Although optometry school lasts for four years, our third year is the final year that we will spend attending classes at NECO. During our fourth year, we go on rotations at four different clinical sites, only one of which takes place in Boston. The other three rotations can be in Boston or at a variety of sites around the country, a few in Canada, and one site in China. Fourth year is also markedly different in that we will be no longer taking classes, but will be working in clinics full time.
The fact that fourth year and our four clinical rotation sites are upcoming makes third year feel a bit like senior year of college and high school. We won’t find out our site assignments until November, so we don’t know yet whether we will be in Boston for another Back to School Barbecue, or the next NECOlympics, the Halloween party, Alcon night, Spring Bling, or the formal Eye Ball. We don’t know if or when after this year we will study in the library, practice procedures on our friends, or teach other students in preclinic, or listen to our professors lecture. This year is the last that we will truly spend at NECO, and that makes it feel bittersweet.
What continues to impress me the most about NECO is that it is not just a school, but a family. The most difficult part about this being our last year at NECO is that it will be our last year living and working with such incredible classmates and friends, the last time we will be surrounded by the NECO community. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to connect with such amazing people at NECO. I know that we’ll stay in touch long after we’ve graduated, and retain the great memories of our time here. It’s also important to take advantage of our “senior year” and try to enjoy our last full year as much as possible while learning as much as we can to prepare ourselves for our rapidly approaching clinical careers.
The structure of third year is similar to that of our summer session in that we are taking fewer classes than second year and have comparatively increased clinical experience. We are taking four main courses: the second half of Ocular Pharmacology; Development, Strabismus, and Amblyopia; Low Vision Rehab Throughout the Life Span; and Advanced Ocular Disease. We also have frequent guest lectures in Ocular Disease and Advanced Clinical Care. In addition to these required courses, I am taking Clinical Decision Making in Primary Open Angle Glaucoma as an elective course to help integrate what I’ve learned about glaucoma so far and help me to utilize that knowledge in clinic.
This semester my clinical assignment is at a community health center similar to the one I worked at over the summer, but larger. Working at a community health center as opposed to a smaller private practice means that you tend to see patients with more eye disease; so far I’ve seen a number of glaucoma suspects, degenerative myopia, and Bell’s Palsy. I feel that every time I go to clinic I learn something new: different questions I should be asking patients in certain circumstances, how demographics can affect patients’ risk profiles for different disorders; tricks for identifying retinal or skin abnormalities; how to make judgments about treatment for ocular hypertension and glaucoma; and when to used advanced testing methods like OCT, visual fields, and pachymetry. I hope that this is the beginning of a “senior year” where I will gain clinical experience while enjoying my last full year here in Boston.