Imagine you walk into an amusement park, a park called OptomCAS. At this park there are lots of rides to choose from, all with different requirements to ride. However, every once in a while a brand new ride opens up. It could be the most dangerous, fun or nauseating ride in the entire park. To top it off, the park crew will most likely be doing maintenance and altering the track during the ride.
Well that, in a nutshell, is what it’s like to be part of the inaugural class of an optometry school. I just happen to be one of the crazy ones to step in line to ride first at the MCPHS University School of Optometry. Located in Worcester MA, in what was once a hotel, MCPHS is the newest school of optometry and will be graduating its first class in May 2016. Most schools are well established, have a core group of faculty that have been there for many years, have a curriculum that they have been following for years, and a whole slew of graduates who call it their alma mater. But at a new school, you have new professors every year, classes that can be completely different for the next year’s class, and absolutely no upperclassmen to ask for advice.
Not only that, but every club that a new student would join to become more familiar with the school and optometry in general (such as the AOSA, SAAO, PPC, SVOSH, etc.) are all brand new as well and are being built from the ground up. I was never a board member so I can only imagine the challenges in starting a new club from scratch. Despite all the troubles and headaches the club leaders have endured at my school, they’ve been able to pull off three successful “Eyeballs,” lots of vision screenings to help out the city, a mission trip to Nicaragua, and brought in dozens of guest lecturers.
People constantly ask, “What made you choose MCPHS University?” a school that very few people have even heard of. Sometimes I even wonder myself what made me choose a school that wasn’t even fully accredited yet because it hadn’t graduated its first class. At times there were concerns about how well prepared we were compared to others–but after three years of classes, meeting other students at Optometry’s Meeting and Academy, taking boards, and now starting rotations, I can say I couldn’t have made a better choice. In an environment that is brand new to everyone, including the administration, you couldn’t imagine the immediate response to feedback students get about classes, labs, clinic, equipment, and anything else we found to question. The students taking a tour of campus right now are getting a 100% completely different experience than the inaugural class ever had.
My first day of clinic in my first semester at MCPHS, I was surprised by the equipment at my disposal including electronic phoropters, multiple models of topographers, different machines for taking retinal photos, and a couple different visual field machines. I was overwhelmed by all the brand new and cutting edge equipment but underwhelmed by the amount of patients we actually saw in the clinic. In the beginning, it was slow building up a patient base from the ground up– we
must’ve practiced using almost all of those machines on each other dozens of times. We had to rely on the student population at the school, but eventually the number of patients we saw began to swell and the equipment was put to good use. At the time this article was written, rotations for the first class had begun and none among us were faltering. In fact, according to the many members of my class I continued staying in contact with, we were thriving.
Probably the most noticeable thing about an inaugural class is the camaraderie that develops. In that first year with no upperclassmen, few patients, and only ourselves and professors to bond with, we ended up talking to the same people every day. I expected to make some lifelong friends when I started here, but I never imagined how close I would be with just about every single person in my class. Each member of the MCPHS class of 2016 has a unique struggle that we share which will bond us forever.
Some people might question the caliber of students that may come from an inaugural class. From what I’ve seen, you can expect students with just as many qualifications but also a determination to prove themselves like no other. By the time an inaugural class graduates, they’ll be just as clinically competent, if not more so, than any other graduate from any other school. When you’re looking to hire a new doctor in your future practice or meet a new colleague and are blown away by their knowledge and genuine love of the field, don’t be surprised or off put if they came from a new school. Instead, thank the students that graduated first and helped shape that school into something amazing, because everything is new at one point!
Check out student experiences at other optometry schools in our Schools in Focus series!