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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
Hi y’all! Paige Willett (second-year student) here, writing this during one of the busiest semesters I have had of optometry school yet. Second year really kicks it into gear and you hit the ground running! It has been so fun, albeit stressful at times, learning so many new skills and focusing on more clinic-oriented classes. We have also been over in The Eye Center for the first time this year so that has been one of the most interesting parts of second year so far.
One of my favorite things about our profession is that it is never stagnant. There are always new advancements being made on both the research side of things and the legislation side of scope of practice. Something that has made me realize our profession really is like a family is seeing how we will come together to expand scope of practice. Some recent advancements made in our scope of practice include: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Wyoming being able to perform laser procedures; Massachusetts and Texas being able to manage glaucoma; and most recently New York state being able to prescribe oral medications. These expansions are very important because these are skills we are currently learning at SCO, so being able to practice to the full extent of our knowledge means better care can be provided to our patients. Many of these legislative battles were years in the making and involved many doctors around the country. Without the joint effort of doctors in their home state as well as surrounding states, none of these advancements would have been possible. The American Optometric Association also plays a big role in helping states expand their scope.
So you might read and this and think to yourself, “that’s really cool I’m sure I’ll be involved in helping with that once I graduate.” Which is exactly what I was thinking when there was legislation trying to be passed in my home state of Arkansas. A quick backstory on the legislative battle in Arkansas: The bill was originally passed by the House or Representatives and Senate approving the expansion of scope, when ophthalmologists in Arkansas challenged this bill and collected signatures for a referendum. The Arkansas Optometric Association then sued the ophthalmologist group citing that the signatures were collected unethically and therefore should not be valid.
One Saturday the summer before my senior year of college, I was approached by two different people collecting signatures “to keep optometrists from cutting on people’s eyes because they aren’t doctors” as they worded it. In true Gen Z fashion, I whipped out my phone and started videoing the guy who was so aggressively trying to get my signature by spouting off tons of misinformation about optometrists. Fast forward to the summer before I started optometry school, I was asked to testify in court because the videos I took were now being used as evidence. This was a very nerve-wracking day for me, I even had to take the oath to tell the truth like they do on TV (so wild!). Never did I ever think the videos I took would result in all that. This experience really showed me that students can still play a role in advocacy for our profession. It’s easy for us to think that we don’t have a big role to play while in school, when that’s far from the truth. No matter what state you plan on practicing in, the American Optometric Association and local state associations are always looking for student involvement and you never know where that involvement might lead you in the future.
Signing off to go study,
Class of 2024
Hi friends! My name is Anita Prasad and I’m about to start my first year here at SCO! I graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Film Studies. Don’t be fooled by my major and career choice; film was in the driver’s seat for most of my life. I geared every aspect of my life toward the cinematic process: I played piano (to learn movie scores), painted (it’s like film stills), competitively danced into college (it's like set staging), and went to the Cannes Film Festival (biggest international film festival in the world, no big deal!) You might be wondering how I ended up on the other end of the spectrum, pursuing a doctorate in a STEM field. I’ll spare you the details of a long story with one lofty segue: my real passion is to work with the lens of the eye, not the lens of a camera.
Ok, maybe I lied. I may have a passion even greater than film and optometry and her name is the Memphis Pyramid, aka Bass Pro Shops Pyramid. The first thing I told people when I said I was moving to Memphis was about this pyramid. They all thought it was a cute little joke, so let me clear the air now -- this is the 9th largest pyramid in the world. Right behind all those posers in Giza, there is the Memphis Bass Pro Shops. At this point, this is more than a Bass Pro, this is a lifestyle. They’ve got a whole resort-style lodge, an aquarium, alligators, a restaurant at which I could only afford appetizers, a panoramic viewing deck, and a little candy store. I specifically chose my Mud Island apartment knowing that it is about thirty seconds from the Bass Pro Shops. I’m obsessed.
I think my Bass Pro obsession perfectly illustrates how Memphis is a city of niches. Just as there is the Bass Pro Pyramid for me, I’ve noticed that there is a space for everyone. Whether it’s art, music, food, sports, etc. Memphis is an energetic city with small-town charm. I can say the same of SCO which is one of the many reasons I chose this school. With a class size this big, everyone can find the perfect niche of friends. I’ve only met about a fourth of Class of ‘25 but I can already tell it's a winner. I know I’m going to have so much fun here (respectfully, educationally, professionally, of course, of course).
Here’s some pictures of some CO ’25 enjoying our last days of summer break. Eye am dying to meet you all!
Hi everyone! My name is Brianna and I am an incoming first-year student. I am very excited to begin my optometry journey and to contribute to the student life blogs during my time here!
I was born in Saginaw, Michigan, but I spent the longest chunk of my life in Katy, Texas, just outside of Houston. For undergrad I went up to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where I graduated with a Neuroscience Degree in 2019. At that point I had very little idea of what I wanted to do for a career. Like a number of my new SCO classmates, I started undergrad thinking I wanted to be pre-med. But after doing some shadowing and understanding more about the profession, I realized that my heart just wasn’t in it the way that I believed it should be for anyone pursuing medicine. I felt like I was back at square one, but I was determined to keep going with interests I enjoyed and see where they would lead me.
During my junior year, I became a Research Assistant under one of my professors in a lab that studies the effects of visual experience on the mind and brain. We would run MRI studies examining what tasks the “visual” cortex of a blind person’s brain does, as well as behavioral studies examining what blind individuals know about vision-related concepts like colors and light. I was fascinated by the research, and I enjoyed my time there so much that after I graduated I became the full-time Lab Manager.
Soon after I started full-time, an old colleague of my supervisor gave a guest lecture at our lab meeting. It was the most interesting research talk I had ever heard! The speaker was an optometrist who did clinical research on children with Cortical Visual Impairment, a type of blindness that is very difficult to diagnose because it is due to abnormalities in the brain rather than the eyes. I was moved by how much he cared for his patients and how passionate he was that there was not enough research on the widespread condition. After his talk, the lab took him out to dinner, and I was able to talk to him more about optometry and his path there. That very night I looked up optometry as a career, and it became something I came back to again and again.
Meanwhile, it became apparent to me that in both the Research Assistant and Lab Manager roles, the days I enjoyed most were those where I was interacting with participants. Because of the specific criteria our blind participants had to meet, we had a pretty small pool of people and would spend a lot of time with them, either flying them in for MRIs or running studies back to back at conventions. I got to meet all kinds of different people and hear a lot about their experiences living without any vision. It truly changed the way I thought about vision and vision loss. As I continued reading about optometry, I learned about the field of low vision where the doctor helps patients navigate vision loss when there is nothing further that can be done medically. This speciality in particular sounded like a great fit to me, and cemented the idea that I wanted to pursue optometry.
I applied to 5 different schools, but SCO was an easy choice for me. I could write a whole post about why this school is great and I know that the longer I’m here, the more accurately I’ll be able to speak about that. So to keep things brief for now: top-tier board passage rates; impressive arsenal of scholarships; extremely nice staff, faculty, and students (I mean seriously, every single person I’ve met so far has been lovely); huge eye clinic; mock board exam rooms; low cost of living; dedicated business education. The list goes on and on but I could not be happier to be here.
I cannot wait to begin classes, and to start learning clinical skills in lab on day one. The fall semester seemed incredibly far away for so long, but now this time next week I’ll be in class. Ready for the adventure!