Firsts and Lasts

Elementary school, middle school, high school. Four years of college and three at NECO; all told, I’ve been in school for twenty of the nearly twenty-five years of my life. I’ve survived what feels like an infinite number of quizzes, tests, and exams and the stress inherent in pursuing a challenging academic path. Whether you count it in years or in blood, sweat, and tears, I have taken a very long journey that has recently come to an end.

Last month, I took the last final exams of my life. It may sound like a small measure of progress, but it is something that I am still finding difficult to grasp. Finals week, more so than any other measure of academic achievement, has been a constant in my life. There’s the ritual of studying: rewriting notes, underlining, highlighting; making flashcards; studying with friends and quizzing each other when we find something we don’t know; making lists and study schedules and covering them with satisfying checkmarks. There’s the places that become transitory homes: libraries, coffee shops, hidden nooks at school. There are the emotions: stress, relief, concentration, and that magical combination of hilarity and exhaustion that occurs around midnight when you realize that you’re getting nowhere with studying and need to resort to dancing it out. For all the difficulty inherent in finals week, I have some strangely wonderful memories of studying at NECO, and the ways we coped with stress as a NECO family: an aforementioned midnight Gangnam style dance party in the Clausen room; a twilit jog through newly fallen snow with my roommate; repeated trips to Starbucks with a few of us gathering coffee orders from everyone in the library. It’s all over now; after the completion of several projects and three exams, I have, hopefully, utilized my last mechanical pencil and Scantron sheet. I should feel a sense of accomplishment; truthfully, it’s surreal. I think I still half-expect to receive a schedule for midterms soon.

Of course, being finished with the formal classroom aspect of my education in no way necessitates an end to studying. In addition to the remaining parts of Boards that I need to take, studying for clinic will be a constant force in my life. Moving forward with my career, I want to refresh my knowledge about different aspects of optometry while I continue to research new frontiers in the field and stay current with optometric news and treatment modalities. It’s a different kind of studying, one that seeks to build confidence and grow a knowledge base rather than to accomplish a specific goal or bypass a particular academic landmark, and it’s crucial, in this sense, that I never stop studying.

In my next blog post, I’ll tell you all about the first of my fourth-year rotations and the myriad of differences I’m noticing between private practices and community health centers, but for now, I’ll just say this–being in clinic full time is challenging, intriguing, and inspiring. I’m here to learn, and I’m absolutely learning–about my strengths and weaknesses as a clinician, about eye conditions I haven’t encountered previously, and about what kind of optometrist I want to be.