“If I knew then what I know now…” is a phrase I find myself using quite often when talking about my experiences in optometry school. As a fourth year student with 10 months left until I walk across the stage, my mind is wandering and thinking of what I would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve done differently. Mistakes, triumphs, successes… All of the studying, long nights, take out Chinese food… It comes full circle. While drinking my overpriced latte and checking my email on my iPad in Manhattan, it dawned on me; I should share these experiences with new students, in hopes that they will not make the mistakes I made, or at least make more informed decisions. So grab that overpriced latte and read on…
- Student loan epiphany: Loans are a necessary evil unfortunately, and unless you have someone pay your tuition, this will be a difficult mountain to climb. School, equipment, board exams, travel, etc. costs money. Believe me, I know. I borrowed too much and had a minor coronary episode when I saw what had accumulated as of last week. My advice? Make a budget for every year and semester and stick to it! Borrow what you NEED, not what you want! Food and clothing for clinic are necessary expenses… A new iPhone and designer purse are not. What you pay $50 for today will cost you $70 to pay back later, so make all purchases, major and minor, wisely. Look for deals, share expenses when possible, and budget for emergencies. Be aware of what you are buying at all times.
- Separate bank account: Again, money. Work on your breaks from school if you can, and put the money in a separate account for emergencies. Apply for scholarships, cash out your piggy bank, sell what you don’t need on eBay… You get the idea. The extra money comes in handy when you least expect it. Better to have money collecting interest in an account than paying interest after graduation or to borrow more.
- You can’t get through optometry school alone!: Make friends, network, play nice with everyone. Why? We all need companionship. This will not be an easy journey, I assure you. Some of you will be away from home, from family, from friends, from significant others. You will need to bond with those around you to help with studying and everyday frustrations. I was able to make great friendships, some of which I now consider family. It makes the daily grind a lot easier to handle.
- Dont work so hard for the destination that you miss the journey: I know this sounds philosophical but let me explain… You will find yourself so enthralled by this profession and all that it takes to accomplish the ultimate goal of OD status that you may forget to enjoy life a little bit. Make some free time to go out with your new friends and explore the environment. Have movie nights, study groups, getaways… Enjoy the journey that will be the next 4 years. It is an important part of your maturity as a doctor, and is necessary. Work hard when you have to and make time to play. You are not only going to learn how to be a stellar optometrist, you will also learn a great deal about yourself in the process.
- Take care of yourself: Your emotional, physical and mental health are important. Remember, you can’t be a super doctor when you are sick. Go to the gym, eat well (eat fast food when you absolutely have to), take mental breaks, and if necessary call your mom and cry. Optometry programs are intense and stressful at times and you will need an outlet to recharge. Find yours and use it often. Get as much sleep as possible (at least 6 hours to solidify memory) and try to avoid all night study sessions. Healthy snacks to fuel your brain and a packed lunch will keep you energized throughout the day. Find a good doctor in your area just in case you do get sick.
- Upperclassmen are your greatest asset: Believe me, use the wisdom of those that have walked the road before you. Advice, class notes, references… All can be provided by upperclassmen. They understand your plight better than anyone, so if they offer their help, take it. Be sure to pay the kindness forward when the new students arrive and you are the enlightened one.
The career you have chosen is an excellent one, filled with endless opportunity and personal satisfaction. Be proud of what you have accomplished thus far and have yet to accomplish. Ask for help when you need it and offer it when you can. Make the most of this time… Fill it will fond memories and excellent grades. I can’t promise you it will be easy, but with my 20/20 hindsight, I can promise you it is worth it.