I’ve had three weeks of classes so far in my second year at NECO, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I began to fully comprehend the scope of how far my class has come, and how far we still have to go in our education here.
Yesterday was my class’s white coat ceremony, which we’ve been hearing about since we first started at NECO. Although we participated in vision screenings and observed optometrists last year, this year is when we truly begin our clinical education in Boston. In addition to taking classes in Immunology, General Pharmacology, Optics, PPO, and Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility this semester, we’ve started participating in clerkships at optometry practices around the city. After three weeks of classes and clinic, I’ve started to realize that what I’ve heard about second year being the most difficult is true. The increased level of difficulty in our classes is apparent, as are the more complex procedures, like slit lamp examinations, that we’ve started to learn in PPO lab. This year, we are taking on more responsibility not only as students, but as clinicians; at the beginning of the year, both of these challenges seemed not only exciting, but also intimidating.
For a NECO student, receiving a white coat is symbolic and resonates in several ways. It is a testament to surviving our first year of school, of being able to accommodate the increased workload of graduate school and shoulder the responsibility of becoming a future clinician. It also denotes our transition from students to clinicians who are able to perform procedures with greater independence and confidence. It is a sign that we are closer to becoming optometrists, and that although it sometimes feels as though our optometric education is still beginning, we have learned more in our time at NECO than we initially thought possible.
At the white coat ceremony, thinking about everything I learned last year and how much I still have to learn about optometry, I felt extremely proud of myself and my classmates for working so hard and pushing ourselves to keep learning and expanding our skills as future optometrists. Beyond that, however, I felt inspired. With my white coat came the comprehension that I am on a path toward something I have dreamed about accomplishing for years, that I am going to be faced with new concepts and procedures that may intimidate me at first, but that my classmates and I are ready and capable to face the challenges that come our way. Becoming an optometrist was never supposed to be easy, but receiving my white coat reminded me that it is difficult for a reason–because at NECO, we learn to be the best optometrist that we can possibly become. We push ourselves to constantly learn more, study more, and practice more, and it can be easy to lose sight of our motivations, thinking about short-term goals like exams and proficiencies. Because what we should be concerned with above all else, what I remind myself about every day, is why we made the decision to pursue this career in the first place. For me, it was the desire to make a direct positive impact on the lives of others as a health care provider, to change someone’s life by improving their vision and eye health. When my class is faced with challenges this year and beyond in our continuing education at NECO and in clinics, I hope that we will be able to look at our white coats and remember the feeling of inspiration that they bring, and be reminded of our passion for helping others that brought us to the field in the first place.
At the ceremony, Dr. Scott, the president of the college, spoke about the significance of receiving our white coats and the sense of pride and excitement we should feel at our transition into clinicians. He told us that later that night, we might want to get out of bed and try our white coat on in front of the mirror to recapture the inspiration we felt at the ceremony. I hope that even years from now, I can look at my white coat and remember what it was like to be a student here, what it felt like to be consumed with excitement and be able to recapture that feeling, that inspiration, that first made me want to become an optometrist.
Thank you to Anna Lam for the photos!