The Guide to Shadowing an Optometrist

As students prepare to trade their textbooks for a summer towel and head to the beach, take into consideration what shadowing can do for you. Once you have decided to apply for optometry school you’ll be more cautious of your grades in college, you’ll be preparing to take the OAT, and you would want to become more aware of the field of optometry. As one searches the pre-requisites to apply for optometry school one can scroll down and find the section that applies to their shadowing opportunity. They do not require a certain amount of hours, but they do require the experiences and exposure to the field. What exactly does this mean? And when do you think this exposure will come in handy?

Knowing what you plan to do as a career is a risk in itself. For those considering optometry school, you need to experience the right exposure to find out if this is the profession for you. Knowing more about the profession is what these applications are asking of you. These schools would like to know of your own perspective of the field and how you can contribute to the future of the profession as a whole. Once you’ve decided to choose optometry as your profession, it’s better to take caution then to rush in. Take advantage of the shadowing opportunity as a way to experience the profession, what you will learn in school, and how you can contribute to such an amazing health care profession.


Choosing a doctor

Trial Lenses

Optometrist have many alternatives they can take in their career in the eye care profession. These different directions give some interesting paths such as working with pathologies of the eye at a hospital, prescribing special types of contact lenses to patients who have unusual eyes, to opening you own optical and providing care to the community. Consider the variety of doctors that practice in your respected area and find out whether they specialize in a field of Optometry that you are interested in. Optometry schools are in search of your knowledge of the different options the profession has to offer. The more specialized fields and experiences you gain from these fields, the more you are exposed to the different directions one can take with their profession. Get in contact with the office or doctor. Most doctors will be happy to help those interested in the profession and allow students to shadow them. Send a request via email or call the office and explain your interest in the field. Be polite and work along with their schedule.


Dress appropriately, be polite

Now you have chosen an optometrist and they have agreed for you to shadow them. Make sure you are on time and dress appropriately. Business casual should be encouraged as you are going to be presenting yourself not only to the doctor, but also to  patients as well. The presence of another individual in a doctor’s exam room sometimes makes patients uncomfortable. A recommendation you may consider is presenting yourself to the patient before the doctor starts the exam. Introduce yourself and explain the reason you are shadowing the doctor. Strike a conversation and ask questions, such as “Why have you come to see your doctor today?” This will make the patient more at ease to the idea of you staying for their eye exam. Most patients will be very happy for you staying to shadow the doctor. And if the patient is not comfortable with you staying for the exam be polite and do as you were asked. They may be a very private person in general, so do not get offended. The experience is what matters. The interaction between a patient and the doctor is very interesting which takes plenty of effort on the doctors part to help the patient feel at ease when sitting in the patient chair. You’ll find different approaches that optometrists take to find this trust with their patients and allow for cooperation.


Be a listener, more than an observer 

As the doctor begins the exam, take notice as to what the patient needs. Usually a patient will have a chief complaint. The term “chief complaint” is used to identify the reason why the patient has come in to see the doctor. This will usually be the main focus of the exam and will determine how the exam will proceed. The information given by the patient is vital for an optometrist as he or she needs to take into account why the patient is experiencing their problems. Some chief complaints that could be presented are whether the patient experiences blurry vision at near, blurry vision at a distance, or itchy eyes, you need to listen to what the patient is experiencing with their vision. The approach to finding what the problem will be is to test what the problem is not. After asking about the patients chief complaint, the doctor will proceed in performing different set of tests to rule out what the patient does not have. Since all vision is subjective the response that the patient gives during the tests are very important. The results of the tests will show otherwise but to understand what the patient is experiencing is putting yourself in their situation and ask yourself how you, as the doctor, can help them.


Ask questions, Be curious

There are many opportunities for questions during an exam. Some questions, like asking about the different types of instruments used, or what test the doctor will perform for the patient, are appropriate to ask while the patient is present. While, discussing certain things, like a condition of a certain patient eye related to their health, are questions that should be inquired about once the patient is out of the room or when they left the office. Make sure to check if the patient isn’t around and you do not disclose the name of the patient outside of the office. These types of questions are for the safety and well being of the doctor’s patients, as they are protected under a certain set of laws that prevent the disclosure of certain types of information about their health to the public. This takes into account the privacy every patient is entitled to when visiting a doctor’s office. The patient must be treated with respect so when reviewing their condition with the doctor it is appropriate to be careful in the process of asking questions.

With this disclaimer in mind, feel free to be curious talking to the doctor about certain conditions. Do your own research, and if you encounter something you are unfamiliar with, then ask the doctor you are shadowing. The whole point of being there is to be curious and learn from them. It is great to find yourself understanding the daily struggles of an optometrist and the work involved in the profession during these shadowing opportunity. It may not be the last time you encounter a similar problem and the exposure to situations in your shadowing experience will be beneficial for your time in school and beyond. Knowing what you will be faced with in this career will keep you excited for the work you will accomplish in the future. Utilizing what you observe while shadowing and applying it to the real world, whether it be school, a job, or even owning your own practice, is the whole purpose of this experience.


The goal to shadowing is you want to envision yourself in the doctor’s lab coat. These experiences are to show you the direction and discipline it takes to becoming a doctor of optometry and to broaden your perspective of the field. Approach these shadowing opportunities as a way to live and learn what it will take to become an optometrist. Discover your compassion for others by being able to help those who struggle to see this world as it is. With the profession of optometry you will need to have an open mind and find yourself dedicating your passion to a career that is well worth the time and effort in pursuing.



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