When it comes to balancing a well-rounded lifestyle with the pressures of optometry school, it can sometimes feel like optometry school always outweighs everything else. Between clinic, classes, studying, and other school related responsibilities, it’s hard to find time to do the things that you enjoy outside of optometry.
During my first semester of optometry school I constantly battled with this balance. I felt guilty when I wasn’t spending my free moments studying, but I also found myself completely unhappy and unfocused when I was spending this extra time studying. I missed doing the little things that made me happy and I felt defeated thinking that the next 4 years of my life were going to be spent unhappily grinding away. Of course I still wanted to achieve my dreams in optometry, and I knew that hard work was required to meet this goal, but at what point was I starting to lose my identity in the process?
Going into the following semester I decided to start prioritizing myself and my happiness a little more. I started to dedicate more of my free time to the things that I enjoyed, like photography and live music. While I might’ve missed a few extra questions on exams here and there, I felt like I had found a better harmony between school and living life. Listed below are a few key things I’ve learned about balancing optometry school with the real world.
Studying longer doesn’t mean studying harder
Optometry school is obviously going to require a lot of studying – that’s a given. However, if you can tailor your studying habits in a way that works for you, you might be able to study more efficiently in a shorter period of time. I also found that if I scheduled something that I enjoyed later in the evening, I had a lot more motivation to study earlier during the day. Finding a study flow might take some time, but once you find a way to be productive or give yourself additional motivation, you’ll be able to study smarter.
Give yourself something to look forward to
Optometry school is draining, and at times, very disheartening. It can feel like all you do is study and work, while your ultimate goal of becoming a doctor seems so far away. I found that giving myself something to look forward, whether it be something small like a coffee after a clinic shift or something large like a trip after finals, made each rough day a little better. It’s a lot easier to work hard when you know you have something to work towards.
Appreciating things outside of optometry helps you to appreciate optometry
Now this one might sound a little silly, but hear me out. I’ve come to find that the moments where I most appreciate the beauty and power of vision are not found inside the classroom or in clinic, but in enjoying everyday life. When experiencing the things I love outside of optometry, I often find a new passion for the gift of vision and the role we play in eyecare. Being able to experience these moments is something invaluable that you can’t gain from sitting in a classroom studying away.
It’s okay to be more than an optometry student
The main take away message from all this is that it’s okay (and encouraged!) to be more than an optometry student while in optometry school. Your whole identity doesn’t have to revolve around being in a graduate program. At the end of the day, we’re not just going to be doctors – we’re going to be real people with real lives and real interests that don’t pertain to eyes. Of course your patients are going to want you to be an excellent clinician who cares for their well-being, but they also want to their physicians to be real, compassionate, friendly people with goals and lives outside of the office. Patients will likely remember the conversations they have with you about things that don’t relate to eyes at all – like about families, movies, music, sports, etc – so it’s important to live a life that makes you happy because it will more than likely make you a better doctor in the future.
So while continuing through your journey in optometry school, don’t feel bad about taking a night off to watch your favorite team play, or see your favorite artist at a concert, or spend a night in with your favorite people. Sacrificing a letter grade or two for something that you love doing doesn’t make you any less serious of a student, or any less serious of a physician in the future!