Every year, new ODs graduate from their respective schools and ask the same question: “What now?” Private, corporate, OD/MD, and hospital setting practices all provide different opportunities to practice the culmination of twenty-plus years of schooling. But what if there was a way to further your education in optometry and give yourself another year to market your advanced skills to potential employers? Enter the Veteran’s Affairs residency program. As a “victory lap” during undergrad refers to using a fifth year to complete a four year degree, a VA residency can offer the opportunity to specialize in areas that are generally not covered extensively during optometry school. The following sections can help steer you in the right direction for finding the perfect specialty and location for your potential VA residency applications.
WHO? VA optometry clinics are comprised of both civilian and military optometrists. They service veterans of the United States military branches and offer full-scope optometric care. Fourth year students are offered externship experiences at most VAs for several months per rotation. Residencies offered to licensed optometrists are Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE)-certified and affiliated with an optometry school nearby.
WHAT? Residencies are one year advanced learning opportunities offered to optometry graduates from ACOE schools. Specialties offered through these programs include ocular disease, low vision/blind rehabilitation, traumatic brain injury, and polytrauma services as well as others. These programs offer mentorship and research opportunities to present at conferences like the American Academy of Optometry. Concerned you cannot afford to do a residency? Check out this article to see why you might be able to!
WHERE? VA residencies can be found in thirty-six states across country. These sites range from inner cities to rural settings which offer a wide variety of patient demographics. Eighty-three residency locations offer a total of 211 positions for potential residents.
WHEN? While residency programs start on July 1st, the application and interview process can last several months. According to the Optometry Residency (OR) Match website, applications for residency are accepted from October through January. Applicants must be registered through ORMatch by December 31 to participate in the matching process. For a complete look at the residency schedule, click here.
WHY? Completion of a VA residency shows your patients, colleagues, and leaders across the profession that you have committed yourself to becoming an expert at your trade. This kind of victory lap is not for the faint of heart, but the experience and knowledge gained from these 12-month programs last a lifetime. Not only will you become more versed in your chosen specialty, but you will receive preference for employment at VA medical centers after the residency has ended. Even further opportunities are offered in the form of fellowships after completion. These fellowships are offered in Birmingham, AL, Boston, MA, and Palo Alto, CA and include research and clinical opportunities for one to two years.
No matter what areas of optometry you intend to practice in the future, completing a residency program can only add to the expertise and marketability of your future.
A special thanks to Aly Wasik, OD, FAAO, 2012-13 AFOS President and Staff Optometrist at the Tucson VAMC for contributing to this article.