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!