12 Things Every First Year Optometry Student Should Know

As graduation caps come flying off and summer heats up, many anxious pre-optometry students are also getting ready to take the next big step – the first year of optometry school. Nobody said it was going to be easy. This sentence will resonate volumes when those tough stretches of exams start coming around and are relentless in their attack. You’ll want to be on top of your game.

A few months ago I complained to a friend back home, “Man, optometry school is a lot harder than I expected…” He smartly replied, “What’d you expect? To just walk straight into a six-figure job?” That was like the ultimate slap in the face, and marked the time when I realized it’s not undergrad anymore. I’m in for something much bigger. We all know that old habits die hard which means it’s time to come up with an effective game plan.

The first year of optometry school was exactly as we were told it would be: one chaotic juggling act. In between attending lots of classes, studying for exams, and squeezing in those crucial post-exam celebrations, there are going to be times where we can’t help but feel overwhelmed. Everyone gives in to the pressure eventually. So what are some good ways to cope with this stress and ultimately avoid it all together?

Here’s what my classmates, second years who just went through it (and survived), had to say:

  1. Pay attention in class and take notes. This isn’t anything new, but don’t take lectures for granted. If you’re big on saving time, there’s no better way to trim off some studying time than learning a new topic in class first and then reviewing it later.
  2. See your professors. This one is important on a couple levels. It’s always a good idea to build strong relationships early. It’s a bit of a scary thought, but in a few years time you’ll be their colleagues. Remember not to be intimidated; Your professors are on the same team as you and want to help.
  3. Spot and address your weaknesses. If you’re feeling weak in a particular area, make sure to seek help right away. Most optometry classes will require that you recall past information, so learn it well.
  4. Live close to campus. You’ll save lots of time and avoid the commute, which can be a problem when you’re trying to get to your 8 o’clock exam.
  5. Get the right tools. Remember how fun book fairs used to be? Well they’re back (sort of), except this time it’s a lot more expensive. Hear what the vendors have to say, and then do some more research before purchasing equipment. This way you know you’ll be happy with what you end up ordering.
  6. Don’t miss lecture. Skipping class will come back and bite you in the…you get the picture. You’ll find yourself scrambling for missing notes, and it’s just really discombobulating and not worth it in general.
  7. Study together. It’s more effective. Sure, study groups can sometimes be a hit or miss, but they need to happen in optometry school. Studying with your classmates will help you spot lots of things you missed and save you lots of time.
  8. Do it now, not later. Unlike undergrad, you can’t get away with poor time management, so figure out what works for you within the first few weeks of school. Be open to making quick adjustments as the semester wears on and stay consistent. Procrastination is the number one killer of optometry students – proven fact.
  9. We’re talking about practice. There’s nothing worse than panicking the night before lab checkouts because you haven’t practiced and couldn’t ret your way out of a cave. Not many things that you’ll be doing are more important  than the time you put into lab, so make sure to get in there early and often. Also, your preceptors can tell if you haven’t been practicing. So… are we talking about practice?photo
  10. Budget well. We’re definitely optometry students and not accountants, but it doesn’t take one to see that eating out everyday isn’t spending your money wisely. Plan out your budget ahead of time, and remember to reevaluate from time to time to see if you’re still on track.
  11. BE INVOLVED. Your studies should always come first, but don’t let that hold you back from getting the full optometry school experience. There’s as much to learn outside of class as there is inside. Seize opportunities to become an active voice in a club you’re passionate about, or take some time out and volunteer at a local charity event. These things will make optometry school much more of a joy to reflect back on. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, many of my classmates agree that staying busy with outside work helps keep you grounded and more on schedule!
  12. Enjoy the ride. Optometry school is full of exhilarating opportunities. You’re going to meet new people, explore new places, and learn lots of cool things. Make sure to find something you enjoy doing in your down time to keep those endorphin levels up so that you don’t burn out. Remember to have fun and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

A huge thank you to my wonderful classmates for the excellent ideas.

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