February 5, 2010 | POSTED BY | Articles, Pre-Optometry School
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In today’s article, Dale Paynter, a Salus Optometry School 2014 student will be talking about his pre-optometry experiences that helped solidify his decision to enter the field.  Enjoy!

One of the most important questions any prospective optometry student should ask his/herself is “Why did I choose optometry?” Indeed, this is one of the most important questions that will come up during an optometry school interview, and while everyone will have his/her own answer to this question, I thought I’d shed some light on the subject by sharing my experiences.

As I entered undergrad at the University at Albany, I was still quite unsure of the career that I wanted.  In fact, I hadn’t even considered optometry yet!  I was very good at science, and was especially interested in biology, which is why I chose that as my major.  I also had a general interest in the health professions, largely as a result of my prior hospitalization over Lyme Disease.  So far, my profile seemed quite standard for a health professional school applicant, be it for medical school (allopathic or osteopathic), dental school, optometry school, etc.  So what pushed me in the direction of optometry?

Step One: Research
I cannot tell you how many hours I spent analyzing the various health professions, trying to figure out which, if any, would be a good fit for me.  At this stage, optometry seemed promising for a number of reasons.  Optometrists have a great degree of flexibility in choosing where they would like to live, what mode of practice interests them, and potentially in what area they might like to specialize in.  In particular, I am drawn to the possibility of building up my own practice.  Optometry school, while being a heavy four year commitment, does not require residencies to be completed afterward (although they are available).  This means that once I graduate, I will be able to immediately begin my career.  Because it is quite possible for an optometrist to make a six figure income, I shouldn’t have any trouble in paying off my student loans.  There are many other reasons that optometry seems like a great profession, but these were the most powerful reasons for me.  I’m avoiding the generic “helping people” answer simply because, it doesn’t say much about why I specifically like optometry as opposed to countless other professions out there.

Step Two: Start Shadowing
I was fortunate in that my Boy Scouts leader, Dr. Varney, is actually an optometrist.  He is such an active member of the community, that he sets a stellar example of how optometrists can have an impact that goes far beyond their practice.  I shadowed/interviewed him and other optometrists (Dr. Katz, Dr. Ruggiero, and Dr. Espinola) in a variety of different practice settings (private, corporate, and hospital) which helped me gain a clearer idea of what the day to day life of an optometrist was like.  It is important for any pre-optometry student to see as much as they can about optometry from the inside, so there is absolutely no substitute for shadowing experience!  Beyond the obvious points of being shown the equipment and observing a large number of eye exams, I felt it was important to learn as much as I could about other topics, such as the daily running of the business side of things, and also the direction they felt the field was taking.  To further my experience, last summer I began volunteering at the Stratton VA Medical Center eye clinic in Albany, New York.  Here I was able to see firsthand the coordination of optometrists and ophthalmologists in bringing about eye care for a wide array of conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, corneal thinning, macular degeneration, etc.  More articles on shadowing will be coming!

Step Three:  Join (or start) a Pre-Optometry Club
Pre-Optometry clubs are an excellent place to meet like-minded students and participation in them looks great on your application!  The SUNY Albany Pre-Optometry Club is where I was lucky enough to meet Matt Geller, this site’s founder and current SUNY Optometry student.  Our club was extremely active, and we went a long way towards convincing fellow students that optometry was a solid career option.  We held weekly meetings giving presentations on basic topics in optometry, such as ocular anatomy, common eye diseases, basics of prescriptions, etc.  Our club hosted representatives of different optometry schools, including Dr. Johnston of SUNY Optometry, Dr. Potaznik of NECO, and starting this year we hosted a presentation by Salus University as well.  Last spring, we hosted a pre-optometry convention at our school, inviting students from schools throughout the region to hear a number of guest speakers giving presentations on their experiences and advice about optometry.  This event gave me invaluable insight into the field, and truly was our club’s crowning achievement.

Follow these steps and you should know if optometry is right for you!

Thanks for reading,

Dale Paynter