School in Focus: A Week in the Life of an Illinois College of Optometry Student

10505053_10152634286180149_7788608044763489669_oHere’s the next article in our School in Focus series, which has given you a unique inside look at student life at optometry schools across the country! This article was written by Illinois College of Optometry students Jamie Blavat and Maggie Alcesto, both members of the Class of 2017 and on the ICO AOSA Council. It was edited by Vivien Yip, Class of 2016 and ICO AOSA Trustee.

Here’s a week in the life of an ICO 2nd year, enjoy!!

Monday @ 7:30 AM: It’s the first day of our 2nd year of optometry school at Illinois College of Optometry! I spring out of bed with the instinctual adrenaline that only a 1st year ICO student or Katniss Everdeen could understand. After surviving 52 lecture exams, 4 practicals, and 500 pages of notes in the span of 10 short months, one becomes accustomed to waking up as if preparing for battle. However, as my eyes adjust to the morning light streaming
through my Chicago Loop apartment, I begin to grasp where I am. I hear the bustling parade of commuters and CTA buses flying down Michigan Avenue (aka Magnificent Mile), passing the famous Cloud Gate (aka the “Bean”). As I pull back the drapes I’m enveloped by the sunshine reflecting off of the iconic skyline of Chicago. A sense of calm replaces my anxiety as I realize that I’m not a 1st  year student anymore. I’m a 2nd year student the Beanwhich implies that my arsenal of didactic information is almost complete. I’m now a student clinician providing actual care for actual patients. It’s just me, my patient, my attending, and my exam room. This year I get to dive into clinical care in one of the most demographically and culturally diverse cities in the world…but first, time for a shower and some breakfast.

Tuesday @ 9:00AM: Sitting in the center of the lecture hall, I slowly blend into the sea comprised of my 160 peers that fill each empty seat. The interactive projector screens drop down from the ceiling and I hear the familiar hum of the audio-visual recording system. Today we have pharmacology and ocular physiology on the roster. Before I know it, I’m immersed in a real life case study straight from our clinic, the Illinois Eye Institute (IEI). If you had asked me an hour ago what Norvasc, Timoptic, lecture hallAlphagan, and Diamox were, I would have identified them as long lost brothers of Dopey, Grumpy, and Sneezy. Sometimes identifying is difficult, but the pronunciation is just as challenging. I learn how last year’s concepts and mechanisms are applied to actual pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of these once-foreign drugs. Now, I have an in-depth comprehension of the inner workings of anterior uveitis

Wednesday @ Noon: Being done with lecture at noon has its perks. Continuously adding to one’s didactic arsenal for three hours straight can leave any student famished. Fortunately, I’m just a 5 minute bus ride away from the epicenter of the city with Little Italy, Greek town, the Gold Coast, Chinatown, and numerous other culinary gems calling my name. I’m having a hard time deciding which deep dish pizza restaurant I should go to (check out this blog that rates the top places in Chicago!). Several other students and I dilation and irrigationjump on the bus…we have an hour and a half before we must return for optometry lab and physiology lab.

As we ride past Millennium Park and the Wrigley Building, we discuss what our labs have in store for us this quarter. Do we really get to administer a dilation and irrigation on each other (see photo on right)!? Are we really going to master all of our entrance tests and be timed while doing them?!  Will we really learn 5-10 new skills a week??  Despite how overwhelming these tasks may seem, I’m sure by the end of the quarter we’ll be able to “Bear down” and get things done. This time last year I was a first year student taking 3 exams a week on top of practicals, homework, and quizzes.  If I can get through that, 2nd year will be a welcomed change of pace.

Thursday @ 1:00PM: I frantically finish my PB&J as I get ready for my Primary Care Clinic assignment at the IEI. I’m in suite 1 which has its perks and its drawbacks. It’s a perk for having ample room to talk with my attending in the conference room however there’s a drawback of being on the 1st  floor when my locker is on 3rd. Carrying my trial lens set, BIO, and briefcase full of optometry things is like carrying a few small children. We’re in clinic once a week and as second years and are paired with another second year student with whom you see patients together.

One person is doctor one week while the other is the scribe. Scribe week= easy week! However, both doctor and scribe are graded so being a stellar scribe has its perks. It’s my first day of clinic and I get split up from my partner because there were more patients that arrived clinicthan anticipated. OH NO! How will I ever do this on my own? I got lucky, first patient couldn’t have been any easier: a 17 year old female complaining of blurred vision at distance, especially when playing sports, with no history of wearing glasses. Woah, this is a walk in the park, just like when I was practicing on my classmates. My attending doctor commended me on my skills and even prescribed the glasses Rx that I found. Talk about a confidence booster!

Friday @ 9:00AM: I try to stay focused but it’s so hard not to zone out when all I can think of is the weekend. Pharmacology lecture first, and next up is ophthalmic optics with Dr. Hodur, the “Optics legend.” The Optics legend as referred to by many of the upper year students has been in practice since 1975, has numerous research publications, has designed contact lenses for companies such as Busch and Lomb, and even played a role in designing the Panoptic Monocular Direct Ophthalmoscope. Having talented professors passionate about their work is something that makes me feel so lucky to be at ICO. He not only is uber intelligent, he teaches you to think about optics from a clinical perspective.  I’ve also learned from him that US route 41 runs from Copper Harbor, MI to Miami, FL. That’s just some of the extra entertainment Dr. Hodur provides on this Friday morning after a long 1st week. I squeeze in some studying in the newly renovated library before the weekend begins.

Saturday @ 10:00AM: Ahhh the joys of sleeping in on a Saturday morning! After a week of school, this Saturday is extra special…today is the ICO Olympics! It’s one of the most popular events of the school year. This athletic extravaganza and cook-out gives classes the opportunity to mingle while simultaneously pitting them 10535606_10152693181913799_6608534443798497724_oagainst each other! The class of 2015 has emerged victorious the last two years; will the fourth years go for the three-peat? Or will another class take them down? Maybe we do have a chance.

We calmly discuss pie-eating and dodgeball strategies over burgers and ice cold brews. Events include limbo, water balloon toss, volleyball, dodgeball, a relay race, tug-of-war, and hot dog, watermelon and pie eating contests. The hot dog and pie eating contest are by far the most entertaining. Although we approach clinic with class and professionalism, all forms of dignity and self-respect are lost for the greater good of winning the events. Those who came out victorious have the bragging rights for a whole year, and those who’ve been defeated relinquish in their loss. As the day came to a close, the Class of 2016 (this is also the class that did the famous ThriftOpt Video by Jonathan Dong came out victorious…but you better believe the Class of 2017 is hungry 902050_10151317099856216_523005876_ofor that win next year!

The first week as a second year optometry student at ICO seems to provide a glimpse into what this year will be like: educational, challenging, demanding, fun, and exciting!

How has YOUR experience in optometry school been? Want to share what your school is all about? Don’t hesitate to submit an article for our School in Focus series! Contact us at for more info.











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