The Next Level: Pursuing an Optometric Residency

My name is Ryan Corte, O.D. and I’m currently serving a residency in Chicago, Illinois. I interviewed a number of colleagues who are also serving residencies and incorporated some of their responses into this article. It is worth noting that I did not receive any negative feedback toward serving a residency. Enjoy.


Fourth year of optometry school can be an exciting, yet nerve-racking time in life. You experience different modalities of practice during your externships, hoping to determine the right pathway to begin your career. With this being said, it’s your final year of school and you’ll probably be asked the following questions:

1)    What are your plans after graduation?

2)    Are you serving a residency?

At this time last year, I was not interested in a residency. Twenty-one consecutive years of education left me feeling burned out. After many years of networking with doctors and industry representatives from North Carolina, I had some great opportunities available. However, late last fall at the American Academy of Optometry, I experienced a change of heart. A firm believer that everything happens for a reason, I could no longer ignore strong recommendations from mentors to pursue a residency. After some additional research, and time for reflection, I decided to go with my gut instinct and enter the residency matching process. As of today, I’m fully embracing my experience as a primary care and ocular disease resident at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO).

The following are some of the many benefits of an optometric residency:


Increased experience

Externships allow you to experience the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to handling complex cases. By the time you adapt to your environment and earn the trust of your preceptors, you find yourself packing your bags and moving onto your next rotation.  Residency gives you the opportunity to spend an entire year building strong clinical skills in an environment proven to yield challenging patient encounters. Stevie Parker, O.D., the cornea and contact lens resident at ICO, believes she’s already becoming more confident in treating complex patients. “Having the opportunity to work with a corneal ophthalmologist one day a week has really helped me build upon my disease differential diagnosis and management skills. As a resident, the faculty tends to refer you to the more interesting and challenging patients, and having these experiences makes you a better clinician,” said Dr. Parker.



Everyone has someone in their life that has inspired them. “My residency coordinator is a great mentor that is committed to training new ODs to practice full scope optometry,” said Andrea Crabb, O.D., an ocular disease resident at The Eye Center of Toledo. As a resident, you spend a year with experienced optometrists who have walked a mile in your shoes. They’ve learned from their previous mistakes and can help you avoid common pitfalls young clinicians encounter. Furthermore, having a mentor on your side can be a great resource for career or personal advice. “I have really appreciated the generous amount of professional advice the doctors I work with have provided,” said Vicky Wong, O.D., a low vision/TBI resident from the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).


Networking and marketability

Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know that makes a difference. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person born during the latter years of the baby boomers held over eleven jobs from the age of 18 to 46. Consequently, there’s a good chance your first job out of school won’t be your last. It helps to be well connected in an ever changing economy. A residency increases your exposure to optometrists and industry representatives who have strong ties throughout optometry. Therefore, if there comes a time when you’re seeking new opportunities, you have a network of professionals to help.

Your ability to market yourself in a competitive economy can be vital to your success. The added credentialing of being “residency trained” is another way you can differentiate yourself from local competition. Furthermore, extra credentialing may open doors for referrals from other health care providers within your community. Patients have options on who they see for their eye care. Give them another reason to choose you.


Expanding career options

Plan on working in academia or at a Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center? If so, a residency is usually a requirement. Many OD/MD practices favor a residency-trained optometrist in their hiring process. Over the past few years, several new optometry schools opened. As a result, the demand for residency trained facility members is on the rise. In addition, the VA is a wonderful option for those interested in serving veterans in a disease heavy environment. Mirage Shah, O.D., an ocular disease/low vision rehabilitation resident at the Jesse Brown VAMC and Hines BRC, said a career in teaching was his primary motivation to pursue a residency. When asked about his plans after graduation, he replied, “Whether I work in a clinic or an optometry school, teaching will definitely be a part of what I do.”


Academy fellowship/board certification

To earn fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry you must earn 50 points. Serving a residency automatically earns you 20 of the 50 points required. You may also obtain additional points during your residency if you construct a clinical poster, write a case report or publish a paper in a peer review journal. Also, the American Board of Optometry provides optometrists who graduated from an Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) school accredited residency automatic eligibility to take their board certification examination.


The purpose of this article is to get you excited about pursuing a residency. With eleven types of residencies, there are plenty of options to choose from. Optometry is evolving as a profession that, now more than ever, is embracing the medical model. Our patients are asking for increased competency. The U.S. government and insurance panels are looking for ways to differentiate physicians. Our healthcare system is in the midst of massive change. Where does that leave your future?

Do a residency. You won’t regret it.


Ryan Corte, O.D.
Immediate Past President, AOSA
Resident, Primary Care and Ocular Disease
Illinois College of Optometry

For more information on residencies, visit:


Comment below and Dr. Corte will gladly answer any questions you may have!

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