It is undoubtedly important to succeed academically in undergraduate studies and in optometry school, but it’s also extremely important to begin networking as soon as possible. My connections initiated from shadowing optometrists. During one summer, I shadowed four optometrists in four different practices: three private practices and one MD/OD clinic. In fact, one of the above optometrists forwarded me to shadow two of the other above optometrists. And then those connections led me to other optometric endeavors.
One endeavor included me attending the annual convention for the Optometric Association of Louisiana (OAL) this past summer. There, I was able to hear from other optometrists from around the state and the nation. Actually, that’s why I am writing on this website today – Matt Geller got ahold of my name and email via an optometrist and AOA Trustee speaking at the state convention. Not only was I able to listen and learn from optometrists at the convention, I was also able to meet other excited students in undergraduate and optometry school. As students, we were able to share our experiences with each other. It was a great opportunity to obtain advice from optometry students. Oh, and if you do attend one of these conventions, don’t step out of the room during the raffle … Yep, I could be watching a movie on a new Blu-ray DVD player right now if I didn’t leave the room for that split second at the convention.
Sitting in the lobby of the conference’s hotel before the convention’s Meet & Greet, I met an older optometrist. After talking with him for a minute while watching an LSU baseball game, he said, “I’m actually looking for someone to buy out my practice. I’m ready to retire.” He was looking for a replacement in the next year or two. Whoa. Had I not been (hopefully) four years from graduating from optometry school, I might have had a job offer right then and there!
In addition to the convention, the same optometrist that I shadowed a year ago allowed to me get involved in the legislative processes of the profession this summer. This really opened my eyes. I was able to see that much of what optometrists are able to do is passed through congressional hearings, just like what I witnessed at the Louisiana State Capitol. I sat in committee meetings and even met our Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at the signing of the bill the optometrists proposed. And guess what: I, again, met more optometrists from this experience, which has further opened doors for me.
And please note that I wrote this article to try to persuade the next incoming class to get plugged in as soon as possible and NOT to boost my ego. I am very fortunate to have these experiences before opening a book in optometry school, and this article is an attempt to have others already benefit from the profession as I have. Whether shadowing an optometrist or attending a convention, you never know what might come your way by simply being there.