A Day in the Life – UMSL Optometry

University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry is a school with a bit of an identity crisis. Located in the heart of St. Louis, it has all of the advantages (and drawbacks!) associated with big city living. There are many kinds of museums to visit, plays to see, interesting restaurants to try, and nightlife venues to explore. Despite being surrounded by an urban landscape, class sizes make us feel like we’re in a small town: there are 40-46 students in each year of the program. Throw in the fact that our optometry school is affiliated with the larger public entity in the University of Missouri system, and things really get interesting. We’re a small, tight-knit family tucked away in a big university, in a large city. UMSL is definitely a very confused school. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

UMSL OptometryHere’s a little glimpse into a day (Wednesday, November 6, 2013 to be specific!) in the life of the students at UMSL, from the perspective of four fabulous students:


Nicholas Zahn, c/o 2017
From: Belleville, Missouri
Undergrad: Webster University

6:45 AM: Alarm sounds. Classes don’t start until 9AM for first years on Wednesdays, so I have a few hours to get a little studying in.

8:50 AM: Head out to class. Living on campus has its benefits: I can roll out of bed ten minutes before class and still make it on time. Wednesdays are the 1st year students’ “lab day” consisting of both A&P and Optics labs. Neuroanatomy lab is the exception, which falls on Mondays. Before afternoon labs we first have a morning lecture.

UMSL Optometry9:00 AM: Biochemistry lecture. We are guided through the various mechanisms found throughout the ocular system and body as a whole. The topic today is “Ocular Comparative Metabolism and Diabetes Mellitus” which finishes up our unit in visual phototransduction.

11:00 AM: After Biochem, the class splits off into smaller lab groups. My first lab is in Anatomy, Physiology and Disease Processes. There is a 6-question quiz at the beginning of the lab every week to test our knowledge on last week’s lab material. This week, it’s primary and secondary lymphoid organs. During the small break we have prior to APD lab, most first years can be found outside the lab cramming as much histology and gross anatomy as they can into their already overly-packed cerebrums for the quiz.

12:50 PM: I have a ten minute break between classes, where I sneak in a highly nutritious meal of day-old pizza.

1:00 PM: I meet up with a group of 8 classmates for a class called Case Based Discovery for the Developing Clinician. Case Based Discovery, or PBL (Problem Based Learning), is a one day-a-week course in which we are exposed to the beginning components of a typical eye exam. Each week we are provided more information regarding our patient, and we individually report to our group what we have found out about the specific tests that have been completed. Each week yields some new information that helps propel our research for the following week. For instance, today we found out the blood work of our patient, which greatly assisted in ruling out what we previously had suspected was a case of hyperglycemia, possibly induced by the onset of diabetes.

2:00 PM: Time for a short break. I have time to eat a proper lunch and then head to the on-campus library to print off the lab report for Optics.

3:00 PM: Basic and Clinical Optics, much like PBL, is predominantly a group effort. After a short pre-lecture, we break off into smaller groups of five and begin the lab. This week, we are using plus and minus lenses to generate Keplerian and Galilean telescopes.

5:00 PM: Once labs finish up, it’s usually time for dinner. Some head home to their off-campus apartments while others find food near campus. Since I live on campus, food is never far away. Sometimes I make my way to my bed for a quick nap before the evening study session.

7:00 PM: Typically, once I’m replenished from a long day at school, it is time to start putting in the study hours. For some, this means they are in bed by 10PM or sooner, while others stay up until the early hours of the morning. It all depends on personal preferences at this point. Many of us have begun forming study groups so as to have some sort of system for maintaining accountability. As for me, I better go crack open my Biochem book.

UMSL OptometryAlthough this week has been really busy so far, there’s a lot to look forward to for UMSL students this upcoming weekend. Don’t think we don’t know how to have a good time! Tomorrow the first years are headed out to watch a St. Louis Blues hockey game. Friday night is the annual NOSA Talent Show to raise money for the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired (in which I will be displaying my stellar skills at portraying Scary Spice). Saturday is the annual SVOSH Trivia Night. The school rents out the upper floor of a bar near campus and teams of 6 compete to answer the most questions correctly. My team is definitely going to win…

UMSL Optometry school, while academically challenging, is an experience like none other, and you will begin to formulate friendships and professional connections that will last, quite literally, as much as it is cliché, a lifetime.


Katelin Albers, c/o 2016
From: Apple Valley, Minnesota
Undergrad: Winona State University

6:00 AM: Wake up and start cramming for my optics exam (after staying up until 2:00 a.m. studying – four hours of sleep, BOO)

9:20 AM: Head off to class. I live in the university apartments on campus so it takes me less than 5 minutes to get to school. Double check to make sure I have my calculator and a pencil before I head out.

UMSL Optometry9:30 AM: Exam 3 in Ophthalmic Optics.

11:00 AM: Clinic lecture. Lecture this week is focused on learning more details about different kinds of refractive errors.

12:15 PM: Lunch break. I head home to eat lunch since I have the late clinic lab at 3. I sneak in a quick nap during the break and watch a few episodes of my guilty pleasure, Teen Mom.

5:00 PM: Primary Care Clinic. Twice this semester, we shadow a third year during their clinic hours at our campus University Eye Center. Second years are in charge of all entrance testing and case history. We report back our findings to the preceptor on duty, who quizzes us on the implications of the data we collected and goes over preliminary differential diagnoses. It’s really helpful to start thinking clinically about techniques we are learning in pre-clinic lab.

7:00 PM: I head up to the pre-clinic to practice for my disease proficiency tomorrow afternoon. We have 8 minutes to perform a full slit lamp examination, 8 minutes to perform Goldmann applanation tonometry, and 8 minutes at a station performing Tonopen, pachymetry, and blood pressure. I am SUPER NERVOUS. A classmate, Jess, makes a McDonald’s run so I ask her to pick up dinner for me and bring it into pre-clinic. I haven’t eaten since lunch and I am starving.

10:00 PM: I (finally) head home. Once I get home, I read over my script for the disease proficiency a few times and practice taking blood pressure. I then eat a bedtime snack (birthday cake oreos) and go to bed around 11:00 p.m.


Drew Garwood, c/o 2015
From: St. Joseph, Missouri
Undergrad: Truman University

5:30 AM: Rise and shine. Prepare for the day, pack up everything I need and make lunch. We have the luxury of having the newly remodeled South Café on campus with delicious hot meals for lunch. Since I’ll be on campus until after 9, it’s important to have breakfast, pack a few snacks as well as lunch and a light dinner. Planning everything out and getting organized makes everything easier throughout the day.

6:15 AM: Head to the student recreation center on North Campus (15-20 minute commute). University of Missouri-St. Louis is divided into a North and South Campus. All optometry classes take place on South campus, but North campus provides amenities like a gym that is free for students to use, a student center with a coffee shop and a restaurant, and a library.

UMSL Optometry6:45 AM: Nice morning workout in the renovated facility. Many optometry students take advantage of the newly renovated student workout area. After a nice workout and a shower, I’m ready for the day.

8:15 AM: Head over to South Campus for morning lectures. Luckily, it’s easy to commute back and forth from North and South campus via the Metrolink, the main St. Louis public transportation system. It’s very easy to use and understand. Otherwise, driving and parking on either side of campus is convenient as well.

8:30 AM: Contact Lens lecture.

10:30 AM: Binocular Vision Anomalies lecture

12:00 PM: Lunch. Great time to relax and talk with friends. Most of the time we discuss patient encounters and learn from each other’s experience. Or it’s a great time to not talk about optometry at all. This time of year is mainly spend talking out fantasy football or recent St. Louis sporting events.

12:30 PM: Contact Lens Lab – a very useful and hands-on lab. Many times this lab will take place in the University Eye Center, where we’ll assess contact lens fits with multiple designs.

2:30 PM: Binocular Vision Anomalies Lab, another very useful and hands-on lab. Students usually prepare the pre-lab presentation on which vision therapy or binocular vision diagnostic tools we are covering each day.

4:20 PM: Eat a quick dinner. Prepare for clinic. This is a great time to set up my exam lane exactly the way I like it. Knowing exactly where my equipment is allows for a much smoother exam. This also allows us to go over patients’ records and prepare accordingly.

5:00 PM: Evening clinic at the University Eye Center. Time in the clinic is a great learning experience in many ways. As with any clinic time having patient encounters and discussing diagnosis and treatment options with the attending doctors is helpful. Another great benefit is allowing 2nd year students to do the majority of the entrance tests. This allows us to show what we have learned and expose them to patients to help prepare them for next year.

9:00 PM: Commute home.

9:15 PM: Spend time with my fiancé and enjoy the night. Since there’s no class or clinic scheduled for Thursday, it’s a great time to relax and plan out assignments and study materials.


Ashley Gezella, c/o 2014
From: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Undergrad: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

UMSL Optometry
I am currently at one of our required externship sites at the University Eye Center. During the 6 weeks we spend at UEC, we spend two days in the pediatric clinic completing comprehensive pediatric eye exams, sensorimotor exams, and vision therapy sessions. We have the opportunity to work closely with the Pupil project, which is an innovative program that brings together the resources and expertise of the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry and College of Education faculty to manage learning related vision problems.

We spend two days of the externship in the contact lens clinic fitting soft contact lenses and specialty contact lenses including (GPs, scleral lenses, Ortho-K and hybrid contact lenses). We get hands on experience with the latest contact lens technology. We also get to work closely with contact lens reps when fitting specialty lenses.

We spend a half day in the disease clinic. This clinic is primarily a referral clinic for complex disease cases. We have the opportunity once a month to work closely with a retinal specialist from The Retina Institute in St. Louis. We work with the latest technology for diagnosis, management, and treatment of ocular disease.

Finally, we spend three days during this rotation at the St. Louis Society for the Blind working closely with low vision optometrists and rehabilitation specialists.


Thanks to all the UMSL students who shared their ‘Wednesdays’ with us. Whether you’re a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th year student, how does a day in the life at your optometry school compare? Don’t hesitate to share in the comments below!

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