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.
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.
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!