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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.