Welcome to ARVO 2015!

“All Group B’s, now ready to board!” announced the flight attendant over the loudspeaker as I prepared to travel to ARVO 2015. ARVO is the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and its Annual meeting welcomes researchers in eye and vision science to share their research.

As I slung my poster around my shoulder, I spotted a young woman carrying her own poster. She was an ophthalmology resident presenting a clinical case on retinal detachments at ARVO 2015. While boarding the plane, we continued to discuss our backgrounds, discovering that we were both New Jersey natives where she attended medical school with one of my closest high-school friends. When the plane finally landed in Denver, Colorado, we were once again greeted by the majestic Rocky Mountains frosted with snowcaps left over from the American Academy of Optometry meeting last November. Next to us, two professors were conversing in rapid Chinese, while an Indian woman was telling her friend about her ten-hour flight. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology hosts the largest international research conference in the world!

For those of you planning to visit for the first time, however, don’t worry about getting lost in the crowd. ARVO is especially accommodating to Members-in Training with special MIT events designed for students and trainees. Following registration, I quickly ascended the escalator to the second floor of the Denver Convention Center in order to attend my classmate Kristen Kerber’s poster presenting her amblyopia research. This time, I was not greeted by fashionable glasses displays and optometry vendors, but rather, I encountered a massive sea of posters. Starting at the front and working my way back, I passed presentations on every conceivable vision-related subject. It was a regular Who’s Who of the optometry world. I spotted Dr. Brian Holden from the Holden Institute in Australia and Dr. Richard Stone, a major contributor to myopia research in chicks (my research area). After the poster session, Kristen and I decided to listen to a few myopia paper presentations. One particularly exciting one introduced a new iPad App for Teller Acuity cards, which was cheap, portable and could be used in screenings all over the world.

Before long, it was time for the ARVO Sunday Social event, “A Night at the Museums”. While enjoying cocktails and appetizers we strolled through the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum. One of my favorite pieces was “Linda” by local artist John DeAndrea, a sculpture so life-like you wanted to tiptoe in order not to awake the young woman asleep on the marble block.

The following afternoon, it was my turn to present my poster entitled “Antagonist Effects of Atropine and Timolol on the Color and Luminance Emmetropization Mechanisms” based on my Master in Vision Science thesis which I had successfully defended a few days prior to the conference.

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Laura presents her poster with NECO Associate Professor Frances Rucker

No sooner had I fastened the last push pin to the poster than I found myself surrounded by a group of Chinese researchers. The fact that the Chinese have performed some of the best-known clinical trials of the use of atropine to slow myopia progression may have sparked their interest in any new findings involving this anti-myopia drug. I felt excited to discuss the results of our study with them as well as the other scientists stopping. Our results found that atropine with luminance flicker produced a greater hyperopic shift than atropine alone, possibly due to the release of the neuroretinal transmitter dopamine, known to decrease eye length in animal models. During a quick break, I noticed a student from Emory University School of Medicine presenting two boards down and decided to introduce myself. His research focused on mouse models in which they studied the effects of eliminating dopamine on the ocular components. Interestingly, they too found that, without dopamine, the eye became longer. One of my favorite parts about ARVO was the chance to meet other students who shared interest in similar research areas.

Late afternoon featured two outstanding lectures. The first was the Proctor Award Lecture, “Regulation of Retinal Vascular Growth: Development, Pathology and Therapy” by Dr. Patricia D’Amore. This was followed by the Weisenfeld Award Lecture, “Beyond VEGF” presented by Dr. Joan Miller. VEGF is a growth factor produced by the body that is responsible for bleeding and vision loss in the eye in patients with diseases such as diabetes. In the past several years, significant funding has been allocated towards developing new “Anti-VEGF” drugs that help to stop and/or even reverse this process. Dr. Miller is the first woman honored with this award, serving as a role model and inspiration for all of us young female researchers. The evening came to a perfect conclusion with the Student/Trainee social.

The next day I attended the Seventh Annual Women in Eye and Vision Research Luncheon hosted by the ARVO Foundation. Dr. Lilly Marks, Vice President for Health Affairs for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical, spoke on the topic of “The Art of Negotiation.” Woman involved in all aspects of vision research, from industrial scientists at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to post-docs at UCLA, listened intently as Dr. Marks discussed how to handle the “challenges women in academic medicine face in negotiating for resources, positions and programs.” This presentation reinforced how dreams can be turned into reality simply by having the courage to ask.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to personally attend such wonderful presentations at ARVO 2015. Reflecting back, it was amazing to meet so many of the incredible people behind the treatments that are currently used in our clinics, all with the common goal to continually improve vision care. Before concluding, however, I would like to pay special tribute to the amazing ARVO/Alcon Closing Keynote Session delivered by Dr. Ian Crozier and his outstanding medical team from Emory University and the CDC. The session entitled “Ebola and the Eye: A story of Discovery and Uncertainty” brought a message of sacrifice and hope so powerful, it moved the audience to tears. The next day, Dr. Crozier’s story was published in the New York Times, but I heard it first at ARVO 2015!

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Vision Expo East in the Big Apple!

The minute the clock struck 5 pm on Wednesday night, our class stampeded in unison through the doors which had held us captive during board exams for the last two days. As I pushed my way out of the crowd, the wind gently brushed my face with the crisp, fresh scent of spring. It felt as thought the world had been lifted off my shoulders. My veins filling with adrenaline, all I wanted to do was run, run as far as I could…all the way to…New. York. City!

No sooner had we packed our travel bags, my friends and I boarded the bus to the Big Apple, sweet city of dreams that promises never to sleep. Once there, we hopeless romantics planned to rekindle the flickering flame between ourselves and our one true love, optometry. What better way to accomplish that than at Vision Expo East (VEE) 2015, the largest trade show of all things eye-care related! As we walked through the glass doors, we gazed in awe at the sheer size of the Javits Convention Center located on Manhattan’s West Side. In front of us mingled optometrists, opticians, students and business owners from all over the world…this truly was the International Vision Expo! Looming from the glass ceiling overhead was an ad for Guess glasses from which the model’s piercing blue eyes shone upon the crowd through a pair of stylish frames. We retrieved our student badges and quickly entered the exhibit hall. As we approached the booths, the Who’s Who of the optical word from Essilor, to Luxottica, Marchon and VSP encircled us. We watched as opticians eagerly explored the newest designer frames, as independent optometrists tested out the latest technologies…it seemed as though we were the only students on site.

Suddenly, I spotted a familiar face among the crowd of strangers at the Safilo booth. Her name was Dibby Barlett, and she had recently come to our school to talk about “How to deal with glasses complaints” from our patients. She greeted us warmly and invited us to sit with her. After showing us some of the frame collections, she gave us her business card and told us to call her anytime if we wanted to learn more about purchasing frames or needed help when starting our own practices. Luckily we had arrived just in time for the famous Safilo fashion show. Bobbi Thomas, the Style Editor for NBC’s Today Show, hosted the event and described the frames being modeled. I especially loved watching the child models, living proof that “Four Eyes” can be both functional and stylish.

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Next we rushed off to attend a lecture entitled “The Greatest Dry Eye and Anterior Segment Course” presented by Dr. Jack Schaeffer, the owner of Schaeffer Eye Center. Here we learned about treatments for certain eye diseases, such as a brand-new treatment for recurrent corneal erosions called Prokera. This is an amniotic membrane taken from the placenta that is placed onto the patient’s eye for four days. Although the cost is about $1000 per piece, this novel treatment is highly effective in improving many ocular surface diseases!

The following day, my friends and I spent the morning strolling along the glistening streets of NYC. We ended up near Bryant Park, which is also home to SUNY College of Optometry, and we met up with a current SUNY student and college friend of mine. After spending nearly half an hour catching up, barely taking a breath in between sentences, we begged him to take us to best New York bagel shop in the area (which did not disappoint!). Feeling satisfied and full, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Vision Expo.

Today was the day of planned student activities. We entered a huge ballroom where all the students from optometry schools around the country gathered, nearly filling the room to capacity. Each person entering the door was assigned a random table number. As I walked over to my table, hesitant to part ways with my friends, I joined a group of unfamiliar faces. The room fell silent as the host tasked us with an icebreaker assignment in which each table would create an “elevator speech” of how one would explain the profession of optometry. Then, we were given certain questions such as “How would you describe your experience at VEE?” and “What do you think of the continuing education sessions?” with only one word. After a couple minutes, we were all conversing, sharing funny stories of our adventures so far at Vision Expo.

Afterwards, we were released to roam the premises and collect stickers at various sponsor booths to fill our “passport” which would allow us entrance into the student party later that night. One of the stops was at the “Acuvue” booth. There we tested out the newest contact lenses that were similar to normal, soft daily contact lenses but had an extra ring mid-periphery that, when worn, promised to enhance your eyes. One choice was called “shimmer” and another “sparkle”. Excited to show off our new and improved peeps, we jumped onto the “blue” carpet to take pictures that would be posted on instagram under #inspiredbyeyes.

Soon it was time for the always awesome NECO alumni reception, where we were wined and dined in style and mingled with classmates, alumni and, of course, our president, Dr. Scott.NECO_Alumni_VEE

As the clock struck half past six, we rushed back to our hotel to get ready for the highly anticipated student party at the “Skyroom”. Before we entered the party proper, however, we simply had to step out onto the roof and take in the amazing NYC skyline. This stunning view of the immense city serves as a constant reminder of why so many people travel from all over the world to experience the Big Apple. Suddenly, I spotted an acquaintance from the Western School of Optometry. We introduced our respective friends, and soon NECO and Western merged from two separate schools into one cohesive student body. Yes, optometrists do have more fun!

The next morning as we drove away, I was sad to leave NYC behind but also happy to return back to my normal life. I stared at the picture from the night, all of us optometry students happy, laughing and sharing in this passion for optometry, even 5000 miles apart. Until we meet again, NYC!

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Life at Specwarts Part II: The Final Battle

The continuation of the magical world at NECO preparing for the NBEO Part I Board Exams (see “Life at Specwarts” for the first episode)

On a quiet Monday evening I find myself entombed by the iron bars of the library windows. The wind teasingly twirls the snow outside and the night sky slowly enshrouds the earth. Suddenly, a “Sqwaaak” cuts through the peaceful scene, causing me to jump up from my “Spectacalis Optometris” book. A large owl swoops down to the windowsill. Its white feathers blend perfectly into the snow-capped ledge, leaving only two piercing grey orbs staring at me. As our eyes lock, the bird slightly cocks its head. Deeper I stare into the colorless void, as though drawn into a trance, when I more sense than hear a whispered “Bewaaare” float toward my ear. I spin around intending to confront the fellow wizard-in-training who must be playing a practical joke. Alas, the library is empty! Perplexed, I slowly turn back towards my new winged companion, but the magical owl has once again taken flight, leaving words of foreboding lingering in the frigid air.

This is not the first strange event alleged to have happened since we returned to Specwarts after the holidays. A new cold, eerie feeling seems to have invaded our once warm and familiar home. Now every time I pass the portrait gallery depicting the forefathers of our school, a hint of concern flickers in their eyes as they watch over me, sending a chill up my spine. For months now whispers have echoed among the walls that “That which will not be named” is steadily approaching, pushing aside everything in its path. For those of you, prospective wizards, who have not as yet encountered this demon of darkness, it also goes by the name of National Board of Examiners in Optometry Applied Basic Science Exam, aka the dreaded Part I exam. It is a grueling, 500-questions-long two-day battle of wits, from which only the bravest and most daring will emerge unscathed/victorious. “It can’t be true!” some say, “It’s just a myth.” But is it really?

Just as the snowy storms of winter bury Boston beneath an icy blanket from which there is no escape, another kind of storm begins to brew within the hallowed halls of Specwarts. Just then, the mighty Keeper of the Time announces 6 o’clock pm. I quickly gather my books as I join the wave of white cloaks that spill into the classroom and fill the seats of Lecture Hall 2. “Order, order” demands the booming voice of Headmaster Cliffus Scottus, “we have called a meeting of all third-year Optometris Studii on this night to address what we all believe will descend upon us within the next month. I fear the rumors are true. ”That which will not be named” is drawing nearer, bringing with it an army of vast strength and darkness”. Chaos erupts as wizards-in-training catapult from their seats. Soon, however, silence is restored in the great hall. “Now I know you all are frightened, as am I, but the fate of our class, our school and of all wizards and humans within these lands rests in our hands. We have spent many years preparing for this day, and we will train harder and fight braver to win this battle to decide all battles. Together we will summon the power to defeat this beast. United we will not fail, and we MUST not fail!” An uproar beings to rise, but instead of shouts of fear, it forms a rallying cry. The time has come when we must use all that has been taught us by the Wizards of Optometris to fulfill our destiny and defeat “That which will not be named” once and for all.

During the month of Februaris, every day we plot in the dungeons of the library. We labor countless hours mastering every cure, spell and potion, from “Cranialis Paralys”, one of the most crippling diseases which forever turn your vision double, to “Steroidis Repairis”, which can save you from the curse of eternal blindness. In the Clinicalis Optometralis training area, we tirelessly perfect our o’scopalo skills and healing potions on humans. Days blend into weeks as our minds grow stronger and the air gets thicker….until, finally, judgment day arrives: Wednesday, March 17th, 2015. As the Keeper of the Time strikes 8 o’clock am, he heralds one of the most important days in Optometris history. As one, the third-year Optometris Studii of Specwarts gather in the lobby, shoulder to shoulder, pencalis poised in the left hand, calculis fitted in the right, armed and ready for battle. Up ahead loom two gigantic portals, behind which lurks “That which will not be named”, and with it our fate, our destiny as Masters of Optometris. Releasing one last rallying cry, the Presidentis of our class flings open the gates, and we plunge into the unknown darkness…

The battle rages on until 5 pm, Thursday, March 18th, 2015. I drag my bruised and battered body toward the edge of the room as time slows and the world dims. Only my pounding heart reverberates in my ears. I watch what is left of our class fight for their lives, as they use every last bit of strength to survive the final minutes of this epic battle. I am surrounded by a wasteland of blunted pencales, played-out calcules and broken o’scopalos. Many of my peers have been bound by a paralyzing spell known as “Backus Spasmosis”. For two straight days we have fought the Dementors Opticus, slayed the eye-eating Slugaris Fungalis, and sprayed potions of “Orbicularis Paralysis”. The evil Dementors Opticus have encircled us, attempting to capture our weakened souls. Still our Presidentis fights on as she herself is locked in battle against “That which will not be named”. Just as she appears to be defeated, I desperately lift my o’scopalo and challenge the beast whose name has never dared to cross the lips of any Specwarts wizard, the unspeakable “Boaaardlis Controaliiis”! Suddenly a white light spills from beyond the gates and a magical, ethereal apparition appears, filling the darkness with light. The beast screams in agony as it slowly vanishes. “That’s it, time’s up, pencales down!” yells the Proctoris Examinus. I slowly avert my eyes from the battlefield to find the Presidentis standing by my side. Barely keeping exhaustion at bay, a smile of realization slowly spreads across her face as she mouths the words: WE DID IT!!

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No Further Bets!

As I ascend the famed mahogany staircase, I once again find myself standing in what used to be NECO’s foyer, now transformed into Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. This is all part of Alcon Night, a yearly fundraiser by VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity)  to help fund a medical mission trip. Alcon Night is a casino night where professional card dealers and black-jack and poker tables are set up  and your winnings can be used towards raffles prizes.  Some of the best prizes this year included ophthalmic lenses, trip to Reno, Nevada, gift certificates to Boston restaurants and designer sunglasses.

Tonight, elegant men dressed in tuxedos and glamorous women in cocktail dresses swirl around the room. Gamblers focus in deep concentration as they plot their next move while observers hover behind them eagerly awaiting the outcome. A gentleman shouts “Come on 10, all I need is a 10” at the blackjack table to my right, while a lady blows kisses onto her dice before releasing them into the hands of Lady Luck.  My eyes wander up the wooden columns, following the path of the floral decorations that adorn the grand archways and finally stop at a portrait of Dr. Kozol, one of NECO’s great alumni and past faculty members. His grand posture and stern face only serve to enhance the Downton-Abbey atmosphere. The room suddenly grows silent as my mind transports me back to the first Alcon night during freshman year. Still forming friendships, I nervously shuffled from one classmate to another, awkwardly trying to strike up conversations. Second- and third-years crowded around the roulette table, laughing and shouting, self-assured high-rollers whose good fortune would never run out. I, on the other hand, lingered wide-eyed near the fringes of the room, taking in the scene, yearning for the day when I would feel so comfortable in these surroundings. As someone accidentally bumps into my elbow, I am jolted back into the present. My classmate pulls me across the room as I watch the sea of now-familiar faces float by. Many of them have become dear friends over the last three years. Now it is I who stands in the circle with ease and an air of confidence, as freshmen nervously stand in the corner, still finding their place among the upperclassmen. After the prizes are handed out and everyone gathers their coats and begins to leave, I take one final look around. This is the last time I am attending a NECO Alcon night. By now, I should be used to the beauty and elegance within NECO’s walls, perhaps taking it for granted. Even after three years, however, I am still wowed by how lucky I am to be part of this community, surrounded by smart, caring people in a place that has become my second home.

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Jen, Kayla and I enjoying Alcon night!

Taking on my last semester here at NECO before setting off on fourth year clinical rotations, it has a different vibe to it than the previous ones. I feel as if these past three years we have rowed on a raft firmly tethered to the mother ship that has guided and kept us afloat on our treacherous voyage across the ocean of optometry. Each year NECO has increased the amount of rope between us ever so slightly, until we find ourselves as second-semester third-years and almost at the end of the rope’s length. Now our class schedules are deceptively light. Much of our time is occupied with overseeing second-years at clinic and frantically studying every available minute for part I board exams, which are fast approaching. After years of craving independence and praying for the end of weekly pre-clinic assignments, we now stand on the verge of embarking on our optometric careers. Taking a moment to reflect, however, we realize that NECO has equipped us with the clinical oars and necessary skills to brave the waiting seas. So this semester as I paddle through my last stretch of Boards preparation, thesis writing, optometry meetings and NECO events…I plan to take in every last bit of knowledge and experience NECO has to offer. Ready to release the rope from the bollard, I prepare to bid adieu to Beacon Street and set sail on my own into 4th year, where new adventures await.

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Welcome to Academy 2014!

It’s that time of year again…when the air feels a bit crisper, the pea coat is pulled out of the closet and New England transforms into a Norman Rockwell painting, full of rich, warm colors contrasted by the deep blue Charles River. Behind the iron gates of the New England College of Optometry, a new kind of excitement rises. With winter fast approaching, students whisper among themselves behind mahogany walls and professors gather in the lunchroom to plot their next plan of action.

A prospective student walks beside his tour guide, puzzled, as he follows him toward the next classroom. Taking the guide aside he asks: “What is going on?” The tour guide furtively glances to his side to ensure there is no one else around, leans in closely and confides: “Why it’s only the most exciting event of the year! It’s the time when optometrists from all over the country, nay, from all around the world converge for one week. You can attend lectures on every optometry topic imaginable, from contact lenses to pediatrics to even business management. There are meetings and alumni receptions, and let’s not forget the famous Australia party, where everyone gathers for live music and free food!” The prospective student stops in his tracks, suitably impressed. Before he can utter another word, the tour guide whisks him into the rotunda, pushing through a throng of other students. High above, a glorious banner billows from the first-floor railing, proudly announcing: “Join NECO faculty and students at American Academy of Optometry Annual Meeting, 2014, Denver CO.”

This November, I was able to attend the Academy convention. Leaving NECO behind for a few days, I was excited as the airplane wheels skidded across the runway until we finally came to a stop at Denver International Airport. My three friends and I immediately delved into our purses for our iPhones to snap numerous photos of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains (with a few selfies while we’re at it). As we rushed off the plane, eager to meet our taxi, my friend shouted “Laura, your poster!” Reversing course, I quickly snatched the poster case from the jaws of the overhead bin. It was this poster that won me the Elmer H. Eger Memorial Student Travel Fellowship to attend the Academy meeting. This is one of a number of Academy-administered travel fellowships for which students presenting at the meeting can apply to offset expenses once their submissions are accepted for presentation.

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Arriving in Denver with fellow NECO student presenters

After quickly freshening up in our hotel, we arrived in time to attend our first lecture of the conference entitled “OCT Choroidal Imaging” to which my friend and I snagged the last two tickets. Afterwards, we headed over to the Luxottica student party where students from all over the country mingled, dined and danced to the dueling piano players on top of the stage. While surveying the crowd, I began to recognize faces from the American Optometric Association (AOA) meeting in Philadelphia and Vision Expo West in Vegas and mingled with Northeast Luxottica reps that I had met last week at the NECO trade show. It felt so rewarding to be part of the optometric community!

The following morning, I awoke early, partly due to the time change, but primarily due to the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Today was my designated “Poster Session” day! After tying the bow on a favorite silk blouse and smoothing out my skirt, I scooped up my poster and jetted out the door. As I sprinted through the convention hall to be on time for the Student Fellowship Breakfast, I observed as optometrists busily traversed the halls of the convention center, filing into various lecture halls for the first classes of the morning.

After the vice president of the AAO welcomed us to Denver and reviewed the list of requirements to receive our Student Fellowship (a recognition given to students who participate in a certain number of lectures, business meetings, poster/paper sessions and symposia) I once again rushed off to my next lecture. This one was entitled: “Why do we need another photoreceptor? Clinical implications of melanopsin-containing retinal ganglion cells”, a familiar topic since it was the subject of my undergraduate thesis at Lafayette College. But even more importantly, this was my opportunity to finally meet Dr. Ignacio Provencio, a featured speaker of the event as well as the mentor of my undergraduate advisor, Professor James Dearworth, at Lafayette College. Once again, the world of science became a little smaller.

It was nearing 4 o’clock and on to the next session, the poster presentation of my research in Dr. Rucker’s lab entitled: “Atropine Confers More Protection Against Myopia Progression with Luminance Flicker”. Through our research, we are trying to understand how different substances affect the pathways for emmetropization (focusing) during development. We hope that our work may someday lead to a better treatment of myopia progression in children. After two hours of explaining my research to visitors, it was finally time to call it a day; and I nearly fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

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Presenting the poster of my research with Dr. Rucker

Friday was spent attending lectures and pursuing a more relaxed, easy-going pace. We even took time out to explore the exhibits, learning about the latest equipment and getting pictures taken on the “blue carpet” like local celebrities. At 7 pm, my friends and I hurried across the street to the Hyatt Hotel to attend the NECO alumni reception and later the Australia party. As we entered the reception room for the NECO alumni reception, I was stunned at the number of people occupying the small space. Everyone from residents to current NECO preceptors to students and alumni was present; at least a 50-year-span of NECO associates stood before us. Moments like these, everyone reuniting in good spirits, make all the hard work back in Boston worthwhile! Afterwards, we headed over to the Australia party where we danced the night away to flowing Foster’s and a live band composed of actual optometrists!

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At last, it was Saturday, the day we were finally able to enjoy the city of Denver…see the sights, learn the history. Unfortunately, with below-freezing temperatures and snow-filled streets, we opted for an indoor restaurant recommended by a local young optometrist. This restaurant named “Vine Street Pub” is known for its excellent burritos, hand-cut fries, and local brews of Denver. After eating so much we could barely move, we continued to the center of the city. There we explored all the shopping and dessert shops Denver had to offer. Feeling a buzz from my phone, I opened a text message stating that we had won tickets in a student raffle to the Fellowship Banquet concluding the convention. Who could blame us for sprinting to the mall to select new dresses for the evening gala?

When we arrived at the banquet, the room that only a night before was packed with dancing optometrists and coats lining the walls, was transformed into an elegant reception hall with tables adorned with floral centerpieces and replete with young optometrists and recently-awarded fellows clad in floor-length ball gowns and sleek black suits. It appeared as if Cinderella was given the chance to step into the world of the most elite of the optometry world, even for one night. As we enjoyed a wonderful three-course dinner, we enthusiastically applauded the over 250 optometrists inducted into the hallowed halls of fellowship. For those unaware of what a fellow is, it is someone who completes a list of requirements after graduation from an optometry program which includes posters, papers, case studies , an oral exam, and, in some cases, residency. Suddenly, the clock struck midnight and soon our ball gowns would transform back into jeans and sweaters.

 

In the blink of an eye, we were once again boarding the plane departing to Boston. Tired from the hectic week, my friends dozed almost immediately as the plane lifted from the “Mile High” soil. Staring down upon the snow-capped Rockies one last time, I mused: “What a whirl-wind of a semester, from Vegas to KMK board review, to Denver!” With a sense of accomplishment and sigh of relief, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep…until we meet again in Denver at the 2015 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) meeting!

 

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Frames, Names and Games

It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday and the students shuffle back in… Faint music plays in the distance, teasingly rapping on the NECO classroom window. “All right class, time to continue with ocular disease” the instructor calls to reclaim our attention. Such is the fate of us third-years, as we work our way through the mountain of material comprising the KMK Optometry Board review. This optional six-day course offered by KMK Education Services is designed to prepare us for the NBEO (National Board of Examiners in Optometry) Part I exam awaiting us in the spring of 2015. Those exciting weekend adventures in Boston? They seem to be a thing of the past.

Just two weeks ago my friend Jen and I found ourselves on a plane bound for Las Vegas to attend the annual International Vision Expo West. This meeting and conference serves as a forum for providers of optometric services and vendors of optometric equipment and products to exchange information on the latest techniques, eyewear, and practice management tools. As the new VP of NECO’s Private Practice Club, I was fortunate to receive a stipend generously provided by the International Vision Expo Student fund, which is funded by The Vision Council in conjunction with Reed Exhibitions.

Armed with registrations, floor plans and schedules, Jen and I were determined to make the most of our two-day visit to the Expo. Upon landing at McCarran International Airport, we immediately drove to the famous Strip in order to make it in time to explore the exhibit floors of the Sands Convention Center. With a quick pit stop at the renowned “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, we hurried to our hotel, changed into business clothes, and headed over to the convention.

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No sooner did we traverse the gates to Vision Expo West, than we entered a world of designer frames and high-tech equipment that we had heretofore only glimpsed in magazines. First, we received a private tutor session on the new “Google Glass” technology. This amazing high-tech gadget attaches to the upper corner of your frames and instantly transforms you into a futuristic cyborg. Among its impressive list of functions, the little smart-phone-like device takes pictures, serves as a personal GPS and even plays music and sends messages. Later we headed upstairs to the exclusive suites where the top frame companies entertained their elite clientele. Event though we were only students, a salesman of the FreudenHaus eyewear company kindly took the time to explain to us the “art of frame purchasing”. But isn’t that the optician’s job? Even though frame purchasing is often left to the optician, it is important for the future optometrist to know how to purchase and display the correct assortment of frames. The frame displays not only reflect the style of a practice, but are frequently the first objects a client sees upon entering the office.

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Laura and Jen test the Google Glass technology.

Afterwards, Jen and I made our way over to the “ODs on Facebook Party” where we ended up winning iheart music festival tickets. Well, we didn’t actually win them, but some friendly, young ODs were nice enough to give us their tickets after winning a dance-off and being unable to attend. I guess “Lady Luck” smiled on us that night. After indulging in some Iggy Azalea and Train, we spent the next day participating in optometry-related learning activities with students from other optometry schools. We began with lectures on helpful networking tips presented by experts in the field. Later the students divided into groups pretending to start their own optometry practice. The teams were tasked with identifying relevant exhibitors and querying them on what equipment to buy, how to implement budgeting tools and other business-related requirements. By afternoon, the students had not only developed impressive, well-thought-out business plans, but we had been fortunate to interact with our future colleagues and peers from schools all around the country. As I laid my head on the plane window, exhausted, I peered down once more at the “City of Lights”. We had planned carefully to take full advantage of this trip and left with more than we could have ever imagined.

Snapping back into reality, I rush to catch up with the diagram being drawn onto the board. Admittedly, I secretly look forward to KMK board reviews. All of the information that has been crammed and crowded into our brains for the past two years is starting to assemble into a concise, manageable pile of knowledge. Never before have I experienced so many “Aha!” moments. So as midterms approach and you’ll start to pull out your hair, take a moment and listen to these words of wisdom: “If you study for this exam, for any exam in life, with the mindset that you are doing this not just to pass, not to make mom and dad happy, but instead to better yourself and your career…well then studying will be a whole lot less miserable a whole lot more fun!”

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Making Waves

Bermuda Beach

Bermuda Beach

A slight gust of warm wind gently tickles my face. I raise my head from the beach chair to leisurely observe my toes peeking out from a pair of flip-flops. The bright sun hovers high overhead in a cloudless, clear blue sky, indicating around noontime. I watch hypnotically as the waves wash against the large rock formations protruding from the sand. Tiny particles of limestone and coral bear witness to thousands of years of continuous erosion. White foam caps dancing on the turquoise water add the finishing touches to this idyllic setting. As I lift up my ice tea to quench my thirst from the heat, I let out a long sigh. Together with my breath it draws out all of the stress and anxiety that has filled my body during the past year. I pinch my eyes shut, willing the dreaded alarm clock to remain silent and not to intrude into this blissful dream only to pull me back into the real-world of 8 am classes and eight-hour clinic days. As the seconds tick by, however, the only noise filling my ears is the soft song of the ever-changing ocean edge.

It’s funny how quickly the human spirit forgets. When I think back, I am convinced that this year wasn’t so grueling after all, that we learned a lot and that it was challenging in a constructive way. The remaining, positive feeling must be our way of rebooting and making room for more information. This time, however, instead of filling our mind with endless facts about eye diseases and clinical trials stats, it will be used for clinical-reasoning skills, patient care protocols and forming connections among all the knowledge stored within our memory banks.

This summer will serve as a training session, a crash-course in Clinic 101. Sure we’ve gotten patient experience throughout second year, but that was just an overture. Now we are 3rd-years, the top dogs on campus. We are traversing the deep end, actively treading water so as to not drown in clinic three days a week. No longer will there be third-years ready to throw us a life-line when we are weighed down by complex patient histories and mystifying diagnoses. Now we are the captains of our own ship as we head out into the vast ocean, confident in our knowledge. but terrified at the same time as we prepare for anything that Mother Nature throws our way.

Before I embark on this journey, however, I will be spending some time exploring new places on land. From trips to Newport, RI, to attending the AOSA meeting in Philadelphia to tackling a new research project, I plan to make the most of my six-week hiatus from the optometry world. Suddenly, the gurgling sounds emanating from my bottle signal the end of my ice tea. I reach into the cooler, eager to deposit the empty cup of yesterday. As I contently lift out a sparkling new one, the glistening water droplets adorning its sides seem to ring in a wonderful new beginning.

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The Halfway Mark

Boston marathon

As I push my way through a sea of winter jackets, I finally reach the railing. Panting for breath, I peer out onto the long strip of pavement that denotes the path for the 118th Boston Marathon. I look to my right in anticipation of the racers cresting the hill, but my gaze is only met by a blazing sun overhead. Suddenly an apparition appears at the top, as though a mirage flickering in the dry desert. To ensure that my eyes are not deceiving me, I shield my face with my hand and blink a few times. The image comes into focus, flexing strong, defined muscles and swinging long arms. Suddenly, the ground beneath me begins to vibrate as a stampede of legs materializes behind the first racer. The racers’ bodies are warmed up, their breathing at a steady rhythm. With each mile completed, fatigue builds as their muscles and lungs ache for oxygen, struggling to push on. The famous Boston Citgo Sign looms in the distance, marking the 1-mile point to the finish line. I shift my gaze to the notice hanging overhead, announcing in large, orange letters: “Mile 13…halfway mark.”

As the end of second year approaches, we, too, are runners at the halfway point of the marathon known as optometry school. Having passed all our proficiencies and finally settled into a comfortable routine in clinic, we prepare to tackle the next 13 miles, as we steadily approach the OD certificate hovering oh so tantalizingly close. However, in spite of focusing on the race, at every turn we find friends on the sidelines cheering us on. Still learning from the grades above us, and becoming mentors to the class below, there exists a sense of comfort being in the middle. At this juncture we have gained enough experience to be confident in our path, but know that there remains much to be learned and accomplished in order to complete the race.

This week NECO hosted the second annual Visionaries conference showcasing the third-year business-plan competition, research posters and first-year public health projects. This time I presented a poster on my ongoing research project entitled: “Atropine Confers More Protection Against Myopia Progression with Luminance Flicker.” It was exciting to finally show the NECO community what has been brewing behind the closed doors of the 5th floor. During my time off, I decided to check out the first-years’ public health posters. I was impressed by the excellent quality of the various unique, well-researched topics. From how oral contraceptives can be a risk factor for glaucoma, to self-made apps that force people to take breaks from their computer work, each concept was more creative than the next. In the late afternoon, I attended the third-years’ business plan presentations. Listening to their innovative strategies, whether first-born eye kits for new mothers (great idea!), or high-end designer frame displays, the third-years surely filled the shoes of future (successful) optometrists.

Eyeball Pic

Saturday brought the long-anticipated 84th Annual NECO Eye Ball. On this day, our fairy godmother appeared at our doorstep to transform our raggedy old sneakers and worn scrubs into glass slippers and stunning ball gowns, complete with a magical Boston Harbor water taxi carriage. As I entered the cocktail reception, I stopped in my tracks, mesmerized by the sight of elegant and poised soon-to-be doctors. Who were these strangers and what had they done with my classmates? In the main ballroom a DJ transported us back in time to our 90s childhood memories filled with Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. As we all sang along in unison, standing in a circle, first- years to my left and third-year to my right, distinctions faded and friendships grew stronger. At the stroke of midnight, we quickly boarded the water taxi before it turned back into a pumpkin. Across the bay in the distance, hundreds of city lights twinkled in the night sky. Caught up in the moment, I uttered a sigh of love for our city, of relief and tiredness, but mostly, a sigh of pure happiness and joy.

With this thought, I leave you, my faithful readers, as a second-year blogger and look forward to meeting you again as a newly-minted OD3. Stay well and see you soon!

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May the ODs Be Ever in Your Favor!

Today is March 22, 2014. In the past, this day has just been a typical day, people going about their usual business, each living their separate ordinary lives, indistinguishable from any other one. But from today forward, this day will no longer be mundane. Instead, it will be a day that no one will be able to erase from memory. It will forever etch the books of history; a day that people a hundred years later will still talk about…today marks the commencement of the 2014 Preceptor Games!

As I stare fixatedly at the capsule which will whisk me up into the arena, my make-up team adds the final touches to my perfectly coiffed hair. The long gray pants are hemmed just so that the black toe of my pumps peaks out from below, and my deep red lipstick illuminates my quivering lips. My mind suddenly flashes back to the moment when my world was changed forever. It all started with a seemingly innocuous email detailing the list of site representatives who were scheduled to attend the upcoming Preceptors Conference-Games. This announcement was followed by a class meeting with the NECO Clinical Education Gamemakers. Here we received detailed instructions on how the upcoming Preceptor Games would be orchestrated. Each site would be assigned its own game station. We, the student players, were encouraged to visit the stations and obtain valuable information from the preceptors about their organizations. In a few weeks, we will be expected to submit our personal preferences for clinical sites in form of a ranking to the NECO Clinical Education Coordinators. The Gamemakers will then decide our fates. During our fourth and final year at NECO we will be assigned to four three-month clinical rotations where we will complete our optometric education as student externs.

Cheers still ringing in my ears, the capsule decelerates to an abrupt stop and soundlessly slides open. As blood begins to rush to my head the unfamiliar world unfolds before my eyes. I survey the room. My heart is beating in unison with the clock on the wall, my pulse slowing as I force myself to focus. Around me arranged in a circle formation are my classmates, some younger and some older, some in pencil skirts, other in long black pants, ready to pounce. Eager eyes peer out of determined faces. In the arena stand forty tables, a person sitting behind each one. They are arranged in perfect rows with the name of the clinical site which they represent hanging from the edge of the table. I frantically begin to search for the stations I had marked down ahead of time, quickly glancing from one table to the next. The seconds are counting down. I still cannot locate my top choice until I spot it near the middle of the room. Another student looks up and our eyes meet conspiratorially. Suddenly a loud buzzer breaks the spell, initiating the official start of the games. Prize in sight, I take off towards the center table!

In reality, the Preceptors Conference resembles speed dating more than the Hunger Games. Once every two years, preceptors from various fourth-year clinical sites gather to meet the students who will potentially work with them in the future and possibly for many years after. You arrive dressed in your finest business attire, resume in hand, as you search for your ideal “match” among forty suitors. This is your chance to establish why you represent the perfect fit for their site. Each preceptor welcomes you with a smile, ready to explain how they will transform you from a drone-like student who just performs the procedures to a critically-thinking doctor who understands WHY and HOW to approach new cases. It is in these moments when I realize that in a blink of an eye I will be a fourth year. I am confident that NECO will have prepared us well for that milestone. This knowledge drives my motivation to persevere as I am standing in pre-clinic late in the evening, back aching and aghast because the view I get with BIO looks a lot like my thumb. Before we know it, the day will arrive when we will be the ones at the other end of the table…gazing into the eyes of innocent, young “tributes” as they wait for the buzzer to sound and the games to begin!

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Stuck in Limbo

Sprinting through January in the blink of an eye, we barely caught our breath between an action-packed ski trip to Killington, Vermont, and the glittery excitement of Vegas Night held each year at our school.  In contrast, February seems like a sticky mud puddle impeding your every step.  As I pass third-years in the hallway en route to class, they genially ask, “How is second year going?” and I nonchalantly reply, “fine.”  However, contrary to appearances, my brain keeps insisting: “It’s more like an infinite stack of papers continually thrown your way.  You try to catch them all, but soon it becomes overwhelming and you are left covered in pages of PPO notes and paper cuts.”  It’s a challenging semester because the finish line appears so tantalizingly close.  All you want to do is dash forward at top speed, expertly clearing the many obstacles blocking your way, notably the formidable hurdle called Proficiency.  However, the most feared portion of the race marks the halfway point.  It is no grotesque, beastly Yeti, nor an infinite avalanche of paper waiting to ambush you.  No…it is the scariest, most terrifying thing a second-year optometry student could possibly imagine.  It is a place in which you are forever stuck between the two worlds of student and doctor…the Land of Limbo.

The Land of Limbo is like the video game “Zelda.”  You haphazardly run around seeking advice from wizards as you try to collect enough coins to gain access to the other world.  In our case, the wizards are preceptors and coins are skills.  Here, you must master the skills, including 90 lens, BIO (binocular indirect ophthalmoscope) and gonioscopy that you will require to defeat the dreaded “Proficiency,” which guards the gates to the next world called “Third Year.”  All of these magical items allow you to see clues otherwise hidden from the naked eye that will help you to vanquish this monster.  However, the feat is formidable.  It takes many months to master these skills.  Apprentices must practice every day in order to stand a chance of victory.  There exist masters of these arts, known as “Preceptors,” whom you can beseech to help guide you.  At first, they will grant you the answers freely, but the longer you roam this land, the less they reveal, until it is only you who can unearth the keys to the riddle.  You start off timidly, confused and unsure; your “power bar” filled with only half the knowledge and tools necessary to defeat Proficiency.  However, with each patient treated and each skill set mastered, your power bar slowly increases, until it is finally reads “full power” and you are equipped and ready to face the demon before you.

Just last week I reached my half-power mark.  A patient requested to have his DMV forms signed since he had failed the vision portion of the test.  Thinking that he simply needed an updated prescription, after finding only +1 graded cataracts, I was puzzled as to why I could not get him to the 20/20 line.  Presenting a long-standing history of diabetes and high blood-sugar levels, I began to suspect that his diabetes must play a role in his reduced VA.  With only a faulty view of 90 lens and minimal practice with BIO, I could not determine the answer and sought advice from my preceptor.  After performing 90 and BIO effortlessly, she was able to point out exudates, hemorrhaging and even a possible retinal tear, all of which were hidden without proper command of these tools.  Feelings of disappointment surfaced; if only I were better with my skills, I, too, would have found the missing puzzle piece!  I felt my power bar slowly sliding down towards the quarter mark.  The preceptor then asked me, “So what would be your plan?”  When I told her that we should immediately refer and not sign the DMV form yet, she concurred.  Upon hearing her approval, my power gauge once again zoomed back up to the halfway mark.  It is like this all the time, a thrilling roller coaster ride of losing and gaining power, until the day we will have finally reached the top of the power bar.

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