A Note to First Year Optometry Students
Dear Future Doctor,
Congratulations on entering optometry school! You absolutely deserve it! You have worked so diligently and persistently for many years to get to where you are. Only you know the time and effort you put in to maintain your excellent grades and extracurriculars, ace your OATs, get through the application process, and excel in your interviews. Entering optometry school is a life changing experience, as you will come to know.
At last, it is in that moment that the trajectory of your life as you know it will completely change. As soon as you put your white coat on, you begin the change from patient to doctor, a challenging but exhilarating intellectual and spiritual transformation.
You know in your heart the countless times you have imagined your first patient, your first office, and your first mission trip abroad as an optometrist. You have dreamed of fitting a small girl with purple frames, of having her turn to her mother and say “Mum, is this what everyone sees like?”, like you once did. You visualize closing down an international eye camp for the day, only to re-open the shutters for a woman who runs to you and pleads, “Doctor, please look at me, too – I can’t see.”
You envision waking up every day with a passion to heal, to inspire and to be unapologetically passionate about your vocation. You are captivated by the idea of making a change in the world, however minute it may seem to be. Now, you have started the process of realizing your dream.
Over the years in optometry school, though, this energy and enthusiasm may fade and wane, you will regain it in the moments that fuel your inexplicable desire to be the doctor you dream to be.
When you first started optometry school, you couldn’t wait to meet your classmates, soon to become your future colleagues. They would soon become your family away from home, and uniquely so. You will attend classes for hours with them, play sports, join associations, embark on mission trips abroad and practice clinical techniques on each other. By the end of your time in optometry school, you will know every person by name, the nuances in their “doctor voice”, or even their distinctive iris architecture.
You will soon come to know that the masses are sometimes misinformed. You will join all the associations you can and attend as many talks and events as your tight schedule allows you to. You will begin the process of advocating for your profession, and educating as many as you can about your field. You will give optometry a voice, and you will lobby to make it a better career for those that will follow you. It is with this enthusiastic voice and thirst for knowledge that one day you will create real and lasting changes in the modernizing world of optometry.
One day you will enter a room with cadavers, and you will clearly see the end of your life. Everything you are working so hard for will seem meaningless. You will question if the long hours and sedentary lifestyle are worth it. Eventually, you will come to the conclusion that it is only in life that you are able to pursue your dreams and make a difference in the world as you know it.
With your training, you will learn that before you can become a doctor, first, you must become a patient. You will spend hours in practice labs, refining your techniques on your fellow classmates. The first time you successfully get a gonioscopy lens in, you will sigh with relief. As a patient, you will realize quickly that your corneas heal almost instantaneously to the multiple nicks from the tonometry probe. You will marvel at the ability of lenses to distort and change the perception of the world around you. And you will learn the hard way that, there seems to be a direct relationship between prism bars and tension type headaches.
Some days, you will want to take a break and refocus on your other passions. You will want to have absolutely nothing to do with optometry. On those days, you will practice and perform an amazing musical piece. You will update your blog, take a stunning photo, write an honest article. You will score the winning goal, go for a run, choreograph a dance routine, and learn how to crochet.
Whatever your passions are, you haven’t lost them in the humdrum of optometry school. If anything, you have realized that in your years in optometry school, you have explored other activities you enjoy. You have picked up new skills, you have found purpose in many undertakings, and you have shared them with others around you.
Your purpose of being a doctor was to always help others, especially those who desperately need your services. You collected glasses and did lensometry for hours to earn enough points to embark on a mission trip. You boarded a plane to go to a remote location and be of assistance to those who needed you. You weren’t paid, you worked long hours and you learned a lot from the patients who embraced you and expressed their gratitude. You didn’t work for money. You worked for the experience that you would fondly remember for many years after.
On the day of your interview before optometry school, your interviewer asked you, “Why do you want to be an optometrist?” Wiping away the beads of sweat, you recited your well researched and rehearsed explanation. That explanation you once delivered with so much assurance has changed dramatically throughout your school years, shaped by a new layer of experiences and strengthened by a growing level of understanding and maturity.
And thus, you will enter and endure optometry school. You will receive your white coat, study for hours on end, make countless mistakes and learn from them. Multiple times you will reconsider, you will doubt, but still you will persist. You will realize your dream, and one day, your name will be up with all of your colleagues at the convocation ceremony. You will add a title to the beginning of your name, that of Doctor.
Dear Future Doctor, one day, it will be you and your first patient. And you will have finally completed that journey from student to doctor. The past few years will culminate in that one moment. And you will be grateful for a journey perhaps which has been so difficult, so long, but ultimately, so incredibly worth it.
With great hope for your future,
Your Young, Naïve and Passionate Student Self,
Sherene Vazhappilly, Class of 2019