OD-3: The Precipice

Okay, admittedly the title is a bit melodramatic: The Precipice. Almost sounds like a movie title. This article is for all the hardworking, exhausted, third-year students across optometry colleges nationwide. As a 3rd-year student myself at the Kentucky College of Optometry, it seems as if all the countless hours in lecture and clinical proficiencies are all coming to a head. From a knowledge standpoint, the curriculum has guided us to this moment of emphasis as we juggle our final two semesters on campus with endless board exam preparation. Typically, the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) Part 1 exam is taken in the Spring semester of third year. So not only are national board exams on the horizon, but plans for our 4th-year externship rotations are also underway. The reality is sinking in as we assist with more clinical patient encounters and discuss treatment plans that we soon will be held responsible for with our own patients. We’ll soon be building our own brands and businesses.

Lately, the chatter overheard among Zoom calls and weekly clinic rotations deals less and less with lecture content and more with future plans and discussions of preferred modalities of practice. Many among us are weighing the pros & cons of future post-grad residencies with our clinical professors and advisors. The phrase my friends & I say nowadays with a toothy grin is: “We’re gonna be doctors, y’all.” Big shout out to my study group and fellow clinic compadres on whom I depend.

While this challenging academic program tests our individual fortitude, it also allows us to appreciate the power of a team, of a community, not unlike every successful vision care practice and the entire optometric community itself. Strength in numbers is not just a cliché.

So, as we start to see that light at the end of this long tunnel, it’s becoming more apparent that the fruit of our labors is well within our grasp. Who doesn’t like a good mixed metaphor?! This year is all about staying motivated and reminding ourselves what our “why” is. Why are we here? What do we hope to accomplish? Why is this a priority in our lives? For many of us, the answers to those profound questions are the key to our success and to ensuring the preservation of sight for all our future patients. Understandably some students’ energy and focus can wain at this stage due to the emotional rollercoaster of getting into (and succeeding in) a doctoral program. So this seems as good a time as any to gain some perspective and take stock in our successes and our challenges.

One brave 4th-year OD student shared something on social media about her experiences during clinical rotations. Moved by her genuine honesty about self-doubt and feeling a bit in over her head, here’s her take: despite all her hesitations, she was reassured by a trusted friend with a healthy perspective. That friend reflected with her about how high the goalpost is to succeed in a collegiate program, and how much higher, still, it is to gain acceptance into a doctoral program. So, anyone feeling average or fighting through bouts of self-doubt should bare in mind the elite company in which they can now find themselves.

Becoming a healthcare provider is as much about confidence as it is about humility. Willingness to admit we do not know something is the first step towards understanding and thereby empowering our patients with knowledge and encouragement. With that in mind, here’s one final thought to leave you with as you settle into your much deserved holiday break:


“If the version of you from 5 years ago could see you right now, they’d be so proud. Keep going.”







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