Helpful Insights For Your First Year Of Optometry School

The purpose of this article is to review the first year of optometry school in such a way that will give insight and offer a hand to optometry students entering their first year of optometry school. I am going to explore the quality of life in optometry school during the first year and I will provide an outline of some of my favorite times, the tough times, the most valuable experiences, the things to stay away from and the things to pursue. So use the outline to make your first year at optometry school a great one.

My first year of optometry school was phenomenal and it really developed my dedication to the field of optometry. I always thought that I was really dedicated and committed to the field prior to entering opt school, but now that I have been exposed to a number of influences, my commitment has grown 100 fold. I have been exposed to some of the best optometry clinicians in the nation, great optometry organizations and clubs like the AOSA, learned how to conduct a primary eye care examination and I was fortunate enough to start my own project “” which really exposed me to opportunities that most students do not get to experience so early in school.

School was a wild roller coaster; one-minute things are moving smoothly and the next minute it’s time to study for 6 midterms and a major final clinical assessment. There was no doubt about it, optometry school was extremely difficult for me, especially when I am the type of person who is all about having fun. Yet optometry school was fun basically every day that I walked into the building, it was only the month before midterms and a month before finals that things got extremely hectic. I look back on it now and laugh and smile thinking, “did I really just pull that off?” I learned such a plethora of valuable material not only about eyes but also about diagnosing and treating patients in general.

One big thing that stood out for me in optometry school was that I finally began to retain the material I was being taught. In undergrad, I would learn everything in my bio & phys classes about various health conditions, but I would forget the specifics of the material after the class final. Optometry school changed all that… When you come to realize you are going to be a doctor with the capability to save lives and vision every single day you begin to have a new respect for yourself and your knowledge. Although 4 years seems like a lot you say to yourself “Oh crap! This is my last 4 years of school, my last chance! I better try to learn everything under the sun!!” Things you learn are no longer in one ear out the other, but instead the material sticks in your mind, ready to be utilized at any given moment. So for any student entering optometry school get ready for useful knowledge about the workings of the body and health conditions that you can share with your patients, family and friends. Many students e-mail me asking me if optometry school is hard and difficult and of course my answer is yes. Yet, on the other hand, the difficulty is countered by your desire and motivation to learn and become a good doctor.

At SUNY we learned everything from nutrition and dieting to what to do if a patient collapses on the floor from a vasovagal reflex when the eye is touched; of course all the stuff about eyes we learned also, to a caliber that blew my socks off.

Favorite Things About Becoming an Optometrist

-You become extremely disciplined in controlling yourself and keeping composure. This is cultivated because school requires you to buckle down and do what you need to do to solidify yourself a successful future.

-You learn the secrets and workings behind the coolest part of the human body.

-You have the ability to pursue a million avenues that will all lead you to success, and I am not just talking about you’re the way you practice and the types of patients you will see.

-You build a family of people going through the same exact situation as you are and hence you build relationships that will last forever.

-You cultivate the ability to sacrifice short-term satisfaction for long-term riches. In my opinion, it is this mentality that will lead you down a path of success.

Least Favorite Things About Becoming an Optometrist

-The cost of optometry school + living expenses can cost upwards to about $200,000 dollars in student loans after interest from many years of re-payment is taken into account. I personally take out about $41,000 / year.

-Having to put on hold your “normal life” during the months when midterms and finals take place.

-Sometimes I felt that I was being taught unnecessary material that would not help me clinically; this to me was frustrating. Although at this point I cannot fully say if the material is useful or not because I am not a clinician, so only time can reveal the truth on this one.

-The looming anxiety of knowing that the profession of optometry does face pressures from both federal and state governments, other medical professions and believe it or not, from optometrists themselves. This is one of the hardest things to cope with. Yet thankfully, I can sleep well at night because I know we have the AOA on our side, they are an angel in disguise and they will make sure optometry is safe and sound.

How Opt School Differs From Undergrad

Of course, there are a MILLION ways in which opt school differs from undergrad like less partying 🙁 ) but…

-You learn the eye in a way that is interesting and that makes you want to learn more.

-You are treated as a doctor and much more is expected of you. You are not just a name on a teachers Microsoft Excel grading sheet. You really begin to create a “doctor identity” for yourself from day one. Your name is basically your brand as a doctor so you better create a good name for yourself!

-In most cases opt school costs much more and hence more value is placed upon it.

-You definitely feel more mature and hold more of a responsibility. I personally toned down on the partying and watching T.V and instead used my free time to do more productive things relating to my profession. This is not to say undergrad was all fun and opt school is no fun at all. Myself and my friends did a ton of fun things every single weekend.

The Most Challenging Things About First Year

-The transition from undergrad to graduate school. My undergrad senior year was relaxed and I even took a vacation or two. Optometry school, on the other hand, required much more time, energy and brainpower than I initially expected. I had some sort of withdrawal from the relaxed summer life I was living and didn’t want to face the fact that it was time to start a new chapter in my life. This feeling passed after about 2 months of school and my mind state about the situation became much more positive.

The Most Valuable Things I Came Across During First Year

-The AOA is a fantastic organization that really supports optometry students and the profession of optometry. In my opinion without the AOA optometry would not be in the best position right now.

-A properly done case history is perhaps the most valuable part of your exam, the patient is basically telling you the answer.

-Always observe your patient on the way from the waiting room to the exam room. The way they stand, walk, use their vision and other qualities of their physical composure can tell you valuable information about how to treat them.

-When diagnosing, always focus on “the company that it keeps.” (ex- does a red eye also come with headaches and fever? – what company does the ocular condition come with?)

-Don’t be so quick to disregard that your patient has a serious medical condition, saying instead that the problem is refractive in nature. It may take extra testing or even a referral to another doctor but you better be 100% sure that your patients ocular and systemic health is ok before you send them out of your exam room.

-Never diagnose amblyopia without having a cause for why the patient is amblyopic.

-Practice makes perfect. Spend time in the practice clinic until primary eyecare testing becomes second nature.

-It is equally as important to get involved in your profession via clubs, leadership positions and creative entrepreneurial ideas, as it is to get good marks in your classes. So it is a balancing act between networking/involvement and getting good grades but both are essential to being a successful optometrist. Keep in mind that not all of these opportunities will come from inside of school so make sure to explore local optometrists and conventions like Optometry’s Meeting and Vision Expo East and West.

Things To Pursue In Opt School

-If you have an idea that you think would benefit yourself and others then pursue it. Optometry has plenty of room for creative thinkers, so if you have an entrepreneurial idea then talk to the right people and see what you can make of it.

-Join clubs that you are passionate about when the year starts off. As the year rolls on you will see which clubs you like the most and from here you can run for a position within the club. I think that student involvement in the AOSA and other clubs is so critical to having a good time in optometry school and to ensuring yourself a successful future.

-Scholarships! Find out from your dean what scholarships you can take advantage of. Keep tuned to because we will have some insight into scholarship opportunities!

-Keep track of your expenses. In the future as an OD you will be managing your money very closely so why not start now and learn a lesson or two? Don’t over spend and think that just because you took out $40,000 in loans you can use $5,000 of it on concerts, clothes shopping and going to the bar. Create a plan to use your money wisely. This is something I really enjoy and so I will be writing lots of articles on how to manage your funds and how to make your money work for you!

Things To Stay Away From in Optometry School

-People who hate on optometry and continually talk negatively about it.

-Taking out more loan money then you need. Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans have an interest rate locked in at 6.8% while graduate plus loans have interest rates of usually 7.5% – 8.5%. Graduate Plus loans typically max out at about $2,500 and are used just to get that extra little bit of cash. But really it would be beneficial to get the $2,500 from a summer job instead of from a high-interest loan.

-Negative influences in general. You will really need all the positivity and motivation you can get so surround yourself with people who uplift you and empower you!

Random Tips

-Keep a separate journal labeled “Clinical Gems” in your book bag. Whenever you come across a piece of wisdom jot it down in your journal. It will be fun to look back at your journal in 4 years to see random information that you could never find in any textbook. (Hey, maybe you can sell your clinical gems for a profit 😉

-Go to your professors for help, seriously this will help you so much. Professors tend to teach differently when it is one on one, so don’t be scared just go to their office hours.

The Mentality To Have During First Year

-You are on the path to becoming a doctor; if it were easy everyone would do it. Stick to it!!

-Stay positive, stay focused and if you give it your 100% effort you will succeed.

-Your classmates are your teammates. Although the feeling of competition may arise, keep in mind that you are all in this together.

-Your success begins with one single positive thought. Make sure your thoughts are consistently positive and that they empower you along your journey. You would be surprised how far a positive thought can take you.

-You are a key player in benefitting the profession of optometry. You can make a difference in peoples vision and in making sure the profession of optometry grows stronger.

So now that you have read this entire article I have one question for you…..

When you start your first year of optometry school are you going to “take it as it comes”, “see how it goes”, “try to pass” and have a laid back attitude?


Will you put your heart and soul into it, and give it your 100% effort, dedication and creativity, and know FULLY beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are going to freakin’ OWN your classes and become an AMAZING Optometrist?

I chose the latter…

Best of luck in your first year,
Matt Geller

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