decide to take a break from academics.

Prior to this year, I was certain optometry was the right profession for me. After taking a gap year to explore my specific interests, I have a clearer vision of what kind of optometrist I strive to be. Completing applications, finishing prerequisites and taking the OAT exam is an understandably stressful timeline to meet. Optometry school will have many challenges, both mentally and physically, so ensuring that you’re in the right mental state to prepare for its challenges is crucial. A gap year can be a wonderful opportunity to further your experience, maturity and character development, and I recommend it for every pre- optometry student!

Student Experience

The Fear of Finding Something

It’s spring semester of your second year of optometry school; you’ve finally made it to the most exciting and important step in your optometric journey: clinic. On your first day, you gather all of your things— your lens set, retinoscopy handles, prism set, BIO and your trusty tonometer tip—and head into the University Eye Center. You find your room and clean your machines. Your classmate opens the EHR and, by the luck of the draw, you have a patient. A 30-year-old, white female walks into your room, sits in your exam chair and is ready for the fun to begin. Upon a gross anterior segment examination, you find a resounding case of corneal neovascularization—and you panic. The fear sets in. You’ve only had two weeks of ant seg classes. Are you supposed to know what’s causing this? Does she abuse her contact lenses? Does she have limbal stem cell deficiency? Or could she have a severe case of Fuchs endothelial cell dystrophy? Your head is filling with possibilities. Your hands are sweaty; you’re visibly shaking— what do you do next?

I’ve found that this is a common fear among second years and newbie student clinicians, but with a little less of the drama. We practice on young, healthy, relatively normal eyes in all of our labs. Except for the few cases of strabismus or corneal scarring, most of my classmates are only battling varying amounts of ametropia and astigmatism. I so desperately want to learn how to be a good clinician, how to identify diseases and oddities on my first day in clinic, but the only way to succeed in achieving this is by seeing abnormalities in person. Pictures can only be so helpful. The eyes in them aren’t blinking or photophobic or constantly moving to find something to fixate on. It’s scary to find something even slightly different than normal on a real, paying patient. As much as I was hoping to see something cool in clinic my first day, I also found myself hoping that I didn’t see anything at all. What if I misdiagnose them? What if I find something vision-threatening and they need emergency treatment? What if I see something so bizarre that I can’t even begin to explain it to my scribe? The fear can be all-consuming, but it’s comforting to know that everyone has been there, even the most well-renowned doctors saw corneal arcus for the first time and started shaking. The most important thing to remember is that we’re not alone in the clinic. We have so many resources and minds to help us make the correct diagnosis and treatment plan for our patients. And when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for help— that’s literally what all the precepting doctors are getting paid to do. In the end, the fear will make us all incredibly knowledgeable and competent doctors of optometry someday very, very soon.

Student Experience

First Year Obstacles 

Your first year of optometry school can be intimidating. New professors, new classes, new classmates from all different backgrounds and living in a new place can easily become overwhelming. Like any other student, I was both excited and anxious about starting my first year of my optometry program. It’s exciting to finally start your professional career as an optometrist but all the steps in between can become demanding. 

In the beginning, I felt that my transition coming right out of my undergraduate studies made it easier to go directly into my graduate years. Despite the smooth transition, the workload and curriculum of optometry school is very different from undergrad. Although I already had adequate study habits throughout undergrad, learning to adopt new study tactics became one of my biggest obstacles during my first semester. Throughout my first few months of school, I realized that studying on my own was the most effective. As much as studying on my own was my go-to method, collaborating with other students and professors is what pushed me toward my full potential of being a successful student. 

On top of starting a new program at a new school, moving to a new state and adjusting to a whole new lifestyle during the peak of COVID made my first year more challenging. One of the biggest difficulties I faced was not being able to be surrounded by my peers. Not being around your classmates makes the experience more individualized instead of collaborative. When you are surrounded by other classmates facing the same difficulties, it makes it feel as if everyone is working together to get through it. This challenge pushed me to reach out to my peers to feel as if my class was more of a community. 

Throughout my second semester, I continued to improve my study methods and started to learn that taking care of my mental and physical health correlated with my success in school. Activities such as working out, hiking, and time with my friends and family gave me the mental breaks I needed throughout my first year. These outlets gave me a way to find a balance between my studies and life outside of school. Taking these mental breaks and knowing I have a support system behind me encourages me to keep going, even when I am faced with substantial challenges throughout school.  

The ups and downs of optometry school is what makes the experience memorable. It is easy to get tied up in the weight of the workload but reminding yourself why you are here and allowing yourself to enjoy the process is key. 

Student Experience

The First Thing You Learn as An Optometry Student 

It seems like yesterday I was accepted to Salus University (PCO). It was the only Optometry school I applied to, and I was so excited to begin. Back then, there was no COVID yet, and we had a week-long in-person orientation. This was where I learned the very first thing about the field; Optometry is a legislative profession. 

But what does this really mean? It means that our entire scope of practice is based on bills that are passed both locally and federally. It means that our entire patient base is dependent on which conditions those bills say we are allowed to treat. It means our entire livelihoods are contingent upon people working around the clock to advocate for Optometry.  

And what does all of that mean? We have a duty to advocate for our profession so that we and those who come after us, are able to practice to the fullest extent of our abilities and knowledge. 

On May 25th, 2021, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the AOA (American Optometric Association) on Capitol Hill. This was my second time attending an advocacy event and I highly recommend attending advocacy efforts like this as an Optometry student, even if you are nervous about it! It has been a wonderful experience each time. These events are the reason that our profession can grow. Since I began Optometry school in August of 2019 many legislative bills have been passed to expand the scope of practice for Optometrists. To name a few:  

  • Prescribe codeine and hydrocodone, administer life-saving epinephrine auto injectors for anaphylaxis, order and interpret noninvasive angiography through the use of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) – Pennsylvania 
  • Prescribe oral steroids, perform injections, excise and remove chalazions, remove growths in and around the eyelid, and perform laser capsulotomies – Mississippi 
  • Prescribe oral and therapeutic agents for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of glaucoma – Massachusetts 
  • Massachusetts was the last state holding out, this is now true for all 50 states! 

These are some amazing big steps that Optometry has taken during the 2 years I have been in Optometry school. The AOA on Capitol Hill event is yearly, and I encourage you all to jump next year when you hear about it. Take a chance and sign up, I know you will not regret it.  

Even though this year’s event has passed there are other ways to get involved! These include attending local optometry society meetings in your area or going to Optometry’s Meeting, which is at the end of June this year in Denver, CO. These will help keep you up to date on current issues and legislation. Additionally, read your emails from your schools AOSA (American Optometric Student Association) and State Association Student Club (for example, the POSA – Pennsylvania Optometric Student Association). They are a wealth of information and being involved in school activities is important for a well-rounded education! 

I want to leave you with this… We are so blessed to have had OD’s before us forge a path. We are lightyears ahead of where this profession was even just a decade ago. We are in school learning and working hard for a long time. We have earned the right to practice at our full potential. We have earned the right to have a seat at the table and make decisions for our future. We have earned the right to move our profession in the direction that will benefit us and our patients. So, let’s advocate for our patients, let’s advocate for ourselves, and let’s advocate for optometry! 

Student Experience

#PandemicDoctors  

The past year has been filled with numerous “unprecedented” events, and we had no choice but to go with the flow to navigate the infected waters, so to speak. From having NBEO part 1 cancelled 10 hours before the exam, to finishing up clinic with online cases, our experience is unique. However, we will be stronger doctors for it as we persevered through the layers of PPE and countless 90 D lenses fogging up.  

As we prepare for graduation, take a moment to reflect on our time in optometry school. The failures and successes. The favorite classes that brought you joy and, inevitably, the dreaded courses that brought stress and anxiety. For me, I enjoyed Ocular Disease 2, learning about the pathologies that affect the eye and how to treat or manage the patient. I dreaded Ocular Motility the most, because it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the concepts. Regardless of what our difficulties were, we have all succeeded to get to this point. So now what?  

Some will be moving on to residency programs where they will build upon the foundation of knowledge built in school. Others, like myself, are ready to enter the work force. For those going into the work force immediately, know your worth. Advocate your strengths and why you are an asset. Negotiate salary and benefits wisely. And try and find a setting that will make you happy.  

Most of us having been living near our schools and at our rotation sites for the past four years. This is the first time for many of us that we get to decide where we want to live and practice. So choose wisely; consider location, salary and, of course, scope of practice. Check out the AOA’s helpful guide for determining the scope of practice in each state! 

Remember to always keep learning. Let’s move the profession of optometry forward and practice our full scope of knowledge and training. 

Congratulations, Class of 2021. We did it!