Last week, I moved to my hometown of Buffalo, New York, for my fourth and final clinical rotation of optometry school. This will be my second rotation at a VA hospital, and I will be working in both a primary care environment and also a low vision clinic. While in the primary care setting, I will be giving comprehensive eye exams to veterans as well as urgent care and follow-up visits for red eyes, foreign bodies, and glaucoma management. In the low vision clinic, I will be specifically working with veterans who have lost a good portion of their sight to disorders such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and traumatic brain injuries. Rather than focusing on the treatment of these conditions, which is handled by a separate team of optometrists and/or opthalmologists within or outside the VA system, the low vision exams I will be performing are focused on analyzing the degree of vision loss the patient has experienced, maximizing the patient’s remaining vision and teaching them tools and techniques to help them function better in their environment.
I was extremely impressed with and touched by my last VA rotation in New England, as I discussed in a previous blog, and am very glad to again be working within the VA system. It’s also great to get the opportunity to rediscover my hometown, where I haven’t lived for more than a summer since high school, and spend time with my family here. Returning to my hometown, as well as beginning my final clinical rotation of optometry school, has induced me to more carefully consider where I stand with regard to my optometric education. As of today, there are a little over two months left until graduation; as of last week, I found out that I have officially passed all three parts of my National Board Exams.
I can type those words, I can reread them and stare at them until my eyes glaze, but it’s extremely hard for me to internalize them. After four years, nine clinical sites, three separate parts of Boards, and countless midterms, final exams, and projects, I’m almost finished. It’s difficult as a consummate student to accept this fact, this reality of “almost.” At times it feels as though I am fighting against this, this idea of transitioning from student to doctor, the word that my classmates and I whispered in the library as we frantically highlighted our notes, and toasted together at the pub crawl we did after completing Part I of Boards. It’s difficult, I realize, because of the dedication to learning that has been instilled in us not only during the past four years, but all the years that came before. And I’ve realized that the difficulty of comprehending an end to optometry school, instead of being problematic, is actually an asset.
Even after we graduate, we, the Class of 2015, need to embrace the concept of being students. Health care in general, and optometry in particular, is a dynamic, nuanced field, with new innovations in its various aspects continually being researched and explored. Graduating shouldn’t denote an end to studenthood, but the beginning of a new phase of it. Optometrists should remain students all their lives, and dedicate themselves to remaining up to date on new treatments, tools, and studies in the field, as well as reviewing current literature on the diagnosis and treatment of both common and rare conditions. Learning should be a career-long, even lifelong purpose that drives us to give our patients the best possible care and to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards as clinicians. We’ve accomplished a great deal through hard work and a passion for optometry and should be proud of the progress we have made, but as optometrists we also need to be sure to remain inspired and conscientious throughout our careers.