Taking Advantage of the Present While Looking to the Future

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A constant presence in my education at NECO has been the need to constantly expand my knowledge to accommodate new aspects of the field of optometry. After foundation courses come those that are more detailed and specific; after we learned basic entrance testing we began to try to master more complex procedures. And now, almost halfway through my second year at NECO, we have begun to discuss what will happen after we graduate from school and begin to practice optometry ourselves.

Last Saturday, the second years attended a seminar and introduction to the Ophthalmic Business Management course we will be taking next semester given by two guest lecturers who have attained a high degree of success in the optometric business world. Our optometric education is well underway, but prior to this we hadn’t had any discussion about the business aspect of our future careers, or the different aspects of choosing a career path and searching for a job. As optometry students, we had assumed previously that a large portion of our future careers was already mapped out for us: we would simply find a job and work there as optometrists. At the seminar, however, we learned that the actual process is a great deal more complex than that. Starting now and continuing into our second and third years, we will be facing more and more decisions about what direction our careers will take once we leave school: whether or not we will complete a residency; which field a residency would be the most valuable in; where we want to practice optometry or might consider practicing optometry in the future; whether we want to specialize in a certain field; whether we want to work in a commercial or private setting; and if we would want to consider opening our own practices. We learned from the seminar that these are all decisions we need to start considering now, even though we still have so much to learn about treating our patients.

With so many different career paths to consider, it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed. I find myself interested in pediatric optometry, vision therapy, and low vision, but I would like to learn more about all of these fields before I would consider pursuing a residency or position specific to any of them. We were advised at the seminar to begin shadowing optometrists in our hometowns during vacation time, and to attend optometric meetings and seminars in order to network more with optometrists in the cities and states where we are interested in practicing. I have always been interested in working in a private practice setting and potentially starting my own practice one day, and I am realizing how much research I will need to do into both of these areas before I graduate so that I can be better prepared for the challenges I will face later. I’m glad that next semester we will start preparing to enter the business world by taking the Ophthalmic Business Management course, and I hope that what we learn in the course can help me determine the optometric career path that is right for me.

As second years, it is crucial that we begin looking to the future, but it is also important to enjoy the time we spend here at NECO. It’s difficult to strike a balance between studying extremely hard and taking advantage of all of the amazing things that NECO and Boston have to offer, but this is what my semester has been full of. In addition to studying and classes, a few weeks ago I went to a launch party for this year’s Eye Ball, the formal party that is held for NECO students every spring. The party was Great Gatsby-themed, and it was great to see all of my classmates dressed up in 1920’s style to take a well-earned study break. Even during Thanksgiving break, I was able to integrate studying with spending time with my family time by practicing studying my family’s optic nerves with my ophthalmoscope. By working hard and taking advantage of everything my school has to offer, I hope that I can leave NECO prepared for the new challenges I will face as a practicing optometrist.

Thanks to Edna Chiu for the photo!

A Sense of Community at NECO

Midterms ended a week ago, and proficiency exams start tomorrow for second years. Reflecting on how my class has studied for midterms as well as proficiencies, I realized that I’ve really been inspired by the close-knit nature of the NECO community, and extremely impressed with how the college comes together in a network of support.

In high school and even college, there was a constant undercurrent of competition that soured preparing for a test or receiving a grade; you were pushed not only to do well, but to do better than everyone else in order to get into a more competitive college or graduate school. Here, rather than unearthing a sense of competitiveness, the threat of midterm week instead evokes an even tighter feel of community at NECO. As exams approach, instead of sequestering ourselves and surrounding ourselves with nothing but our own notes, we study together, asking each other questions about the material and exposing areas where we are weakest. Exams can be stressful, but instead of bringing out the worst in people, they tend to bring out our willingness to learn with our fellow future optometrists instead of by ourselves.

By quizzing each other and studying in groups, we are able to share different study techniques and better understand the material by analyzing it from several different perspectives. We are also able to encourage and motivate each other when the material we need to learn seems daunting. One of my favorite memories from midterms this year was when my study group took a yoga break to refresh ourselves, and when we learned the “Gangnam Style” dance to help us stay awake. Being an optometry student is about more than learning the material in our classes; it involves learning how we learn best and how we can retain what we learn in class for the long term.

This week is also the beginning of our first round of second year proficiencies. In our first year at NECO, we had two proficiency exams. The first dealt only with entrance tests, or simple optometric tests done at the beginning of routine comprehensive examinations. The second included entrance testing in addition to contact lens insertion and removal, as well as retinoscopy and refraction, or determining a prescription for the patient. This semester, we will be responsible again for entrance tests, but in significantly less time than we have had previously; direct ophthalmoscopy, which involves examining the optic nerve and back of the eye; and a full refraction, including add determination, on an adult patient. Similar to exams, preparing for proficiencies brings out the camaraderie among NECO students–we practice together, pass along tips on different techniques, and learn from each other how to improve our clinical skills.

One of the most amazing things about studying at NECO is how much I am able to learn here, using different strategies than I used in college or high school. When I study with my classmates, it feels like we are future colleagues rather than students, and that we can share any knowledge we have gained from studying or from our clinical experiences without having competitive attitudes toward one another. We all want to become successful optometrists, but we want to do that together as a class rather than merely as individuals.