My legs shook as I balanced precariously on a narrow floating wooden block tethered to two redwood trees, suspended 30 feet in the air. As the piece of wood swayed side-to-side, my oblique muscles strained and my arms flailed frantically when I started to lose my balance. What prevented me from plummeting to my demise was my harness, securely belayed to five of my newest 66 classmates, who cheered me on. With their support, I safely made it to other side of the course.
It seems like yesterday that I was at orientation prior to my first year at UC Berkeley School of Optometry. The final day of orientation featured a ropes course in Strawberry Canyon that encouraged team-building exercises among the new classmates. Arrival at Minor Hall as a second year this week brought back a flood of memories from my first year at Berkeley Optometry.
Some of the classes I took as a first-year at Berkeley Optometry included:
- Ocular Anatomy and Physiology
- Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology
- Visual Perception
- Binocular Vision
- Oculomotor Functions and Neurology
- Evidence-Based Optometry
- Problem-Based Learning
- Optometry Clinical Exam, also known as Preclinic
Berkeley threw us into the deep-end right away. For example, our curriculum bypassed classes that first years at other schools might take, like gross anatomy and biochemistry . It was pretty awesome to jump into ocular anatomy on the first day of class since we had already taken gross anatomy as a prerequisite.
My favorite class was Optometry Preclinic. On the very first day of Preclinic in August, we learned how to use a slit lamp, a technique most students at other schools learn at the end of their first year. Berkeley’s amazing expedited clinical program was one of the reasons I chose to spend the next four years in the Bay Area. By May, we’ve learned 80% of the techniques required in a comprehensive eye exam. These techniques include:
- Slit lamp exam
- Confrontation sequence
- BIO (Binocular Indirect Ophthalmoscopy), including reclined
- Non Contact Fundus
- Phoria measurements
- Accommodation testing
- Pupil testing
- Versions and ductions testing
We had two practicals per semester in preclinic. Preparing for them was always nerve-racking, but it was so rewarding after the practical knowing that I had mastered a technique that would add to my repertoire of skill sets as an optometrist. For my first practical that tested the confrontation sequence, I remember being so nervous that my hands were shaking and the occluder I held was tapping on my patient’s glasses. Luckily, no points were taken off for making music on the patients’ lenses during the exam.
At UC Berkeley, we constantly volunteered to lend helping hands to the community. On the vision front, we conducted vision screenings at Suitcase Clinics, Mobile Eye Clinics, and other health fairs. Many first years provided eyecare abroad on the VOSH trips to Nicaragua, China, and Guyana. Our school also participated in food drives, school supply donations, Christmas drives, service projects, and many more fundraisers for various causes. Furthermore, even as first years, we immersed ourselves in political optometry and continuing education by participating at California Legislative Day, Monterey Symposium, Western Regional Conference with SCCO and Western University, and Optometry’s Meeting, to name a few.
A tradition we’ve had at Berkeley Optometry is having a “Big Sib” to show us the ropes, which was extremely important as a first year. At the beginning of the school year, we had “Sib Fest”, in which all sib-pairs competed in games against their classmates on Minor Beach. A vital resource in my first year academics, my Big Sib (Hi, Elaine!) gave me tips on how to best approach each class. She was an absolute godsend during the stressful times of pre-practical practice sessions. When I was an absolute hot mess trying to eke out my exam sequence, she corrected my technique and instilled confidence in me performing clinical skills. I hope I become just as good of a Big Sib to my new Little Sib (Hi, Ashley!).
As a current second year, I realize how much more time I had last year . Our class hosted and participated in numerous social activities. These included:
- DV (Double Vision, a weekly bar-hopping escapade around Berkeley that was supposed to cause one to have diplopia)
- Rafting Trip on the American River
- Ski Trip in Lake Tahoe
- Golden State Warriors game
- Eyeball (A cleverly-named prom for optometry schools)
- Color Run
- Halloween Party
- Giants Parade in SF after they won the World Series
- Wine tasting in Napa
While the School of Optometry was small and intimate, we were still able to enjoy the resources of the greater university and its community. With all the studying I had to do, I had to maintain my sanity and relieve stress by working out at UC Berkeley’s Recreational Sports Facility (RSF). With the weight rooms, swimming pools, basketball courts, racketball courts, and numerous group exercise classes, the RSF ensured that students were never bored with their workouts. In addition to the RSF, I also loved running Berkeley’s many running routes or doing chaturangas at Yoga to the People on Shattuck Ave.
Saturday afternoons during the fall semester were always occupied by football games. We tailgated at a classmate’s apartment before walking over to the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium to cheer on the California Bears. (Exception: The only time I cheered for the opposing team was when the team of my alma mater, the UCLA Bruins, came to town – to the chagrin of my classmates.) While the Bears’ season last year was disappointing to say the least, it was an amazing way to feel part of the campus community.
- Students hung out with a Berkeley Optometry alum at the Alumni Tailgate. His shirt celebrates “The Play” of 1982. Courtesy of Amber Egbert
Last, but not least, living in the Bay Area meant living in one most culturally and geographically rich regions in the country. Berkeley, which has restaurants that range from take-out to gourmet, is any broke foodie/college student’s mecca. Furthermore, thanks to the convenience of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit,) we also made frequent trips to San Francisco (“The City”) for various activities, including visiting museums, attending sporting events, shopping, bar-hopping, etc. A few hours drive in any direction landed us in Napa, Monterey, Santa Cruz, or Lake Tahoe, which made weekend getaways that much more refreshing.
I can go on forever about how much I enjoyed my first year at Berkeley Optometry even with a heavy academic workload. But I’m going to have to stop right there because currently, my Google Calendar won’t stop bugging me about the all the deadlines I have this week. Here’s to hoping that second year would be just as memorable as the first!