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Just about a year ago, I wrote a post about the reasons I decided that optometry would be a good career match for me. In the ten years since last August, I have learned approximately a third of the academic knowledge I will need to attain what could be considered “minimum level competence” (more on that in a moment) in order to legally practice the art and science that is optometry. I often hear parents describing the process of child rearing by saying “the days are long, but the months are short,” and in that regard, optometry school is a lot like having a kid; in terms of weekly tears cried, it’s a lot like being a kid. Optometry school has been so much more challenging and time-intensive than I could have ever imagined at the outset, and that’s exactly what has made it so rewarding during my first year.
I don’t know that I ever really stop feeling like “the new kid” regardless of how long I’ve been a student at any given school, a member of a group or club, or as an employee at any of the companies I have worked for. I’m always acutely aware of how little I know in respect to what there is to be known, and the only thing that offers any reprieve is seeing fresh faces walking in, even more clueless than that one in the mirror. After a year of the most fast-paced education I have ever been a part of, it’s easy for me to still feel like I have not progressed very much when I ponder what life will be like starting in the clinic in nine short months, or practicing as a certified O.D. in three or four years. After all, as was (a little too) repeatedly pressed upon us this spring, passing the board exams to graduate and practice represents the minimum amount of knowledge needed so that the NBEO feel alright about letting newly-minted Dr. Joe Schmo practice without worry of him blinding someone (or worse). It can be a little discouraging to spend three years of your life floundering through school to hear that you meet a minimum of any sort, but of course, this makes sense: If every optometrist was expected to be at the top of their game, to know all there is to know about the eyes, nobody would be an optometrist. The beauty of this profession is that it is far too broad to be fully mastered by any one individual.
It is only in reference to the Class of 2025 arriving in Memphis that I am beginning to appreciate that, while “mastery” of any discipline may actually be an elusive, ever-out-of-reach end game, I have come farther than I give myself credit for in one short year of extremely long days (and nights). It can be frustrating, and imposter syndrome-inducing when I think of all that’s left to come, from the billing and coding of exams, to how to operate a business, let alone the clinical knowledge that will build on everything my classmates and I have covered in the last year; however, every chess grandmaster had to learn the names of the pieces at one point, followed by the long, boring hours of study and practice, with the goal of constant improvement, not omniscience, in mind.
I am lucky to be a part of a profession that challenges me so intensely from the very beginning. Any career that doesn’t allow you to grow and learn as you spend more time with it will eventually feel stagnant and dissatisfying. The human mind is a problem solving machine, and quickly grows bored without a new trial to overcome. To the Class of 2025 and beyond, you are going to have the most academically challenging weeks of your life in optometry school. It may feel like you can’t do it and that you should give up at times—but then, I remember feeling that way about those 50 question multiplication tests they gave me in 4th grade. To be sure, being enrolled at SCO has introduced me to some of the kindest, funniest, most ludicrously intelligent people I have ever met, and given me some truly amazing opportunities to have fun, give back, and learn far more than optometry. At SCO, you will work harder, and if you’re wise, celebrate your accomplishments more than ever before.
SCO Student Michelle Alaimo, ’23, writes about spending the summer in Memphis
Summer semester of third year is in full swing, with a round of midterms already under our belt and a busy schedule of classes, labs, and clinic. This is my first full summer in Memphis, and there have been lots of fun events happening in the city. Last summer, most events were canceled due to COVID and public spaces had restrictions on capacity. Even with a mini-term starting last July, there was little opportunity to experience summer in Memphis. Now that my classmates and I are here for the whole summer for third year, it’s been a lot of fun getting to check out all that Memphis has to offer. So far, I have gotten to go to some sporting events downtown, check out different restaurants, and spend some time outside.
Memphis has the Redbirds, which is a minor league baseball team, and Memphis 901 FC, a professional soccer team, that share Autozone Park stadium downtown. The stadium is walkable to restaurants, bars, and even Beale Street. Between the baseball and soccer teams, there is always something to attend and show your Memphis spirit! On Saturdays when the Redbirds play, the stadium has a fireworks show afterward. I recently attended a baseball game and a soccer game and had a blast at both!
Although the weather is hot, it is always nice to spend time outdoors when there is a chance to, so my friends and I have taken advantage of some of the things that Memphis has to offer outside. On Thursday evenings, there are outdoor movie screenings in the park on Mud Island along the Mississippi River. There are also kayaks available for rental right near Mud Island, and there are even some days throughout the summer when rentals are free. The river is such a pretty area to explore, especially at sunset. There are lots of great restaurants and breweries that have outdoor patios to enjoy the weather as well. Some of my favorites include Grind City Brewery, Babalu, and Young Avenue Deli.
One of the best things about Memphis is all of the great food options to choose from, and I’ve gotten to check out some different places lately. I recently ate at the Lookout at The Pyramid, which is the restaurant at the top of the famous Bass Pro Shop Pyramid downtown. The lookout has an awesome view that overlooks downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River. Some other places I have tried this summer and really enjoyed are Automatic Slims, Memphis Pizza Café, and Crumpy’s Wings. No matter what type of food you are craving, there is always a great local option in Memphis. I’m looking forward to the rest of this summer and all of the things Memphis has to offer!
SCO Student Makayla Porter, ’21, writes about the externship experiences in her fourth year:
Things are winding down in the final days before graduation – less than a month to go! My time in school honestly flew by so quickly, and it’s crazy to think about how much I’ve learned in the past 4 years.
While the classroom work done during the first three years of school had a large part in preparing me to become a practicing optometrist someday, the thing that has prepared me the most has been by far my clinical experiences - specifically, my externship rotations completed during my fourth (and final!) year. During your fourth year at SCO, you spend each semester gaining full-time experience in three different settings: The Eye Center at SCO, a private practice rotation, and an institutional rotation.
My first rotation in the summer of fourth year was a multi-doctor private practice. During this rotation, I was able to work alongside different doctors and gain insight into the various ways in which each doctor practiced and handled certain situations. I chose a busy practice that was in a rural setting and saw a wide variety of exams including post-surgery, disease management, emergent walk-ins, and routine exams. During this rotation, I learned so much about the treatment and management of various ocular conditions, but I also learned a ton regarding practice management including staffing, budgets, protocols, optical inventory and management, efficiency, and so much more. This was a great opportunity to learn more about what mode of practice I was interested in, in addition to learning about patient care.
My next rotation during the fall was back at The Eye Center at SCO. Even though I had already spent a lot of time in clinic as a second and third year at SCO, l gained a lot of new knowledge and experiences during this semester. In your fourth year, you get to work in clinics that you don’t typically during prior years, such as Contact Lens, Pediatrics, Ocular Disease, and more. These clinics really give you a lot of experience in specialized areas that you might not get a lot of in otherwise. It was really interesting and educational to see patients with various disease presentations and specific needs.
Lastly, my spring rotation (which I am currently nearing the end of) is at a VA Optometry Clinic. This was by far the most challenging and educational of them all. I wanted to challenge myself for my last rotation, so I chose a very busy, fast-paced, and ocular disease-heavy site. As difficult as this semester has been, I have grown so much in my abilities as a doctor in various different ways including efficiency, diagnosis, disease management, skill level, and more. I highly recommend choosing a site that will challenge you and push you to learn more about areas of eye care that do not come easy to you.
Overall, externships are a great experience that can help you grow into a knowledgeable, confident, and efficient Doctor of Optometry – at least more so than when you started! My biggest advice is to take care in the sites that you choose, and do not be afraid to choose a site that will challenge you! Comfort is nice but putting yourself in a situation that forces you to learn and grow is invaluable.
SCO Student Allison Wirt, ’22, writes about the changes our students have faced over the last year
At this point, it’s a cliche to say that everything has changed. At SCO, things have certainly changed in ways that we couldn’t have foreseen a year ago. Our class lectures have been solely virtual for a year, our patient schedule has been cut in half, and all of our on-campus clubs and professional events have been restructured. Sure, this has been enough to feel overwhelming but, every now and then, I sit back and think about how all of these changes have ultimately made us stronger.
Currently, our third-year class is studying for Part 1 of the NBEO - the first part of the optometry national boards certification process. Basically, it’s an exam as large as the OAT but encompassing everything that we have learned in our courses from our 1st year through 3rd year. It’s a large undertaking but our class has made strides to support each other every day. Many of us find time to study together and keep each other accountable with deadlines and evolving school policy in our class GroupMe. Over time, we have become reliant on each other and have grown as resilient doctors-in-training.
Club meetings have always been a fun way for us to spend time with other students. As you can imagine, these meetings have switched to an online format but we have thought of creative ways to have fun and spend time with each other. Two weeks ago, I helped teach a painting class for our Low Vision Club on campus. Students of all years and a few of our professors joined us for a low vision-themed paint night. Interacting with each other in a meaningful way made this so joyful for us all. You can see how much fun we had in the photo below!
We have accepted the challenge of maintaining our grades, excelling in clinic, and becoming the student leaders of our program with the help of our fellow classmates and an understanding administration. We’ve adapted by maximizing our class and clinic time throughout the week through careful planning on the part of our faculty, staff, and SGA. We consistently have had opportunities to have our opinions heard with administrative decisions in order to perform at our best. Our collective experience, much like yours, has been a journey riddled with unforeseeable circumstances but we have persevered nonetheless.