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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!  

 

Student Success & Residency

Advice to a First Year

Student success can be defined differently by every student, but it is important to find a way that brings us fulfillment on this journey to becoming a doctor. For some students, it might mean making straight A’s, being able to go on mission trips and making a difference in underprivileged communities, making it through exam week, forming lifelong friendships, or just staying awake during an entire zoom lecture! Whatever your goal is, it is important to find happiness in the midst of all that optometry school entails. For the first years, you are having a very unique start to your optometry career, but I hope I can offer some guidance to ease the transition to studying in a professional program.  

For those wanting to be successful in the academic department, I would recommend making your own notes, working with other students when possible, talking to professors to see what areas you can improve on, and be flexible with your style of learning. I have had friends in first year who did not know what style of learning worked for them; they took everyone’s input and kept changing up their learning style, which only made them more confused. Your learning style may have changed after the first round of exams because you are not used to a certain professor’s style of teaching or the pace of the curriculum, and that is okay! I would just recommend trying to develop your own way and sticking to it. Even when I try to read someone else’s notes, I find it harder for me to understand because they are not my own. Talking to professors can also help you understand what areas to focus on. That way, you can utilize your time better when studying. They might seem intimidating at first, but they really are there to help you. My friends and I also like to quiz each other before exams, which is super helpful! My friends ask me questions I would have never thought of, and then we explain the answer when someone gets confused. You would be surprised at how talking it out helps you recall information better. Most importantly, it is okay to ask for a tutor. There is no shame in needing extra help. It is YOUR academic career, so do what you need to keep you on the road to getting that degree! 

With the pandemic going on, it is difficult for clubs to meet during a time where we need to be separated, but I would still recommend joining clubs and getting involved! It is a great segue into everything the optometry field has to offer and helps you find other students who are interested in the same specialty areas as you. Whether you want to go on mission trips, network, do sports vision, do low vision, or ANYTHING your heart desires…clubs are a great way to get you where you want to be when you reach the end of your academic career. You might not know what you want to specialize in or if you even want to specialize in anything, but clubs are a great way to help you figure that out and to also just have some fun doing optometry related things! 

Most importantly, try to not just focus on school work. I know school is very demanding of your time, but you still need a break. Find at least one friend to help you get through the day, especially since most of you go to school outside of your hometown and away from your family. I found that most people tend to be friends with the people in their labs because they have the same exact schedules, so if you are having trouble finding at least one person because you are shy like me, then I would start there! Your classmates are the only ones who will truly understand what you are going through. It is a comforting feeling knowing you are not the only one on the struggle bus sometimes. If you are shy like me, just think about all the new patients you will have to talk to on a daily basis. Talking to one person in your school is not as scary as talking to a bunch of strangers everyday, so believe in yourself and be the one to start the conversation. 

Good luck to everyone on the rest of the semester. You can do it! You are not alone in this. There are so many people in your class and in the school available to help you. As Michael Scott said, “I knew exactly what to do, but in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.” You know what it takes to get that degree, but sometimes you might feel lost and wonder if you made the right choice. Just take it one day at a time, and know you do not have to do it alone. Remember why you fell in love with optometry, and know your hard work will pay off one day. Enjoy the small moments and learn as much as you can because these are the days that will shape what kind of doctor you will become. I hope you stay safe and find success and happiness on your journey. 

Photo (Left to Right): Estefany Mendez, Alexandria Van Ells, Caroline Obermeier, Monica Carrizal (Me), Dr. Srihari Narayanan, Nicole Klesner, Breeanna Kelly, Sarah Duong 

Student Success & Residency

A Survey Of Study Methods: What Works?

Tis the season for studying here at the University of Houston College of Optometry. The third years are busy with boards, the second years are tackling pharm, and the first years are just now realizing what they have gotten themselves into.  

 As a third year myself, it has been a time of reflection; as I began studying for boards, I realized that there was a lot of information that I had “learned” in my classes, but never retained. Then the big realization hit: I had been cramming for tests my entire academic career. 

 So, as a reasonable person in a state of reflection, I mass-emailed the entire student body of first, second, and third years asking for some advice on studying. It was disguised as a survey of study methods, saying it was for an article I was writing, but the real reason for sending out the survey may have been two-fold.  

Everyone, of course, is different when it comes to learning styles. It’s best to know yourself and your own preferences. Unfortunately, I had no time for that. What I needed was DATA and I needed it quickly.  

Here are the findings (n=151 unless otherwise stated): First, I should say that the classes were almost equally represented. If you really want to extrapolate, it means that I have only a slight skepticism for the current first years.  

People overwhelmingly thought that the best study method was writing and re-reading notes.

 

Many people are happy with their methods for studying, but a good amount are not. Interestingly, the OPT IIIs were proportionally the least likely to be happy with how they study. 

Most people had to change their style of studying for optometry school. 

Finally, I asked for some thoughts if anyone was willing to share. Zebin Dholasaniya, a second year, gave some practical advice by saying that tables allow him to visualize relationships between related or opposing concepts and that color-coding material surprisingly makes recollection of material easier. Some other interesting study methods people reported included teaching others the material, walking around while talking through the material, and spaced recall. 

Brandon Le, another second year said that “[everyone] has different methods. Not one thing works for everyone. It’s important to realize that especially when giving advice; you don’t want to project your own experience onto someone else as gospel. What works for me might not work for others; everyone learns differently and it’s ultimately up to that individual to figure out what works best for her or him.  

 As much as I hate to take someone’s advice about giving advice, I had to agree with him. There’s only so much that data can do, but if anything, it’s a place to start. From this I have started to incorporate more study methods to see what works for me. This was also a good reminder that as challenging as school can be, reaching out to classmates who are going through the same struggles can help.  

 

 

Student Success & Residency

A Timeline To Boards

“This is the most important test you’ll take in your career.” These words that have been spoken to me time and again always bring a sense of anxiety and stress. However, it’s always been a “future Meredith” problem to address, and I was fine letting her deal with that burden. The semesters have quickly sped by and now as a freshly minted third-year optometry student, I’m tasked with boards Part I, II, and III preparation. I initially had no idea where to begin, and since I have not taken or prepared for boards yet, I have sought the guidance of many current 4th fourth-years and recent graduates to summarize a timeline approach for boards preparation. Students should initially visit the NBEO website to learn what is expected on Part I, II, and III of boards. Specific registration dates will also be provided via the NBEO website.  

 

 

Student Success & Residency

Was My Residency Really Worth It?

Deciding whether to do a residency came down to one burning question: Would I regret not doing one? I exhausted every resource, talked to every person I could and even asked my mom what I should do. At the end of the day, I knew that I would regret a decision not to pursue a residency … so I finalized my rankings and hit submit. I have not regretted that decision for one second. My residency has given me my current job in a practice setting in which I love; and I’m indebted to my residency experience for that. 

For whatever reason, the applicant pool of potential residents has decreased year after year, and I don’t understand why. Optometry is becoming a more medical profession and the residency experience puts you in the throes of said contemporary model. We as doctors of optometry are not simply refractionists, we are medical providers and I wanted to be the most prepared medical provider I could be. What I learned over the course of one year is leaps and bounds more than I would have learned over the course of my first few years in practice straight from optometry school. As they say, “residency is five years of experience in one.” I believe that. Without my experience as a resident, I don’t think I would be nearly as prepared as I am to see patients on a day to day basis. 

Yes, you can certainly graduate optometry school and go directly into practice. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I was told during one of my residency interviews that doing a residency can only open more doors for you. Certain jobs you seek after graduation (i.e., some optometry schools, VAs, or even OD/MD practices) place a preference on residency trained doctors. When the time came, I didn’t want me not doing a residency to determine whether I got the job I wanted. I wanted to leave no stone unturned and pursuing the extra year of training has allowed me to be where I am today. I am confident that my decision to pursue a residency has made me a better doctor, and that’s all I can be grateful for. 

If you’re interested, I can give you some quick guidelines and important dates. First, start asking for letters of recommendation now from your professors and your attendings. If you’re on rotations or even if you haven’t started yet, think of who would be an asset in writing a letter of recommendation for you. Start putting together your CV if you haven’t already and have more than one person proofread it. On Oct. 7, 2020, the ORMatch opens and you can register for the service and eventually submit residency rankings. There’s a fee of $350 to register ; it’s not a small amount by any means, but if you’re on the fence I would at least try your best to at least register and keep the option open because the recommended deadline to register is Dec. 31, 2020. Then on March 19, 2021, you have to submit your final rankings and about 10 days after, your match results are emailed to you. If you go to natmatch.com/ormatch/schedule.html you can find a more specific list of dates so you can ensure you’re on time for everything. 

Lastly, I think the most important thing you can do is talk to people. Talk to professors and students in classes above you who did and did not do a residency to find out why. See what each individual says so that when the time comes, you are making a decision with as many resources exhausted. You can view the ASCO Residency Directory and reach out to programs to inquire about what they offer and even get in contact with current and past residents for their input. If you’re zeroing in on a list of places to pursue a residency, ask as many people who trained there as residents what they did and did not like about their program. Ask about the extra work involved, as most programs require publishable papers and some formal presentations. Get a firm grasp on each site as you narrow down and solidify your rankings. And most importantly, do not rank a site you wouldn’t be absolutely thrilled to go to. The scramble isn’t a death sentence if you don’t match plenty of my colleagues ended up in the scramble and loved where they ended up. At the end of the day, things work out how they are supposed to! 

To end, I don’t know if anyone has ever done a residency and regretted it. All I can speak of is my own experience, and I truly feel that choosing to pursue a residency has prepared me for the “real world.” Honestly, who could regret that? Not me.  

Pictured: Co-residents Brittney Schieber, OD and Hyder J. Almosawy, OD at the Providence VA Medical Center