November 13, 2013 | POSTED BY | Events., Involvement
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Here at, we’re crazy about Vision Expo. One search on our site will prove that in seconds! Recently, I was able to experience this gigantic trade show for myself – and I have to agree with the rave reviews. Attending VEW was an ideal opportunity for me to take a step back and remember all of the reasons why I’m lucky to be part of such a great profession as optometry.

Feeling Like a Part of the Optometric Community

Meeting so many doctors, paraoptometrics, opticians, and industry reps – in short, a bunch of eye nerds – helped me to remember one of the main reasons why I chose optometry. We’re a small but mighty profession, and it feels great to count myself as a member of such a great community.

The Power Practice radio show wanted to hear about optometry from a student's perspective!
The Power Practice radio show wanted to hear about optometry from a student’s perspective!

Somewhere along the way, I formed a misconception in my mind that students are not valued attendees at optometry meetings and trades shows; I figured that the vendors would not want to waste time with me, or that doctors would rather be networking with others who were more on their level. After spending the weekend at Vision Expo West, I realize that I could not have been more wrong! From the moment I boarded the plane to Las Vegas, I was welcomed and accepted as someone who could and should play an active role as a member of the optometric community. It was apparent that my views, opinions, and outlooks were worth something. As students, we are the next in line to carry the mantle of our profession and we need to make sure we’re thinking about how we can positively impact optometry.

The OS team getting a first-hand look at cutting-edge technology!
The OS team getting a first-hand look at cutting-edge technology!

It was also refreshing to participate in conversations with doctors and realize that, based on what I saw at Vision Expo, we’re all going to be “geeking out” over optometry jokes until the day we retire. Even when I was outside of the conference center, I knew when I was passing a table of O.D.s because I’d catch the tail end of some poorly delivered eye joke or story about a wild clinical case. The enthusiasm and shameless nerdiness of everyone I met was infectious, and I boarded the plane back to Oregon feeling completely rejuvenated.

Great Continuing Education: In the Classroom and Hands-On

As a third year student with only a few months of clinic under my belt, I often feel overwhelmed and beat up by how much I still don’t know. That’s part of why it is so reassuring to see the wide expanse of classes offered at a big trade show like Vision Expo – with classes like “The Basics of Uveitis,” “Healthcare Reform Update,” and “How to Make Your Practice Stand Out,” it was pretty clear to me that even O.D.s can use a refresher once in a while!  I was chatting a with one doctor before one of my CE lectures started, and she made a great point: no one is going to know everything, but the important thing is to be able to honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses, and then take small steps to round out your knowledge when needed.


This way to 325 hours of CE...
This way to 325 hours of CE…

In addition to the 325 hours of regular continuing education, Vision Expo offered a special student-specific program. Unlike the other continuing education classes I’ve been to in the past, the student program at Vision Expo was entirely hands-on. We split up into groups and were tasked with interacting with vendors on the expo floor. Some groups had to find out exactly what $25,000 buys for a start-up dispensary – frames, displays, tools, the works. Others set out to learn more about managed care vision plans like EyeMed and VSP, while still others were tasked with finding the best deals on equipment for exam rooms. Afterwards, we reconvened to share our experiences and provided each other with great tips, do’s and don’ts, and insights as to how to best interact with people in the optometric industry.

Students shopping for a new OCT! Thanks to student Kyle H for the photo.
Students shopping for a new OCT! Thanks to student Kyle H for the photo.

For me, this hands-on student CE was one of the first times I had ever really put myself out there at a trade show. At first it was nerve-wracking, but soon I began to feel comfortable introducing myself and asking questions. I remember walking up the the VSP booth and not really knowing a thing about vision insurance – so I just walked up and asked, “As a soon-to-be O.D., what do you think I should know about your services?” Sure, it put all of the pressure on their representative, but I was able to learn a lot about it and could ask more informed questions from there! That type of question seemed to work well as an ice-breaker at most of the booths I visited, and the weight of the stack of business cards in my pocket was considerably lighter after a couple of hours of exploring the expo floor.

An awesome group of students visiting the OS booth.
An awesome group of students visiting the OS booth.

I still have a lot of work to do before I can say I feel 100% confident with my networking skills, but I know that every opportunity I take as a student to practice will make pounding the pavement for a job that much easier!

A Chance to Travel and Recharge

There’s nothing wrong with taking a little vacation once in a while! I enjoyed my last true summer vacation between my first and second year of optometry school, so this past year has felt pretty packed with classes, labs, and clinic. That’s a big part of why it felt great to go to Las Vegas – I was able to enjoy a change of scene while still doing something good for my professional goals.

Showing off our new Clinical Photo Database at the OS booth.
Showing off our new Clinical Photo Database at the OS booth.

It doesn’t hurt that trade shows offer some of the best value around for any optometry student. Registration fees are drastically reduced or even nonexistent – like at Vision Expo! – so you are guaranteed to have plenty to do and see during a weekend away from school without the need to worry you’re dipping too deep into your student loan funds. The leading companies of the industry go above and beyond to provide plenty of opportunities to network and socialize after the expo hall closes as well, so there is never a shortage of things to do and see. Not to mention, optometry shows always seem to happen in some amazing places – you won’t hear me complain about a weekend in Las Vegas!

Not a bad place to hold a trade show...
Not a bad place to hold a trade show…

When I arrived back in Portland, I felt recharged and ready to get back to work. In fact, I had no choice – there was a big exam in Ocular Disease that required my attention!