What I Learned in Optometry School (Besides Optometry)

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay

Medenhall Glacier Outlook, Juneau, AlaskaIt’s been a journey from the first days through my final phases of transformation to an exemplary optometrist. I cannot help but to reflect and reminisce on the past few formative years of optometry school. It strikes me that I am no longer the same hopeful doctor-to-be that walked through the doors on the first day.

Over the past four years I have learned a lot about optometry, the professional life, and about people. Most importantly, I learned about myself. Through optometry school, I have grown in my skills and abilities. I have made important decisions. I have built connections with people that have shaped my life in ways unimaginable.

Beyond seeing patients, working through rigorous classes, and extracurricular activities, I learned a lot. I had experiences, conversations, and lessons that I will carry with me for a lifetime. At the culmination of what has been an extraordinary journey, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned in optometry school – besides all of the optometry, of course!

A good doctor is a lifelong learner

The field of optometry is progressing at a rapid rate. It is important to keep up with emerging research and innovative new technology outside of classes. Honing in on your interests and researching topics that are interesting to you allows you to gain knowledge that will help you better serve your patients.

A patient is a person, not a disease

You will have long clinic days. But, soon, beyond the disease, abnormality, or condition you are treating, you see the patient in a different way. You see the patients for the people that they are. You see people for the myriad of activities they do every day, their beliefs, hopes, dreams, goals, and relationships. While you are attending to their visual needs, you catch a glimpse of their story, and make a meaningful connection as a student doctor in their circle of care.

Speak up about the profession

Optometry comes with its own challenges and downfalls, and it is our voice that determines the future. So, get involved in your school clubs, local groups, and associations. Become active, and speak up about relevant topics affecting our community. Our input is what determines the difference in the care that our patients receive.

Take responsibility for your actions

Gone are the days where you only studied or worked for yourself and negative consequences were for you alone to face. In the real world, it is important to be honest with your patients, to own up to your mistakes and to find a plausible solution together.

Time is an investment, spend it carefully

With hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and 7-8 years of college education, you quickly learn that both money and time are investments. However, you can only make back one of the two. As much as it is important to spend time on your education, it is equally necessary to spend time on other activities that are enjoyable, challenging and fruitful for you. Just as you are growing to become an excellent clinician, you are also developing into a multifaceted and unique person who can relate to your patients.

Keep some relationships, let others go

As you grow to become the person you’ve always dreamed of being, you’ll realize that not everyone will like you. You’ll deal with many people on a daily basis – patients, colleagues, staff, company representatives, mentors, potential employers – the list goes on. Whether it is a difficult patient, an unsupportive colleague or a harsh supervisor, it is important to ensure that you are in a headspace to take care of your patients. Sometimes this means leaving a toxic work environment or terminating a patient-doctor relationship. These situations may seem daunting now, but they are situations you will learn to handle with grace and tact.

You’re not alonePubs and bars with neon lights in the French Quarter, New Orleans

We all struggle, especially in a demanding environment such as optometry school. It is important that we take care of our mental, physical and emotional well-being first before we take care of our patients. There are many resources and support systems in place for you to seek help should you need it. Be prepared to recognize when your patients, classmates, colleagues and others you work with need help as well. Though it is challenging, you have your classmates, supervisors, professors, support staff and the whole school rooting for your success in this journey.

Where do we go from here?

Striving to be an incredible doctor is a long and challenging road and we don’t realize how far we’ve come until we stopped to look back. Learning happens within and outside of the walls of our optometry school and it profoundly shapes who we become as clinicians, and as people. Best of luck on your journey, you can do it!

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