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“One or two? Two or three? Three or four?”
Four looks the best to me as I am finishing up my fourth year of optometry school!
Allow me to share three discoveries I made during my SCO experience.
1. Get involved and connect with others
SCO is filled with wonderful people. Learn about their cultures. Be a student of people, not just optometry. Connect with both staff members and fellow students. Knowing people at a personal level, caring about them and their families, and becoming an integral part of the SCO family makes school far more meaningful. Building connections with others is a vitally important balm in our distressed world.
2. You’re doing better than you think you are
Optometry school is four difficult years. Weekends get sucked up with study and lab practice. Being away from family feels isolating. The best advice I can give is advice I received long ago: “Live one day at a time.” Don’t worry about tomorrow. Live in the present. That’s all we have control over. This mindset makes school more manageable. You can get through finals week, board exams, tomorrow’s practical, and ultimately these four challenging years. Everyone feels the same pressures. You’re doing great!
3. We change lives
We can materially impact people’s quality of life. My last externship site focuses on vision therapy. I have witnessed multiple patients appreciate fine stereo vision for the first time. I’ve seen concussion patients’ headache frequency diminish to nearly zero. This field of optometry is bringing a world of opportunity to the lifestyles of people who have previously had few options. Ask insightful questions. Care about patients. Regardless of the area of optometry in which we work, we can all meaningfully change others’ lives.
I appreciate all the people throughout my four years at SCO who have taught, befriended, and guided me. Thank you! I’m excited to apply the skills I have gained in doing my small part to improve others’ lives through better vision.
Last day of 4th year SCO clinic. Pictured left to right: Dr. Borgman, Braden Sorensen, Christopher Pope (me), Griffin Smith
All my best,
Christopher Pope, '22
Happy Spring everyone! I just finished my second round of midterms this semester and already there are classmates reminding me that final exams are just around the corner in four weeks. That means there’s about a month left before I’m done with my first year! These past few months truly have gone by so fast. SCO recently hosted the annual housing fair for the incoming class, and it reminded me of how I was in a semi-frantic position just a year ago trying to figure out the logistics of moving to Memphis. To think that I’m now no longer a newbie sounds a bit bizarre, but we must continue to progress forward and take on the challenges that come with being a second-year optometry student!
My start to optometry school was more seamless than expected because of the many people that were there to help me navigate through the unfamiliarity that comes with moving to a new location and beginning a graduate-level program. Upon starting at SCO, every one of the entering class is assigned to a big sib who is a student from the year above. Each student also has a faculty advisor who they first meet during orientation. Initially, I didn’t know about this but finding out that I had specific people I could reach out to gave me so much relief in case I had questions and didn’t know who I could ask. With that being said, you are not only limited to speaking with your big sib or faculty advisor, although they are excellent resources. You can reach out to any upperclassmen, faculty, or staff member, and everyone will try their best to answer to your needs. I’ve received lots of great pointers from asking various people about classes, study tips, time management, living in Memphis, good food places, and so on. All that advice has guided and helped me overcome the initial foreignness of optometry school.
Speaking of guidance, I was a participant in the Connect Mentorship program, which was brought together by the Hayes Center, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Vision Source. It was a really great chance to form connections and learn about optometry outside of what we usually learn in the classroom. In this program, I was matched with a mentor who is an optometrist from the West Coast like I am. A meeting was held every couple of weeks, in which all the mentors and mentees of the program would collectively discuss topics pertaining to optometry school and the profession of optometry. Each session focused on a specific talking point, such as budgeting/finance management, school/life balance, different modes of practice, leadership, the impact of technology and telehealth on patient care, and much more. Mentors shared lots of their expertise and experience as former optometry students and current practicing optometrists. The mentees also had individual one-on-one time with their mentors for a closer interaction and time to ask questions that didn’t get addressed in the discussion with the larger group. Through this mentorship program, I was exposed to lots of insight that framed my mindset of what to expect as I continue through optometry school and eventually join the workforce in the near future.
Me and my mentor :)
Very soon, I won’t be a newcomer to SCO anymore but rather a “returner.” Even though I made it past the newcomer phase, I’ve realized that there will always be uncertainties ahead of me, as I will be new to second year of optometry school, and then third year, and so on. Being new to something can seem daunting, but I know the SCO community and affiliates are there to guide me along the way. I’m a little sad to let go of my position being a first-year student, but it’s time to make the next transition. Second year, here I come!
By Kammy Lin, '25
For the last year, I have had one of the most genuine pleasures of my life with being a student ambassador at the Southern College of Optometry. It has allowed me to see the school in a new perspective, gain access to some areas of the campus slightly earlier than most students and learn a bit more about the history of the school and optometry in general. It’s given me the opportunity to talk to people in the SCO community that I would probably not have otherwise, but most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to talk to those still outside of SCO that are considering becoming a part of it.
Every time I give a tour, or have a student reach out with questions as they consider accepting their offer, I am reminded that I was once just as clueless about Memphis, school, optometry, financial aid, everything that comes along with another four-year academic program. I strive during these conversations to establish credibility by offering my most honest presentation of what life is like here in Memphis and at SCO. Here are my top three things I wish I would have known about optometry school prior to my arrival in Memphis.
Andrew & fellow SCO Student Ambassadors
1. Optometry school is very hard. “Oh wow, what earth-shattering news, Andrew! What a revelation you have made.” Hear me out. I was one of those students that pretty effortlessly earned straight As in high school, and I don’t recall studying in college more than a handful of times. I was not under the assumption that optometry school would be a walk in the park, but I don’t think I ever considered that I would unlock entirely new levels of academic stress. There was no “syllabus week,” almost zero extra credit opportunities, most classes didn’t have quizzes or assignments (I hope you’re a good test taker), and these lab instructors have the audacity to make me prepare before lab??
One memory that has unfortunately stuck with me vividly is the first Monday of class, struggling to get my OneNote to upload the slides that were shared the night before. Before I had even taken a single note, I was doubting my place here. Maybe I’m encroaching on middle age a little earlier than most, or perhaps in retrospect, OneNote was just being a diva that day, but imagine trying to go interview for your first job and you can’t tie your shoelaces. This feeling will ebb and flow. Crush a practical? I’m going to treat myself to ice cream. Oh no, there was a quiz today… I’m going to quell the sadness with the rest of that ice cream. I have recently described this semester as trying to hike a mountain that grows taller twice as fast as you can climb. Every question you answer for yourself only reveals two more questions. The good news is that people graduate every year! This program does not exist to “weed out” anybody. SCO has refined the art of applying and interviewing, and they genuinely want all 136 individuals that start each fall to receive their diploma four years later. You will work harder and stress more than ever before, and then you will be a physician.
2. Optometry is a much more interesting career than anyone outside of it could ever know. I was just as guilty as the average person of thinking that optometry was about glasses and contact lenses. Shockingly little of my education so far has pertained to prescribing lenses to correct vision. The visual system stands alongside the brain and immune system as not only some of the most complicated systems in the human body, but the most amazing phenomena in the known universe. Optometrists have a breadth and depth of knowledge beyond what is obvious during your 30-minute eye exam once a year.
I had never considered the simple fact that nowhere else in the human body, except the eye, can you observe blood vessels without cutting flesh. The power of this cannot be overstated. The eyes are intimately connected to your body in so many ways. So often I hear of people with “perfect vision” that haven’t had an eye exam since someone told them they read 20/20 in third grade (aside: have you ever wondered why 20/20 is as good as we can do? Why can’t our eyes zoom like telescopes or microscopes to see distant planets, or minute bacteria? Come to optometry school to learn far more than you ever wanted to know on that subject). Substituting 20/20 visual acuity for “perfectly healthy eyes” is a bit like having a normal reflex when your primary care physician hammers your knee and concluding that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with your body. In addition to providing a window to the soul, eyes provide a literal window inside of your body, in a way gastroenterologists can only dream of (Google “colonoscopy” for more information).
I joined this profession thinking that optometry was a niche profession, for people with poor eyesight. I have since grown to understand that optometry is just as crucial in your yearly round-up as having your routine bloodwork done at your primary care doc’s office, or having those teeth cleaned. As the population in the US ages, optometrists will have a crucial role in primary healthcare, and we need more brilliant students to come learn how to evaluate systemic health using the magic of optics. Also, a friendly reminder to book your annual eye exam!
Amazed by the power of optics
3. Optometry school—like every other decision you make in life—comes with tradeoffs. I suspect everyone has heard some form of the “in college there are friends, good grades, and sleep. You can choose two.” The reality is there are about 45 things to choose from and you don’t really get to choose any of them. You will stumble around exhausted and feeling like you haven’t studied or been to class or seen a friend off-campus in a month. Seriously, what happened to the last two weeks? The good news is that academic success is not about your GPA. Optometry school is humbling (see point 1).
There is so much that goes into being a physician that is learned through experience rather than an academic understanding. There is no textbook that teaches you how to break bad news to a patient, or leave a good feeling in your patients’ minds that will keep them coming back for years. The person who gets the highest grades on every test may struggle to perform the technical procedures in lab, or have a hard time building rapport. The point of this program is not to produce 136 identical robot physicians each year, and the world will rely on us having diverse strengths and weaknesses. There is not enough time in a day or even a lifetime for an optometrist to master every single aspect of this trade. Another thing that is occasionally hard to believe is that being a student does not absolve you of being a human being with weird, often irrational needs. You still must think about your health—physical and mental—your family, your friends from home, what you’re going to eat for dinner when your checking account is in the double or single digits... Everyone here has had to take a test while they can’t get their mind off their sick grandparent, or a breakup, or an accident that totaled their car. For better or worse, the show must go on, and it can feel impossible to make time to decompress and just live a human life. Optometry school is a juggling act. Moreso than the clinical knowledge you will gain from the classroom, labs, and clinic, you will learn about yourself, how you react to stress, how you can overcome challenges, how to manage a strict budget, and so much more that can’t reasonably be considered optometry. You will learn the art of making trade-offs.
Optometry school will be a very difficult and very beautiful time in your life. I am speaking primarily to myself when I say that it is of utmost importance to start giving yourself a little grace. You’re not perfect, and despite what you may feel some days, nobody expects you to be. Some days, you will be the one that scores 15% below the class average. Just as often, it will be one of your colleagues who is going through it, internally feeling that they are not up to snuff, not aware of how much you admire their work ethic and positivity. It isn’t cool to walk around school crying openly, but if it was, I suspect virtually all of us would have done it at one time or another. All of this to say that you should expect failure. There are five years or curriculum stuffed into four years, you’re in soul crushing debt, and almost every day will push you to the edge of your academic abilities. But you can also expect to emerge on the other side with a massive and important set of skills. You will change people’s lives for the better, including your own. It is ok to let that 4.0 slide a little, or a lot. Your test scores will not define you, only your willingness to learn. The main thing I wish I knew before arriving in Memphis in August 2020 is that no matter how impossible it feels sometimes, I can do this, and you can too.
By Andrew Murphy