Chairs Missing by Joe, resident at the New England College of Optometry

15Mar/12Off

Of Beards and Boards

ONE of the major events during third year is preparing for and taking Part 1 of Boards.  For those who are just starting to investigate the profession, in optometry there are three parts of boards, the first of which is given in March of third year, and the others during your fourth year.  While Part 2 is about treatment and diagnosis of disease, and Part 3 is actually giving the parts of an exam in front of proctors, Part 1 is much more broad and based on the scientific background of many of the things we study during first and second year.  In many ways it is similar to taking the OAT, but with some differences. Yes, you need to know about how to apply what you've learned about Optics, Anatomy, Visual Perception and so forth to the exam.  But not only do you need to know about it abstractly (say the biochemical process of how glucose enters a cell), but also practically (at what blood sugar level should you be concerned that a diabetic patient is at increased risk of vision loss).

Now it may seem like this would be overwhelming, but it helps to remind yourself that this exam actually serves a dual purpose.  You aren't studying the stuff just for the sake of the exam, and then dumping everything you just learned.  You are actually preparing for 4th year rotations.   I have found that studying is helping to boil down and tie together what you need to know to stay on your toes out there in the real world. On rotations you will need to recognize what general health risk factors a patient may have, know what the medications they are taking actually do to the body, and then deduce what sort of eye conditions they might have as a result.  And this thought process needs to take place in about 2 or 3 minutes of the person walking into your exam lane. So by having to study this stuff over and over, it will become like a reflex.   And believe it or not the studying process can be fun! Or least for me it can be.

"Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."

NECO has us well  prepared for sure, so it's not like you're studying things for the first time. It's all review and repetition. But you get fatigued if you just read and reread the same material over and over.  And there is a ton of material to remember, so people have various ways to help make it more interesting. Some use mnemonics to help, but I find that having too many of those mixes me up and I forget what they mean.  So I try to build stories around things and it helps if there was a famous person or event that was associated with the object of study.  US Presidents are a fun and interesting way to help study disease, it turns out.

During first year when we were learning about the lungs, our Physiology professor used a real life example to help us remember about how pneumothorax happens (the fancy way to say collapsed lung).  Basically he talked about Ronald Reagan and how when he was shot what the hospital did to re-inflate his lung, and our professor got sort of into the back story of his presidency and so forth. Those seemly non-biology related details have always  helped it stick for me.  (It also helps me remember because I think I was the only person in class that day who actually remembers Reagan as president.)  So when I was studying diseases of the adrenal glands I was surprised to learn that famous Bostonian JFK had Addison's Disease, and that it was actually a source of political rumor and secrecy about his health at the time.  So now whenever I think of Addison's, I don't just think of it of as an autoimmune disease that causes low levels of adrenal hormones, I think of JFK and his low blood pressure and fatigue after long hours in the oval office. Now if only I can find a President for each disease I'm studying.  Lets see, FDR had Polio... it's rumored Abe Lincoln had Marfans Disease, so there's another one....

"Playoffs! Playoffs?"

SO the overall moral is that you have to be dedicated and focused in order to do well on boards.  You can't rely on some Frank the Tank-like moment, where you don't know anything right before the debate but step up to the podium anyway and are able to espouse some grand speech.  No, you have to dedicate yourself to study a little everyday and grind it out.

A few weeks ago when I was brainstorming on how to help myself focus, I decided that I should treat this process as if I were an athlete in the long grind of the playoffs.  Now if you think about it, who else is more focused during the playoffs than a hockey player? And what do they do during the long grind of the playoffs? They grow a beard, that’s what. So with this in mind, I rolled over and let my Portuguese half take over. So far it’s been a mixed experiment. I do look more sophisticated and mature, but it is pretty itchy. And there is waaayyy more grey in there than I am comfortable with...

But thanks to the beard, I feel more determined and firm in my resolve. And maybe a little sad; it reminds me that the Whalers no longer play in Hartford and so I don’t really care about the NHL anymore. (Sorry, I just can't make myself jump on the overfilled Bruins Stanley Cup bandwagon.)  And I’m not stopping growing it until boards, at which time I will maybe look like an ancient mariner lost at sea.  This is fitting, since the Portuguese are nothing if not a proud seafaring people.  I would post a picture now but frankly it’s a work in progress. Michelangelo didn’t show the Pope the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before he was finished. Or more analogously for me, Toulouse-Lautrec didn’t show off La Goulue to the patrons at that bar until he was done either.

So while I go finish studying, I leave you to ponder about the metaphysical nature of beards. Do they grant wisdom? If they get long enough, can you grant wishes to people? Also, why don’t we have bearded presidents anymore? That would be sweet. Really, there’s no good reason why not.

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