Thoughts on Finishing Second Year, Starting Third Year, and Beyond

I’m extremely excited for and proud of the class of 2015 for completing our second, and arguably most difficult, year of optometry school. We survived all seven of our final exams through hard work and perseverance, and extended our clinical education by learning new procedures and incorporating them into our experiences at our different clinic sites. We learned to identify and diagnose various eye conditions, as well as how to incorporate a patient’s systemic conditions into their diagnosis and treatment. We expanded our scope of knowledge through both classroom instruction and gaining experience in clinic. I feel like I learned so much this year, but there is still so much I want to explore within the field of optometry: different eye conditions, other areas of expertise, and different ways of understanding ocular disease. Unlike last year, when we had our summer free, this summer we begin our third year of optometry school, and in doing so we begin to expand both our clinical experience and our classroom experience.

The summer after second year, we had the option of taking classes in either the first or second half of the summer. In addition to classes like Clinical Reasoning and Ocular Pharmacology, this summer we also had our first opportunity to choose elective classes based on our specific interests within the field of optometry, in areas such as OCTs, traumatic brain injury, ocular nutrition, and specific anterior segment disorders. We will also be able to take elective courses in fall and spring semester, although it is recommended that we complete them all in the fall to avoid adding strain on ourselves while studying for part 1 of our national board exams. We will also be greatly increasing our clinic time starting this summer, spending an average of 20 hours per week in clinic with more responsibilities and involvement in patient care than we have had previously. I’m very excited about the increased amount of clinical experience that will begin this summer; learning in clinic is very different from learning in a classroom, and I’m glad that we will have the opportunity to learn at new clinic sites and from new preceptors and patients.

Last week also marked an important deadline for me and my classmates: I turned in my selections for my fourth-year rotations. Our fourth year at NECO is comprised of four three-month externships that can be completed either in Boston or at a variety of sites around the country; there is even an externship site in China. When choosing our externship sites, we are able to rank our preferences in three different categories: a specialty rotation, which can be at a site that specializes in an area such as pediatrics, contact lens, ocular disease, low vision, or binocular vision; a veteran’s administration site in a hospital setting; and an elective rotation, which could be a private practice, specialty clinic, or in a hospital setting. The fourth site, a community health center site in Boston, is assigned to us.

It’s exciting to be able to choose sites based on our interests and to have so many varied opportunities for where we can learn, and it’s also extremely thought-provoking. Thinking about what fourth year sites I want to work at evokes thoughts about what type of clinic I eventually want to work at after I graduate, and which specialties interest me the most. When I first started at NECO, I thought that I wanted to specialize in vision therapy or pediatrics; as I learn more and more in class and clinic, I realize that I am no longer so sure about where my interests lie because so many specialties offer different and interesting opportunities for learning. I want to gain more experience in fields like ocular disease and low vision in addition to learning more about pediatrics and vision therapy before I can determine whether I’d like to pursue a residency or work at a certain type of clinic. Many optometrists also do not have a specialty, so it is important for all of us to learn about each type of specialty because as a general optometrist we could see patients that fit any or several of different categories.