I’m a first-year student at UHCO who moved down from Iowa to start optometry school. It can be a difficult transition for some, and one might even begin to doubt if optometry school is the best place for you. We have all had those thoughts. Here is my story:
August 10th, 2016 was the day that I made the move down to Houston to start the next phase of my life – optometry school. Only a fourteen-hour drive separated me from a new city, a new school, and an entirely new experience. Things started off with a bang. Socials, orientation, and the start of classes all hit simultaneously as I began to settle in. Next thing I knew, test week arrived. Before I knew it, spring semester was already in session.
In the blur of time that was my first semester, a creeping doubt sprouted in the back of my mind that maybe optometry wasn’t for me, or that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. This doubt persisted almost to the point where I wondered if I should continue school. This isn’t unique to just me; many first years have those same thoughts creep up as they progress through their first year.
These doubts will always arise, whether it’s due to the stress from tests, the transition to a new level of education, or just moving to someplace that you might have only visited one time (for your interview). For me, it was the stress of struggling with some classes and being unable to grasp the concepts as easily as I did in my undergraduate studies. As someone who has never worked in an optometry office before, I also felt like I didn’t spend enough time shadowing doctors compared to my classmates. It took some time, but as those stresses of starting a new school in a new place began to fade, I came back to the conclusion that this is exactly where I wanted to be. As my classmates and I struggled through these stressful moments, there were a few things that we relied on to help us through it.
There is always something new to learn:
It started off slow in my Clinical Procedures lab, learning the preliminary tests such as Cover Test, Confrontation Visual Fields, Near Point Convergence, etc. However, my interest was piqued when we picked up the retinoscope. As soon as the class began with retinoscopy, I knew it was something that I would enjoy. After an hour of practicing, I started to get the knack of it and was able to see that these results that could directly improve the quality of life in patients with refractive error (i.e. pretty much everyone!). Sometimes the one thing needed to reassure you that you’re on the correct path is right around the corner. It may take some time to get there, but once you find it everything will fall into place.
Grades are not as important as knowledge:
One of the things a lot of students struggled with was difficult classes (seems obvious, right?). Everyone in your optometry school class is smart, and many are used to being the smartest in their respective undergrad class. So when taking a difficult course, it can be even more stressful to try and maintain the good grades you’re used to receiving from undergrad. My class seems to include a lot of people like this (myself included), and as the stresses began to mount, it was harder to maintain the high performance we were used to, even in the easier classes. The impact was clearly visible in my optometry class, as a whole. That is when the ever-wise Dr. Han Cheng, optics professor at UHCO, gave us some advice that we all needed to hear. Classes matter because we need to know why we do what we do, but it will not make or break us in our lives after optometry school. Being able to recall that there are 242±4 lamellae in the stroma is probably not going to be clinically relevant to our patients, but the concept of how it relates to corneal transparency is, especially in patients with corneal scarring and disease. Information like the number of lamellae can easily be looked up as needed, so there is no need to stress about it. Obviously, you need to learn the material to pass your classes, and much of the material is or will be clinically relevant, but do not beat yourself up about it! Spend your time making sure that your clinical knowledge and skills are top-notch because these are the things that are ultimately going to determine whether or not you succeed.
Adjustment takes time:
A new place, a new school, and new people all take time to adjust to. Friend groups rotate in and out until people find those with similar interests and personalities that mesh. Adjusting to the more time-consuming schedule of school takes practice, so make sure to brush up on your time management skills! Just because things do not appear to be going the way you anticipated them, take a moment to sit back and let things settle. Homesickness may set in, especially if your school is far from home or your undergraduate college. It can be tough at times, but bonds will form between people and a new optometry family will emerge. You will meet some of the best friends you’ve ever had in optometry school!
No matter how hard it gets, and no matter how low your motivation gets, know that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel – a rewarding career in helping people with their vision needs. Your calling may not be immediately obvious, but even in times of immense stress, whether it be moving across the country, meeting new people, enduring the high-class load of a professional program, or a combination of all of those things, your passion is there and will re-emerge. There is no end to what you can do.
Images courtesy of Taylor Bluemel