Hindsight is 20/20. Not only is this expression spot-on, it makes total sense with our profession and can be kind of an inside joke. I prepared myself the summer before my first year as an optometry student by reading books, getting school supplies, and reading old notes. I spent a good amount of time on this site reading articles and downloading helpful phone apps. Here’s my dilution of what helped me OD-1 year and some things I learned a little later:
1. Get a good day planner. Use it.
I used to be one of those people that planned my appointments by telling Siri and putting everything in my phone. No matter what I did, I forgot something or was late. My to do lists were in the wrong places or written on my hand. I forced myself to get organized, got a cute planner and have written EVERYTHING in it since I got it. My schedule is in there along with my appointments and to do lists, so if I need to check and see if I’m busy, I know it’s all in one place (my actual day planner from a packed week in April before finals shown in the pic on the right). As long as I don’t lose it, I’m golden! It took a while to get it exact to my liking and everyone has their own way of turning their life into organized chaos, but I HIGHLY recommend this strategy. Optometry school has way too many classes, meetings, study groups, labs, clinics, etc. to keep on a phone calendar.
2. Make Study Groups.
Some classes (and some people) are designed for studying alone. Some people have a “study system” that they swear by that took them all the way to summa cum laude. But for the most part, throw that out the window. In OD school, it’s often not the depth of information that’s overwhelming first year, it’s the sheer VOLUME. Many OD-1’s find themselves completely overwhelmed, saying “I never studied in college” or “I never do anything but study in optometry school.” This is usually the same person making these comments. It’s not important to study MORE, it’s important to study SMARTER. Put more effort and energy into the hours and make them count. I find that using other people makes you accountable for each other. Set a date for a study session. Find a place-Panera, the library, a park. Somewhere that’s not someone’s apartment. It’s way too easy to turn on a TV or get distracted. Use each other as resources. What one person is weak in, another is likely strong in.
3. Figure out your note taking style.
Many people come into school and aren’t sure how to effectively take notes. It can vary widely depending on your professor and the class type. Flexibility is key, since the way you take notes for optics is likely not the way you’re going to take notes for anatomy. One is purely math and theory while the other is almost all rote memorization. Many professors will give you a large “packet” of notes at the beginning of the term. Others post them online as they go. Keep these consolidated either in binders or on a laptop or Ipad. I prefer the latter. For those who prefer Ipad note-taking, grab a good stylus or two and download the Notability app (pictured on the left). This was a recommendation from a tech savvy professor of mine first semester of OD1 and it has all my electronic notes. It’s been a life saver. You can type, highlight, and write directly on the slides. It exports them as PDF and can record the professor’s audio. You can take camera shots of something in class and export everything to Dropbox (another necessity in case your electronics crash!). Make sure to save everything for boards later, since your own notes are written in your own language.
4. Manage your money (loans!) wisely.
Most people won’t have time to have a side job while in school, at least the first 2 years or so. I ended up grabbing a side waitressing job after “2nd year hell” was over to decrease some of my dependency on the man, but I’m definitely the exception, not the rule. If you do plan on having a job, keep in mind that your workload, studying schedule, etc. will be vastly different than undergraduate classes. Studying will take more time than you think, and that’s often why most of us are fully dependent on our loans. That being said, make a budget. Too many people get a large lump check at the beginning of the semester and spend too much too soon. They buy frivolous things, often forgetting that money is supposed to be for rent and food. A few months later, the pot runs out and they’re running back to the financial aid office. More loans are there, but they’re higher interest PLUS loans (and those are capped eventually too). The “Mint” App for Iphone and android (pictured on the right) is an amazing tool to keep all your finances in one place: two thumbs up from me. Write your expenses for the month down, make a budget and stick to it. Keep all but that amount in savings and give yourself a biweekly “payday”. It also helps to live like a student and not a king. Remember what costs $50 now really costs $50+interest later.
5. Take care of yourself.
All too often we get so sucked into studying that we forget to eat or sleep or exercise. The first two are life essentials. Make sure you feed yourself. It sounds stupid, but so many students either forget to eat during a 10 hour long study session or do exactly the opposite: binge on Taco Bell and Dairy Queen the entire time. Neither is good for you, but one can lead to packing on some pounds. Stress eating can be just as bad when finals week rolls around. The all-nighters that you pulled in college to take a test at 8 am aren’t a great idea anymore. You need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed in your white coat for clinic right after that 7:30 exam. Write times to exercise in your planner and treat it like an appointment. You’ll feel better and sleep better – 2 birds with one stone.
6. Save your notes.
This is something I started doing halfway through my first year. What a good amount of us forget is that every class in OD school is fair game for all future board exams. Most schools will sponsor board review classes, but they are just that: REVIEW. They won’t cover all of what you’ve forgotten over three years. You need to retain your notes and (preferably!) retain the information in your brain. Get a big box for binders and Dropbox for electronic stuff and check it monthly. You’ll thank yourself later.
At no other time in your career will you be able to go to Optometry’s Meeting or the Academy for less than $100. Both conferences are large, annual meetings of hundreds of OD’s, supporting staff, marketing and product representatives and students. I made the decision to go to OM 2013 in San Diego as an OD1 on a whim and it was the best spur of the moment decision I ever made. I met students from different schools, networked with doctors, went to lectures and student events, and learned about products: all as a 1st year. There are a ton of travel grants available and you can work for different entities at the Conferences: I actually MADE money by going to Philly this year! Students can now take OD CE classes at both Academy as well as Optometry’s Meeting. OM also has the famous Student Bowl which is always a blast! Students attending Academy can also choose to pursue Student Fellowship; an honor in itself and helpful for pursuing full OD fellowship later.
Optometry school is an amazing experience. It’s different for everyone and you can be as involved as you want or just sit back and enjoy the ride. Make friends, join clubs, get involved: just make it your own!