Completing a residency is an option available to optometry students, and although it is not mandatory, it is certainly an opportunity that is worth considering. Residencies are a means for students, who have graduated optometry school, to continue learning and training at the highest level. This additional educational experience allows the student to truly master clinical competency, far beyond the realm of the standard four-year optometric program. I by no means am suggesting that students who do not complete a residency are not prepared to practice at a competent level, I am solely asserting that a residency provides a path towards absolute expertise. It is common for students wishing to specialize in certain areas of optometry, to complete a particular residency, as it provides students with immense exposure and most importantly, experience, in the many different facets of optometric care.
Most, but not all Optometric residency programs are affiliated with accredited optometry schools and last for the duration of one year. During a 1 year residency you will typically be compensated a small salary which is only a small fraction of the salary of a OD who did not pursue a residency.
There are specific types of residency programs that concentrate on particular subsets of optometry. Presently, there are 10 specific designations attributed to optometric residencies that distinguish the particular focus of that program. These include:
• Low Vision
• Family Practice
• Primary Eye Care
• Cornea and Contact Lenses
• Vision Therapy
• Ocular Disease
• Community Health Optometry
• Refractive and Ocular Surgery
Unfortunately, these programs do have limited capacity, and as a result, placement within residency programs is quite competitive. According to the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE), there are over 300 approved positions in over 150 optometric residency programs. The following link (http://www.aoa.org/documents/Residency-Directory.doc) which can be found on the AOA’s website, provides a list of all of the available optometric residency programs available to students, as well as detailed descriptions of each specific program.
So what are the pros and cons of pursing a residency? Why do some students make residency a primary objective, while other students give it not even so much as a thought?
• Enhance understanding and knowledge as a clinician.
• Perhaps the quickest way to become a specialist in a particular aspect of optometry.
• Immediate type of working experience.
• Generally necessary to acquire a clinical teaching position.
• Provides great leverage in pursuit of employment in all divisions.
• Provides extensive networking opportunities.
• A large amount of “Points” that will be used towards becoming “Board Certified”.
• An additional year of schooling.
• One year of reduced income as stipends for residents vary from ~$27,000 – $35,000.
• Re-establishing oneself in a new location.
Some students believe the pros outweigh the cons, while to others, pursuing a residency is not a viable option. Many new graduates, after eight rigorous years of schooling are eager to begin establishing a career and earning money, and therefore, residencies are simply not appealing. For some students, acquiring part-time work at various offices, or earning a position in a private practice, may provide that extra clinical experience and confidence associated with completing a residency. No matter what path is chosen, the ultimate goal is to become an experienced clinician capable providing masterful care to the patient population. The way you achieve that goal, is entirely dependent on you.
I would like to encourage any of the readers who have completed residencies, or are contemplating residencies, whether in first year or fourth year, to please share your thoughts, opinions, questions, and experiences in the comment box below.