This is a question I get a lot from prospective students. When you're just beginning optometry school, 4th year and clinical rotations seem so far away. It's hard to think past all the course work at the very beginning and to picture yourself seeing patients in a private practice somewhere as a 4th year. But the first three years flew by and now my class is spread out all over the country applying their clinical skills in a real-world setting. It's an exciting time and it makes graduation and becoming licensed optometrists not seem so far away anymore! I'll summarize how these rotations work and how the site selection process is set up. There is a lot that goes into it and the process can be a little complicated at times, but it is all worth it when you finally make it to that first rotation and start to really feel like an eye doctor. :-)
Fourth year at SCO is divided into the three regular semesters - summer, fall, and spring. Our rotations each last one full semester so fourth year is made up of three rotations that are about four months long each. Of these three rotations, one of them has to be in-house at The Eye Center at SCO, one has to be in a private practice setting, and one has to be in an institutional or more "hospital-based" setting. This gives us experience in three different settings so that we can experience them all firsthand to see what setting feels like the best fit for us. The three rotations can go in any order, and of course only one third of the class is on campus for their SCO rotation at a time.
So how does the selection process work? At the beginning of our third year we are provided with a list of sites. As I mentioned before, these sites are all over the country. We then get a few weeks to look into the sites we might be interested in, to read reviews from former students who rotated through those sites, and to decide when and where we would like to go. Some people choose to go to sites in their home state or in the state they plan to practice in, some go to cities they simply want to spend four months living in, and some choose to stay local in the Memphis area for the full year (there are plenty of options in Memphis). Then, the selection process begins. Students are given home state priority first (if you're from Texas, you get first dibs for the Texas sites), then class rank priority kicks in. So if you want a site in a state you aren't from but you're #1 in the class, you'll be next in line after the people from that state. Everybody tries to communicate and work together during this process so that people end up knowing if they will likely be matched with their first choice or not. We then submit our top 3 choices for each rotation and we find out a couple weeks later where we were placed.
My husband and I decided to stay in the Memphis area for our rotations so that we could be more flexible in terms of site and semester selection and not have to be apart right after getting married. I ended up choosing SCO in the summer, Leroy Norton Jr. Family Vision Center (private practice) in the fall, and Olive Branch Eye Care/Charles Retina (institutional) in the spring. Ben chose the Memphis VAMC (institutional) in the summer, Eyecare East (private practice) in the fall, and SCO in the spring. It's been fun being at different places and comparing our experiences so far. Every site is different and provides a different experience for the student, which is why the selection process is so important.
I hope this clears it up a little bit for any prospective students who may be reading this! Externships are a great experience and are so important in building our confidence and clinical skills and in helping us find the right fit for us professionally. I'm learning so much every day at my private practice site (I wrote a post specifically about it in September, you should be able to find it by scrolling down if you're interested!).
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment if you have any questions! Happy Thursday!