A note from founder of OptometryStudents.com
Dr. Matthew Geller
I started “Optometry Student in Focus” as a way to shine a light on the future leaders of our profession. Nareh Keshishyan is exactly that – a future leader of optometry. Her work with the California Optometric Student Association as the current President Elect is a small position that goes a long way. I always knew that optometry students didn’t hear enough about the legislative side of optometry, and what the real world is like. Fortunately, Nareh is closing that gap quickly at SUNY. If you stumble upon this article via Google, or if you are a daily reader of OptometryStudents.com, either way you should put this young, future OD on your “watch-list”… – Matthew Geller O.D.
1) Tell us a quick thing or two about yourself and your background in optometry!
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, and I graduated from UCLA in the Spring of 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology and a minor in Armenian Studies.
It was not until my second year of college, during my annual eye exam, that I became interested in the field of optometry. I had probably considered just about every other health profession up to that point, and although I had been seeing my optometrist yearly since I was ten, the “lightbulb” did not go off until that one special visit. I asked to volunteer at the office for one month, and this volunteer opportunity turned into a four and a half year paid position, mainly as a pre-test ophthalmic technician.
During the course of that time, I became heavily involved with the Pre-Optometry Society at UCLA, shadowed as many doctors as possible, and participated in several vision screenings at health fairs with my involvement in another organization called Bruins in Focus. All in all, every impression of optometry that I gained through my experiences was a positive one, and I finally found myself inspired by a profession that I could see myself contributing to for the rest of my life. The rest is history…and I am now a proud (and exhausted) second year student at SUNY College of Optometry.
2) OptometryStudents.com chose you to be the OS Student in Focus because of your involvement with the California Optometric Student Association. Can you tell me about what you do for the COSA?
Currently, I am the president-elect for COSA at SUNY. It is both our president, Clarissa Kum’s, and my goal to encourage more student involvement within the organization this year. A large proportion of our students at SUNY are California natives, and many plan to practice in CA upon graduation. One of my fears when making the decision to attend school across the country was whether I would be at a disadvantage when it came time to look for a job. With that in mind, it has been my goal to help alleviate this pressure for our members by providing networking opportunities with doctors in CA, informing them about job opportunities that arise, and having discussions about current legislation that will affect our scope of practice in the future. I am also in the process of collaborating with COSA leadership from other schools for ways to connect our members with one another and create a more unified COSA membership.
3) What is your opinion on organized optometry and the AOA/COA. Do you plan to be a member? Also, why do you think it is essential for students to stay AOA members after graduation?
Definitely! Although optometry as a profession has been around for over one hundred years, it has seen tremendous growth over the past 30-40 years to encompass the large scope of practice that it does today. These significant changes would not have been possible if it had not been for organized optometry!
As small as our profession is compared to others, the tireless efforts of state organizations, as well as the AOA have helped raise awareness about optometry and solidified our rights as primary eye care providers. It is unfortunate but oftentimes, it is the legislation—and not our education—that dictates the quality of care that we are able to provide patients.
For this reason, it is essential that our generation of students not only remain members of the AOA after graduation, but be ACTIVE members who stay current and informed in order to move the profession forward. It is our responsibility to continue the efforts put forth thus far by organized optometry in order to ensure that our profession remains strong and continues to grow.
5) You host COSA meetings quite often, what are some of the topics you discuss at meetings? Do you find that students enjoy it?
Since many of our guest speakers are practitioners in California, our meetings are often through interactive video calls—a “21st century virtual meeting,” so to say. This way, we are able to hear talks from some of the most prominent and influential leaders within our field without significantly interrupting their hectic daily schedules.
Oftentimes, our speakers will share with us their experiences within optometry. This helps members gain a wider appreciation for the different paths that one could take within the profession that is so often misconstrued as simply the doctor who asks “1 or 2?” In addition, doctors will inform us about the steps necessary to become licensed in CA, as well as about the scope of practice and how it differs from other states. We try to incorporate as many different topics as possible; for instance, finding out what areas of the state are most saturated and where there is a shortage of optometrists.
Overall, I believe our members enjoy and take something away from each meeting. There is always room for more improvement and growth though!
6) Clearly, you are going above and beyond by being the COA Student President-Elect at SUNY. Why did you choose to put in that work? Do you feel like optometry will suffer if we don’t ensure students are involved?
For one, I have always enjoyed being a part of student organizations. Ever since middle school onward, I have been a part of one club or another, and I have gained so many wonderful experiences and friends along the way. Although classroom education is important, sometimes the lessons you learn from those who are inspired by and share the same interests as you become all the more significant and empowering.
My plan is to remain an active member of the COA upon graduation, and so I wanted to contribute my efforts to the organization starting now. My hope is to encourage a sense of unity and involvement within our members—one that will carry over into the profession. I do not know if there are statistics to prove it, but I am willing to bet that there is a high correlation between those who are involved as students and those who later become prominent leaders within the profession. So, yes! As long as we guarantee as much student involvement as possible, we will ensure that our profession is in great hands for the future.
7) What do you plan to do in your future as an optometric physician? Where and in what mode of practice do you see yourself in?
My hope is to join a private practice in California upon graduation. My current interests lie within vision therapy and sports vision. However, I am trying to keep an open mind until I enter clinic in the spring and get a better sense of where my strengths and passions lie.
I will definitely be involved in some level of organized optometry, and I hope to be able to participate in health fairs or other community outreach programs as much as possible. Lastly, I made a promise to myself four years ago that once I became a doctor, I would one day implement a program to help children in Armenia. During my internship in Armenia as part of the Armenian Volunteer Corps in 2009, I had the opportunity to visit an orphanage and spend the day with some of the most determined and courageous kids I’ve ever met. As cliché as it may sound, something about their spirit inspired me to be better and never give up, so I hope to one day give back to them what they were able to instill in me.
8) What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned since being in optometry school?
That having on a white coat carries a tremendous amount of responsibility. We all know that as doctors we are entrusted with the best quality of care for our patients; however, the first time that a patient turned and asked for my opinion in clinic last year (after only a couple months in school), I realized that responsibility was already upon me and not four years away.
9) What’s one piece of advice for pre-optometry students that you can provide?
I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one particular advice, but I would say Get Involved! Shadow as many doctors as you can, including ophthalmologists. Attend a local society meeting or two and get to know the doctors in your area.
Many campuses also have a Pre-Optometry Society—join it! If one doesn’t exist, be the one to start it! UCLA has dozens upon dozens of clubs, but three of my friends and I realized that there was no unifying club for all the different health professions, and so we founded Healthy Bruins @ UCLA to serve this purpose. There are many ways that you can give back and help contribute to the profession—you just have to find what inspires you and do it without being afraid.
10) How do you see the future of optometry playing out. Provide at least one great thing and one not so great thing. For the not so great thing, provide your solution to it.
With the changes taking place in health care reform, I see a lot more responsibility being placed on optometrists as primary care providers. This can be both a good and bad thing for similar reasons. Good—because it will secure our patient base with larger numbers of people being able to afford health care; and bad—because we may have to see more patients in shorter amounts of time due to lower reimbursement rates.
In order to circumvent this problem, one solution may be to have larger group practices instead of solo practitioners in an office. This would help offset costs, as well as allow for experts within different subspecialties to come together and learn from one another. Thus, patients could be seen in an appropriate amount of time and the quality of care could potentially even be enhanced.
11) If you were stranded on an island what 3 items would you bring!?
1. An IPod because I cannot live without music.
2. A box of multivitamins.
3. Waldo!…because everybody’s always looking for Waldo!
(I have to admit this one is not an original, but I’ve always found it the most amusing answer).
12) What’s your favorite ice cream flavor and what toppings do you like?
Chocolate! I’m a bit of a Plain Jane when it comes to food, so no toppings—unless it’s more chocolate.
Every day a select few optometry students are going above and beyond the call of duty, bringing the profession in the right direction and acting as true leaders for optometry. Sadly, these students often go unnoticed. While their accomplishments go mainstream, the profession never knows that it was one student that stood up, took on a challenge and made a difference!
Student in focus will highlight students on a monthly basis who go above and beyond for their profession. It’s time for those hard-working leaders to be recognized for their dedicated effort and achievements.