With control of the lead approaching the final question at the 22nd Annual Varilux Optometry Student Bowl at Optometry’s Meeting last month in San Diego, Nova Southeastern fourth-year Blake Dornstauder answered the question confidently and correctly. The problem was he wagered only four points, landing him in a tie with University of Alabama at Birmingham’s David Zimmerman, also of the Class of 2014. Having entered the final round in second place, David coolly wagered all of his points and also nailed the question. Just as the judges were about to announce the tie-breaker question, Blake and David requested to share the championship, to the delight of the raucous, cheering audience. The display of sportsmanship between both contestants marked the first tie for first place in the history of the event.
Aside from becoming a co-champion of Student Bowl, Blake, an Alberta, Canada native also won Walmart’s Project Foresight Competition at Optometry’s Meeting with his partner Rhea Butchey. Ten teams from optometry schools across the country developed business and practice management plans in the contest to compete for a $15,000 scholarship. A hockey, yoga and fishing enthusiast, he received his master’s degree in ophthalmology at the University of Alberta, where he measured ERG in mice to study the effects of fish oil supplementation on AMD. In addition, prior to Optometry’s Meeting, Blake told OptometryStudents.com that he roofed houses for six years to pay his way through school!
David, from Huntsville, Alabama, aspires to join a private practice in Nashville, TN or Birmingham, AL, while becoming a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. Balancing school and raising a four-year-old daughter, the Auburn University alum also enjoys golf, jogging, spending time outdoors, and spending time with his family.
For this month’s Student in Focus, OptometryStudents.com chatted with Blake and David about winning the Varilux Optometry Student Bowl and balancing their busy lives with optometry school.
OS: First of all, congratulations on winning the Varilux Student bowl, and for being chosen as one of the Students in Focus this month on OS! How much did you prepare for the Student Bowl?
DZ: I did not. I took boards. I was on externship, so I didn’t look at anything. I had a lot going on, so I figured I’d wing it.
BD: Not a lot. I took the American boards in March and also the Canadian boards in May.
OS: Is there any difference between the Canadian Boards and the American Boards?
BD: There was a huge difference. Part I of the Canadian Boards is kind of like Part II of NBEO, where it’s all clinical cases and you answer questions on the clinical cases. It’s a lot more clinical based than Part I (of NBEO).
OS: Why did you choose to come to optometry school in the US?
BD: I just wanted a change of scenery. I was really attracted to Fort Lauderdale. It’s a beautiful city, a beautiful place to see with nice palm trees. It’s better than trudging through two feet of snow on your way to school every day. Of course, NOVA is definitely a great institution, and I was really attracted to having eight or nine different health professions under the same roof. We actually cross over and take some of the same classes as some of the dental and occupational therapy students. It’s really a social atmosphere at the school. You’re not around your class 24/7. You really have the opportunity to branch out and meet other people as well.
OS: David, what made you interested in optometry in the first place?
DZ: Shadowing one of the optometrists where I went to college in Auburn. I liked the pace of it. Everyone was happy coming into the office and happy leaving it. The working environment of the office was positive, the staff was happy and not uptight. It got me into it.
OS: Blake, you also won Walmart’s Project Foresight Competition at Optometry’s Meeting with your partner Rhea. What was your project about?
BD: We created a business model of a pediatric vision therapy practice, but instead of using the conventional vision therapy model, we incorporated personal training in the vision therapy session. This model really helps us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S. and teach kids lessons on proper nutrition, proper health, proper hand-eye coordination, and visual-spatial skills at a young age. As you know, when you’re that young, a lot of these skills stick and are a lot easier to learn, and they can last a lifetime. We hope to use this model of preventative care to go into the expanding U.S. healthcare system because what we’re learning in school and beginning to practice is preventative care. Our main mission was to attack the trouble from a very young age so that children develop skills that last a lifetime, skills that they can eventually pass on.
OS: How did you find time to prepare for Student Bowl and Project Foresight, while seeing patients in your busy clinical schedule of your third year? How did you manage all of that?
BD: I’ve always been good at managing time. I just kind of do it. I always make a plan for the day or for the week. I set goals and focus on one thing at a time and try to do it well before moving on to the next. I basically cross things off the list.
OS: Another thing you crossed off your list, a master’s degree in ophthalmology!
BD: I worked on mouse models and AMD. Essentially, we did ERG’s on mice, which involved putting tiny electrodes in the eyes and using an apparatus to flash light and measure the ERG waves in the mice. I didn’t have my master’s before I started optometry’s school. I got into optometry school and essentially left my masters. During my first semester, I wrote my master’s thesis and went back over Christmas and got my master’s.
OS: That must have been a very busy first year!
BD: I definitely don’t want to do that again, that was pretty stressful. Even with the best time management skills in the world it was still difficult.
OS: Let’s talk about Student Bowl. Blake, you wagered four points on the final question that landed you in a tie with David. Did you tie on purpose or was that error that you made?
BD: I think I’m going to take that one with me to the grave (laughs)! I wouldn’t call it a mistake, and I wouldn’t call it on purpose. It was an opportunity to have two schools win. The competition isn’t about having a single winner. It was about school spirit, school participation, and the spirit of optometry and celebrating optometry. Two schools winning that, in my mind, was better than having one single school win it. David is an extremely smart person. I actually don’t think he got a single question wrong that he buzzed in for. I just remember that he was on point. That final jeopardy question…I don’t know. The cards fell where they fell.
If I could go back, I would do it again. It was definitely a fun experience. Absolute trip.
OS: David, what went through your mind when the wager and the final question happened?
DZ: I didn’t think about how many points I should wager because I had 9 and he had 14. He actually said to me, “There’s a tie. I guess we won.”
OS: Whose idea was it to be co-champions?
DZ: We both just kind of threw it out there. I don’t think anyone was opposed to it, between the two of us. Once you tied, you both won.
BD: It was mutual. When Dr. David Seibel was ready to announce the tie-breaker, I turned to David and said, “We might as well split it.” There’s really no sense having one person win on a single buzzer question. From what I said before, two schools is better than one. It’s not about having a single champion.
OS: Other than winning Student Bowl, what was your favorite moment from Optometry’s Meeting?
DZ: UAB Alumni was good and going to the USS Midway was fun.
BD: I have to say that both moments (winning Student Bowl and Project Foresight) combined, that was it and the support of everyone else around me. So many people came up and said so many good things that felt really good. It’s great to know that everyone is so motivated and so supportive of everyone else’s accomplishments and of optometry in general. The social aspect of the meeting – everyone came together, had a great time, and supported each other.
OS: Blake, prior to Optometry’s Meeting, you told OS that a fun fact about you is that you roofed houses for six years to pay your way through school. What can you tell me about that?
BD: (laughs) In Canada, we get four months off in the summer between school years. We use those four months to work and save up money to pay our way through our next year. Where I’m from, there’s a lot of trade and construction. So I learned the roofing trade, got really good at it. I actually opened up my own business one summer. I basically learned the trade and worked 12-14 hours a day, Monday through Friday, some Saturdays for four months during the summer. I saved up money to pay for school. Then I even come back on weekends during school to make some extra money.
OS: David, you told OS you have a 4-year-old daughter. What is it like balancing school and family life?
DZ: Now, it’s nice because I’m on externships, so it’s just been seeing patients 8am-5pm. But during school, she wasn’t awake most of the time. She went to daycare, my wife works as well. I’d get home at 5 or 5:30 p.m., have dinner, and family time. I would just study a little bit if I needed to after 7:30, 8:00 p.m. It was more of a routine of having to study because I didn’t know what was going to happen because stuff comes up. I don’t usually study a lot the night before unless there are three or four tests coming up.
OS: What’s the biggest challenge of raising a four-year-old while in optometry school?
Being a parent, like any other parent. It wasn’t too much of an issue except it only really got hectic when they get sick. In day care, you can’t bring a sick child in. My wife works, so what are you going to do? They try to make it hard on you to miss classes, and you can’t miss too many classes. Just time management. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
OS: Last question, what do you look forward to the most in your final year of optometry school?
BD: Becoming a comfortable practitioner, refining my field, having the comfort level to go on my own and practice, and make the right decisions for my patients.
DZ: Learning as much as I can, getting as many different perspectives of how to talk to patients and how to practice optometry. I’m really looking forward to learning how to become a successful practitioner, putting everything together and trying to help people. I really like the different chairside manners of practitioners. It’s amazing just seeing one or two little things connecting to patients. I’m looking forward to learning more.