What to Expect When First Seeing Patients During a Pandemic

Most optometrists can recall treating their first patient – how exciting yet nervous they felt and certainly how many hours (yes, hours) it took to complete the exam. 

OD, optometrist, student, grad

At SUNY Optometry, students traditionally get to invite a family member or friend to be their first patient during the spring semester of second year. For the class of 2022, our school switched to virtual learning the week that most of us were set to transition into clinic. 


Instead, we now were set to see patients for the first time in September of third year. To make things even more stressful, we would be doing this during a pandemic in NYC. 


Many of us began to worry. Would fogging from masks make refraction and slit lamp impossible? Now that we couldn’t choose our first patient, would we get a complicated case? Would patients still sense our compassion even if they couldn’t see our smiles?

refraction, eye doctor

Although this may not be the clinic experience we expected, optometry students across the country have persevered to turn an unexpected situation into one that is truly rewarding. 


Here is my advice for students starting clinic in this new environment:


1. Preceptors are there for you!

  • It can be a scary situation to start clinic after not being at school for months. The doctors in clinic understand that we are in unprecedented times and are happy to help you adjust back to clinic. For example, at SUNY our doctors have been giving us timing goals for each procedure so that we can improve each time we come to clinic. 

2. Your first case may be complicated but that’s how you learn!

  • When learning clinic skills in first and second year, many optometry students only see normal findings since they are practicing on each other. The best way to learn is to see the abnormal! You may not be completely sure about something that you see, but your doctors are there to guide you. Plus, any condition the patient has you can research when you get home to further solidify your understanding. 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

  • It is easy to become rusty in clinic skills after months of not doing them. Set aside time each day you are at school to practice with a friend. It is much better to relearn and sharpen skills on your friends than your patients – plus you can double check anything you’re not sure of with each other & speed up your pace. 

4. Don’t give up.optimism, optometrist

  • Being accepted to optometry school is a tremendous accomplishment. We have been through the OAT, difficult courses and for many of us NBEO as well. If we can do all of this, then we can definitely provide excellent patient care even during a pandemic. 

5. It may not be what we expected, but we are closer to becoming doctors that can truly help our community. 

  • Being able to see patients makes all the late nights, difficult exams and extraordinary sacrifice worth it. We finally have the opportunity to improve patient’s vision, protect their health and improve their quality of life!


I hope you all are able to have a wonderful experience seeing patients whether it’s for the first time ever or the first time in a long time. 



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