Wow… I can’t believe I’m officially done with my first year of optometry school! I feel like I was just moving onto Mud Island, then I blinked, and suddenly, I’m walking out of my last final exam. While I’m somewhat sad to give up my title as a first year, I am so proud of all that my classmates and I have accomplished this year. Our new label of “second-years” is certainly well-deserved (38 exams later!). During my first year of optometry school, I surprised myself with the magnitude of information my brain could absorb. I also made some incredible friends and became familiar with my new home of Memphis!
Although I spent many hours shadowing optometrists and researching this field, I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate just how complex the eye is until you are actually in optometry school. There is so much to human vision that most people do not even think about, despite this being arguably our most important sense. Our Theory and Methods instructor, Dr. Lebowitz, explains it best when she compares optometry school to drinking out of a fire hydrant. What my classmates and I have come to learn is that the real challenge of optometry school is not that all of the material is rocket science (although some of it seems like it is), but rather, it is the sheer amount of information and skills one must learn in such a short period of time. While there are many long days and late nights leading up to exam weeks, the feeling when you complete your last test or practical makes it all worth it.
For instance, our Theory and Methods final practical required us to take a case history, perform our full refraction sequence, and complete near point testing all within the allotted twenty-six minutes. As nerve-wracking as that was, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how much I had improved since the start of the semester. I think back to my first Theory practical last semester where we had twenty minutes to perform retinoscopy on ten unknown lenses with our schematic eye. I was terrified going into that practical. It makes me laugh to remember that moment because -- although this semester's final practical was objectively much more challenging -- I felt much less nervous.
I think this is a testament to how much our skills have grown, as has our confidence as student doctors. We spent hours and hours in the lab practicing, getting corrections from our lab instructors and peers to the point where I was honestly more nervous about being a good patient for my partner on their final practical (not fogging up the phoropter with my mask on, etc.) than I was to perform my own final! I appreciate how optometry forces you to constantly learn and improve; many of the skills I thought I had “mastered” last semester I was required to do with even more efficiency and deeper understanding this semester. Similarly, many of the concepts we learned in our lecture courses in the Fall carried through to this semester. I am eager for our second year where we will start to shadow in The Eye Center and perform school-screenings, putting all of what we have learned into practice.
Despite the sometimes-stressful nature of optometry school, my SCO friends have been the best support system. I am so grateful for them and the many memories we have made this year alone. From the jokes shared in between classes, lunches on the fourth floor, walks along the Mississippi River, and evenings on Beale Street, they made even the most mundane moments fun. Being from Connecticut, my Southern friends have taken it upon themselves to teach me all the nuances of the South. Not only have I learned the ten layers of the retina, but also the significance of SEC rivalries and the approximately eight different meanings of the phrase, “Bless your heart,” depending on the tone.
All this year -- even when I was exhausted from studying or waking up for our 8 AM lectures -- I kept thinking about how much I am going to miss these days. Although we are all eager to start officially practicing as an O.D. in three years, my friends and I already get sentimental about the fact that we will not be together for our fourth-year externships and after graduation. As cliche as it sounds, they really are my home away from home.
I am excited to get to know more of my classmates this upcoming school year! My grade has proven to be extremely collaborative and passionate about optometry. Our class GroupMe is full of links to study guides and flashcards that my peers have created for our courses. Becoming a Student Ambassador in January has allowed me to bond with more of my peers, as well as SCO upperclassmen who have been incredibly supportive. I truly had an incredible first year of optometry school. Of course, there were challenging moments, but I feel so certain that I made the right choice pursuing optometry as a career and that SCO is the perfect school for me.