Life at Specwarts

A buzz swells among the crowds milling on the platform as the faint horn in the distance heralds the arrival of the train. It is January 3rd and snow fairies dance on the rail tracks below. I anxiously stare up at the marching hands of the large clock looming overhead. My gaze focuses on a pure white owl staring back with its big gray eyes, as though intently watching me. Suddenly a loud overhead voice booms: “Now arriving train 2020 on platform 7¼ to Boston!” Parents hustle their children to the edge of the platform as they quickly kiss their loved ones goodbye, sending them off on their own once again. The students quickly fill the cars and I push my way inside. After a brief search, I find a seat near the back of the train. I settle myself in and stare out the window, watching the excited passengers lean their heads outside, bidding farewell until summer vacation. Before long, the conductor yells “Alll aboooaaardd!” The train engines begin to roar, smoke filling the clear, white air as we embark on our journey back to the far-away land known as Boston.

Today is January 5th and I am running late for my first day of class. As I dash through the sparkling snow blanketing the Boston streets, stores titillate my nostrils with the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Out of breath, I reach the familiar threshold just at the stroke of 8 am on my watch. With one last sigh, I push open the iron gates and enter. “Welcome back to Specwarts!” beams the sign displayed inside. Eager students mingle around, embracing each other, asking about their holidays. For those unfamiliar with this school, Specwarts is a special school for talented, young eye wizards-in-training. By the end of our four years of study here, our ability to restore vision will be so miraculous, you might even say it’s magic. The school exudes a magnificent Victorian style with a grand mahogany central staircase adorned with mementos of Specwarts’ influential past. Portraits of former headmasters and past honored students appear so real, they even seem to move within their frames. Upstairs lurks a hidden (laboratory) room off limits to most students in which covert experiments are whispered to be performed. Some speculate that here new theories are tested on various subjects, while others surmise that mysterious new medicines and potions are concocted…but for many it will forever remain a “chamber of secrets.” On the main floor, students draped in their white cloaks float around the halls. I accidentally bump into a first-year and watch her equipment tumble to the floor. While I offer to help pick it up, I get flashbacks to “Sorting Day”, when during a chaotic hour, students have to decide which equipment company they will associate with for the next four years. Although it may seem impossible to know which one to select, the moment I held one certain “o’scopalo” within my grasp, it felt so right as if it had chosen me instead.

As I snap back to reality, a banner announcing this year’s “Academy Meeting” in Denver dramatically unfolds from the rafters. Every year, students from optometry schools around the country convene to share ideas and experiences, discuss scientific breakthroughs and learn new skills. The pinnacle of the gathering will be the highly-anticipated “QuizGoblet” competition. Here, we all vie for the honor to compete for our school to see who will take home the glorious title of “Champion of Optometris.”

Specwarts is not all fun and games, though. In fact, it requires a lot of hard work in order to master the art of Optometris. For example, we just completed our class in “Potions of Optometris”, such as Diabetis Controllalis, that helps to ward off a dark curse which fills the eye with blood and may eventually lead to blindness. In another class known as “Principalis & Practicalis Optometris,” we learn to defend our eyes against all evils with various magical wands, monocles and elixirs. There are lenses that make the eye grow larger, and tinctures that cause the eye to fluoresce in blue light. However, the hardest yet most essential tool to grasp is the revered “o’scopalo,” which students are required to carry with them at all times. This elongated contraption allows one to wander past the natural realm into the world beyond and seek the truth that lies in the eye of the beholder. After we have finally conquered all our skills, learned all we need to know, we must face one last examination. However, don’t be fooled, this is no ordinary test. This one that is so difficult, so daunting, and so feared that no one dares speak of it until the fateful day in our third year. Individually, yet united, each class must face “that which will not be named.” It will take everything we have, every potion we have studied, every procedure we have relentlessly practiced, in order to defeat it. Therefore, this semester will be the most challenging yet as we prepare ourselves for the supreme battle. If, and only if, one defeats this beast, he or she will be crowned a “Master of Optometris”.

But until that day, we second-years spend most of our time toiling in the training arena. Here, classmates work diligently side-by-side to perfect their skills. The girl to my left fervently repeats “Oculus Repairus!” and with a quick flick of her wrist, the broken spectacles are once again in perfect condition. Another boy practices “o’scopalo” in such deep concentration, it appears as though he labors under an unbreakable spell himself. Suddenly, a large white owl with piercing gray eyes perches on the windowsill. Before I can figure out why this owl seems all too familiar, a screech penetrates the still winter air like a siren forewarning us of what is to come…

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Another Year Over

After the hype of October, November always seems to be the forgotten month (besides Thanksgiving, of course). The weather turns cold, the days fall into a mundane routine, and the thought of the dreaded finals looms overhead like a thunder-bearing sky. However, one thing I have failed to touch upon among all the excitement of the past few months is the single ray of sunshine that forces its way through the dark, ominous clouds: clinic. Clinic is such a small, yet crucial part of second year, because it serves as a constant reminder of what waits at the end of the long, treacherous tunnel. This semester my rotation is located at Boston Medical Center, a top-ranked student hospital. Although some people may frown upon the thought of attending clinic on a Friday afternoon, it is something I look forward to each week. Not only do I witness a plethora of interesting cases, from scleral lens fittings to diabetic retinopathy, but I have also formed bonds with the upperclassmen who have made it their mission to “take me under their wing” and show me the ropes. Every day they provide me the opportunity to work up their patients (even if I take twice as long), take me aside to show me unusual findings, and always offer feedback on how to improve my skills. Another small yet treasured highlight of my day in clinic is when everyone, including some preceptors, takes a half hour out of their busy schedule to just sit, eat lunch, and share funny stories. During times like these we strengthen our trust and friendships with one another that allow us to work as a team rather than just independent doctors doing our jobs. It motivates us to help each other out, whether it is lending a hand during busy times, or staying late just to show me what an aphakic eye looks like.

But now it is time to leave the world of optometry behind for a few days. As I sit here on the train back to Jersey, I stare out my window, entranced by the world outside these tinted windows. I watch as the poles whiz past me in the forefront, triggering optic flow, a phenomenon I learned about in one of my classes (it seems that I can never escape optometry). Life is so much slower, more relaxed outside the walls of the brownstone city and I feel the stress lifting off my shoulders into the crisp winter air. The rain beats on the window like a soothing lullaby. I watch two raindrops race each other to the bottom pane, as I am taken back to a much simpler time when the only thing worth worrying about was what snack I was going to eat that day. It is strange how we spend so many years fighting for our independence, whether it’s passing our driver’s test, buying our own food, or renting our first apartment. When we finally reach this “adult life” we have so long coveted, however, we happily revert back to our child-like selves, reveling in the protection and doting of our families. Returning home for break feels like entering a time-machine. Our neighborhood seems exactly the way we left it, as if the past six years were only a dream. We meet up with old friends, as if on a typical weekend night. Everyone should be different somehow since so much has happened during the time spent apart, yet everything has stayed strangely the same. As we all sit together, enjoying the same inside jokes, I realize that what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is not only the good food, money, or health, but especially these snapshots of laughter, love and fellowship, whether between long-time friends, or newly-formed ones in clinic. It’s such moments that encourage me through the hard times and make it all seem worthwhile in the end.

Since I will hereby sign off until the New Year, I just wanted to wish my NECO friends good luck with finals and all of you, my faithful readers, a very happy holiday season!!

Laura's Xmas card

Happy Holidays!


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Scares and Fares

halloween 2013 2

As I hurry along the abandoned streets in the early morning hours, eeriness hovers like a thick fog. Dark, ominous clouds hang from the sky, the smothering silence driving a chill into my quivering bones. Are those ghostly shadows dancing over pale-colored bricks? “Crash!” My body whips around, heart pounding a staccato drum roll in my chest, until I see a small black animal dash out of a spilled trash can. A few more quick steps and the familiar NECO building looms within my grasp. Flinging open the creaking iron gates, I rush into the safety of the school. The rotunda appears completely deserted. I double check my watch “8:00 am,” right on time. I slowly sneak up the old Victorian spiral staircase to the top floor and turn towards Pre-clinic 1, ready to start my practice session for our impending first second-year proficiency exam. A light bulb begins to flicker overhead. Faint whispers waft from behind the wooden door. As I brave the dimly-lit room, I run the gauntlet of pictures of past NECO graduates. Their eyes appear to follow my every move. A stifled cry escapes my lips as I bump into the tall, statuesque figure suddenly materializing in front of me. Wordlessly, she raises her finger and points toward the far corner of the room where a lonely, black chair beckons balefully. The beam of a lamp reveals only a head of gray, mangled hair. As I cautiously approach the chair, the other preceptors’ glowing eyes watch me from the shadows of the other booths, like prowling cats in a dark and stormy night. My shaking hand reaches out ever so slowly to steady myself on the armrest. Resigned to my fate, I slowly spin the chair around, ready to face what lies on the other side.

October presents a hotbed of scary occurrences not limited to ghosts and goblins rising from their resting places. For optometry students, the most frightening events of all are the dreaded Clinical Proficiencies. For weeks we have practiced our skills over and over again. We have toiled in booths at odd hours in hopes of shaving just one minute off our timed slit-lamp exam. Our faces turn white and our cheeks become hollow, the unmistakable hallmarks of a real-life OD16 zombie. Past proficiencies now appear like child’s play. This year, we are expected to complete entrance tests in nearly half the time, refract a presbyope in under 20 minutes, and perform an undilated slit lamp examination in less than seven minutes. Proficiencies seem like an adventure movie where every point along the path is booby trapped. One wrong move could spell demise and cause the coveted treasure to forever sink into the inferno. How does one then complete such a task? The key to success is all about practice, experience and mostly staying calm. In the end, we will have mastered these procedures in an efficient manner, thus having passed another milestone on our way to becoming skilled optometrists.

Even with proficiencies hanging over our heads, our school provides fun outlets that embrace the spirit of Halloween in much more delightful ways. Just last week NECO held its first ever “Dine In The Dark” experience in order to raise money for World Sight Day. It represented a way for us to step into the shoes of a blind person for an hour while eating a wonderful dinner. I was curious as to how the other senses would compensate for our inability to see our food, since the presentation and visual stimulation of food are such important parts of enjoying a meal. We were guided to our tables located in dark rooms and randomly seated among other NECO students. As we were waiting for our food, I introduced myself to the people around me. I noticed that instead of focusing mostly on my dinner, I paid more attention to the conversation, truly listening to the people around me. As the dishes arrived, I found myself fumbling for my utensils and frequently needing assistance from my waiter. Now that my eye sight was gone, I was purely dependent on my senses of smell and touch. I let the aroma of the baked cheese guide my fork to the plate, and soon I was getting better at eating without sight. Once my plate was empty (the food successfully ingested or strewn across the table, who knows?), I became anxious to remove the blindfold. Although I enjoyed letting my other senses take over for a small portion of the night, I realized how much I was missing my sense of sight. This experience once again reinforced how grateful I am to join a profession in which we can help people to achieve their best possible sight.

And if these a fore-mentioned events aren’t frightful enough, there is nothing scarier than placing a group of over-worked students into a single room for our annual NECO Halloween party. Halloween is always considered the day that people can put on a mask and be anyone they want to be. I rather like to think of it as the one time each year when we discard our masks and truly become ourselves or who we wish we could be. While some of us decided to release their inner devils, others morphed into their favorite superhero. For a spell, we were no longer stressed optometry students but just young, lively adults having fun. Maybe it was dancing beneath the cobwebs and being served fingers by zombies, or maybe it was the Red Sox winning the World Series at Fenway Park; but a new, invigorating energy has filled the streets of Boston, along with all its residents, as though rising from the dead.

halloween 2013

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White Coats and Black Dresses


white coat parents

The long red carpet stretches out into the distance. One by one, my classmates file into the auditorium to thunderous applause. Now I know how movie stars must feel at the Oscars, wooing the enthusiastic crowd. As I walk towards my seat, taking it all in, I meticulously place one foot in front of the other, careful not to stumble. Never-ending flashes explode in all directions as all eyes follow our every move. Somehow, the world grows quiet, as though we were suspended in a scene of an old silent movie. Lips move, bodies jump in excitement pushing over one another, but all I can hear is the sound of my own breathing. Time slows to a crawl until suddenly I feel a hand upon my shoulder and a soft voice chimes “Laura, it’s your turn!” Instantly, reality reasserts itself. My heartbeat almost drowning out the clapping in the background, I slowly make my way onto the stage. As I peer into the audience, someone drapes the prized white coat around my shoulders. No satin evening gown could ever feel more splendid. Here we are, having earned the symbol of being a “student doctor.” For a brief moment, we bask in our achievement.

However, with every robe comes the weight of responsibility, the quest to use our gifts wisely. For each of us, the white coat holds its own challenge. For some it might mean living up to their parents’ expectations, for others it provides a ticket to serve those in need. For many it represents distinction and recognition. Lest we succumb to temptation, however, Dean Fisch kindly reminds us that “a white coat is not worn to show you are better than your fellows, but instead symbolizes the opportunity to improve the lives of our fellow human beings.” It is often easy to get caught up in the long hours of studying, the late nights spent in pre-clinic, that we neglect the true reason for wanting to become optometrists. In the end, people will not remember the two letters following our name or how many designer frames we sold, but rather the deeds we have performed for the greater common good.

As the last name is finally called, we all return to our seats, white caps cresting upon the sea of people. Slowly applause begins to fill the room again; but this time it is not the parents who are applauding, but it is us who are applauding them. We proceed unto the stage once more where we pose for the official “class photo.” Almost instantaneously, smiling faces in the audience dissolve into a wall of flashing cameras, as proud family and friends jockey for prime photo-op positions. A flock of excited girls at a rock concert would have nothing on them! Just as quickly as it began, it is over and everyone adjourns to a scrumptious buffet reception in the foyer. I turn to take one last look at the auditorium. Now only occupied by empty chairs and a few programs randomly scattered around the floor, it has quietly returned to hibernation ready to be reawakened by the class of 2017 next September.

white coat

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

Was it already a year ago that I lugged my belongings up endless sets of stairs to begin my new life as a NECO student in Boston? It seems as if it happened only yesterday. Outside my apartment window, the city slowly builds to a crescendo as a swarm of technicians transforms an abandoned parking lot into a huge musical venue, the Boston Calling. Ever more students are buzzing about, attracted by the flashing disco lights. Once again the city has sprung to life. For some it signals the start of a new adventure, a promise of new opportunities, experiences and friends. For others, Boston wears like a pair of favorite shoes, soles worn down from constantly walking the streets, reliable, comfortable and pleasantly familiar. As I pass through the iron gates of NECO once again, I feel at home. I know every room, every back staircase, and of course every place to find the best chocolate for the midday boost. You always expect things to be different starting a new school year and yet somehow they always remain the same. Everyone is falling back into the same routine, intuitively knowing where to meet without anyone having to say where to go, laughing at the same inside jokes, as though we never left.

Except for one slight but significant change…this year, we OD16s have stepped through the looking glass into the world of “student doctor” where we attend real patients presenting real ocular diseases. The training wheels are coming off, having prepared us for our marathon race in the years to come. We’ve spent long hours practicing in pre-clinic, honing our techniques and clinical skills. Now the time has arrived to exchange the perfect world of 20/20 vision and healthy, young eyes for the domain of 20/40 best-corrected, near-adds and ocular diseases we’ve so far only read about in books.

For our first day in clinic, one of our teachers bestowed the following advice: “Act confident, as if you know what you’re doing.” I mulled over these words on my way to the Boston Medical Center. Could I indeed “be confident?” Suddenly the elevator doors slid open and spewed me into the din. My preceptor pointed to an endless line of patients: some waiting in wheelchairs, and others rubbing their eyes in agony. After being matched with a third-year, I apprehensively followed behind as she called the first patient. “OK, why don’t you start with autorefractor, lensometry, and then take a case history and entrance testing?” I managed to keep a steady face, trying to remember the skills taught to us in class, and survived my first real patient. Thirty minutes later, the third-year walked back in, looked over my notes, and said with an encouraging smile: “Good job!” I felt my confidence level once again beginning to rise. After the third week in clinic, I am able to smoothly carry out entrance testing and subjective refraction. Furthermore, working in a hospital that has three doctors who specialize in pediatrics, contact lens, or primary care, I have the valuable opportunity to experience everything from amblyopia to diabetic retinopathy. Pieces of words and pictures from textbooks and classes are beginning to assemble into the jigsaw puzzle of optometry.

Last but not least, it wouldn’t be a proper first blog without paying tribute to the famous NECO Welcome Back BBQ. A time of food, laughter, and meeting the 135 new faces that are now part of the NECO family. I remember last year walking into the school eager and excited to meet the upperclassmen. They mingled effortlessly among themselves, so comfortable, as I lingered off to the side still trying to find my place in a crowd of over 200 students. Before I had time to gather my courage, second- and third-years were approaching me, welcoming me to the school and introducing me to their fellow classmates. Then I knew that I had made the right decision coming to this school. Now it was my turn to act calm and collected as I watched the freshmen anxiously milling around. Knowing how they must feel, I proceeded to introduce myself to a group of girls huddling in a corner. As I welcomed them to NECO and offered suggestions on how to get through their first year, I watched any remaining apprehension melt away, just as mine did the year before. By the time we arrived at Jillian’s (the traditional spot of NECO’s after party), I looked around the room, unable to discern who belonged to which class. All I could see was a single common energy, one cohesive spirit.

More exciting events coming up: the NECOlympics on September 22nd and the OD16s’ White Coat Ceremony, only two weeks away!

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Summer Days Driftin’ Away…

summer 2013


The laptop cursor unerringly hovers over the tiny mail icon of the paper airplane, as if propelled by an Ouija board. It engages the paper airplane envelope as the swoosh noise signals my final T35 paper flying out into cyberspace. I take a deep breath of relief as two weeks of long nights and countless hours of editing my presentation are finally lifted off my shoulders.

Although you may presume from my last blog that I spent many lazy weekends relaxing with friends and exploring some of New England’s best beaches, the other five days I toiled in the lab trying to make my mark in the vision research world under the T35 program. Not only did we obtain some exciting new results, but we also formed a tight-knit bond among us summer students. So whether you decide to join the MS program or not, a summer of research at NECO can allow you to gain a new perspective on eye care while helping to find cures for common eye problems (such as myopia). My project involved investigating the effects of atropine (an anti-muscarinic drug used as anti-myopia treatment in clinic) in chicks. We exposed their eyes to color flicker and luminance flicker that induce myopic and hyperopic shift, respectively. We then recorded any changes in vision under the different experimental conditions. Much to our surprise, we observed that color flicker negated the effect of atropine and induced a myopic shift. These results were fascinating because they demonstrated that environmental factors play a significant role in myopia progression. Since atropine has been shown to cause severe side effects, perhaps luminance flicker and other environmental cues can be used as replacement treatments in the future. There is just something so thrilling about making a discovery that has never been done before.

Lest I be tempted to bask in the afterglow of conquering the unknown, I diligently approach my desk and start filling out documents for my return as a second-year OD. Although I still have one week left to squeeze in those last Boston sight-seeing musts, I can’t help but feel a bit apprehensive about starting my second year. Entering as unsuspecting first years, we watched the second-years swarm the library before midterms and finals, fight for seats in pre-clinic, and chug coffee like water. Not to mention that we begin our clinical rotations….which means actually treating patients! It is hard to believe that someone’s life, or should I say eyes, will be placed in our hands. But on the other side, I also feel confident stepping into second year. No longer am I the timid freshman fumbling with my instruments, hopelessly wandering the hallways of the school trying to find my way. Instead I have mastered where almost every classroom is located (all two of them), how to manage my time, and have formed friendships with many of the other students. Last but definitely not least, in September we will finally have earned the glorious “White Coat” that gives everyone the impression that we are now qualified to be their doctor. Although it’s easy to think about all the things we have yet to learn and challenges that lie ahead, it’s important to take a moment and remember how far we first years have already come….because just like summer, it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

During a quick break from writing, I decide to click on my Summer 2013 album. As I scroll through the pictures, practically tasting the delicious brats in Germany, laughing at my friends trying to push a rock the size of a truck down the cliffs of Acadia National Park, and enjoying a picture of my lab team celebrating after our final presentations, I can’t help but think…no, know, that this has been the best summer yet.

Stay tuned for my first blog as a newly-minted OD2 in September!

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My Boston Bucket List

Ahhh, summer time; complete with hot weather, cold ice cream and, best of all, time for leisurely pursuits.   Perhaps you fancy a chair by the pool, a family vacation trip, or a chance to earn some cold hard cash (to pay off those student loans)?   I, for one, am seizing my precious spare time to focus on my ever-growing Boston bucket list.  You would think after living in Boston for an entire year that I would have explored everything Boston has to offer…but with proficiencies, midterms, school events, I barely found time to eat.  Therefore, I decided to create a bucket list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in Boston this summer.   Now with half the summer almost gone, I have made quite a dent in my original list.  The only problem is that every day I seem to find new things to drop in the bucket.  So in in this blog instead of regaling you with my fascinating research endeavors, let me take you through some of the best bucket list items already accomplished.

Number 1:  Cape Cod Living!

For anyone residing in the Boston area, going to “The Cape” is a MUST…it is like the Hamptons of Boston.  Who doesn’t love pristine beaches, quaint beach towns and classy New England cottages?  Not even a week after returning from the Aalen program, the visiting German Masters students (who must have followed me here) invited me to join them at their week-end cape-house rental.  Oh yes, you can stop twisting my arm now!  As my GPS informed me “You have arrived at your destination!”  I stared in awe at the indicated spot and double checked the address, sure that there must be some mistake.  In front of me loomed a lovely cape home, blue with white shutters and authentic cedar-shake siding, perfectly manicured lawn, and an American flag pole proudly rising in the middle of the circular driveway.  About twenty Germans were lounging about on the grass looking out onto a lake straight from Monet’s “Water Lilies.”  Inside, the house was decorated in a traditional style with floral curtains and top-of-the-line kitchen appliances.  Each room displayed a different color scheme, but all contained floral wallpaper and mahogany bed frames.  It seemed as if someone raised this cape house off the cover of a New England Home and Garden magazine.  My reverie was broken when a train of students arrived with boxes of food supplies and drinks for a barbeque.   In between enjoying meat and potatoes (typically German), we attempted to work off some calories by playing soccer in the yard.  The following day we checked out a local beach.  Not only was the sand super clean, but we even spotted a pod of wild seals playing in the surf during our walk along the shoreline.  Some fresh lobster rolls from a crab shack presented a fitting end to our Cape Cod excursion.

Cape Cod Living with German Master Students



Number 2:  Road Trip to Acadia National Park in Maine

Until coming to Boston, I had barely visited New England, let alone Maine.  Since the temperature has surpassed 70 degrees, however, The Pine Tree State seems to be the talk of the town.  After incessant urging by one of my friends, I reluctantly agreed to make the five-hour road trip with three of my friends.  After what seemed to be a never-ending stretch of pavement and repeat of the top-40 hits, we finally arrived at our destination, the entrance to the park.  A local park ranger advised us to head out on the ten-mile loop around the park by car, stopping at various lookouts along the way.  Our first stop was at the Sandy Beach.  This picturesque beach is wedged into a cove and the sand consists of 90% crushed seashells mixed with 10% seaweed.  We were impressed that several people attempted to brave the body-numbing cold water.  Next came Thunder Hole.  Why the name, you ask?  At this point, there hunkers a narrow alley between two rocks where the water rushes in and hits against the wall, creating a thunderclap noise.  For all you Disney-movie aficionados, picture the scene out of The Little Mermaid where the water crashes up on the rocks behind her presenting a dramatic backdrop to her song.  Our next stop was Bubble Rock.  We hiked to the peak in order to observe the famous rock that is perched on the side of the cliff looking as if it were ready to tumble down any second.  As we neared the top, we were amazed at this huge rock tauntingly balanced on the edge, daring to be pushed off.  We proceeded to take funny pictures of us attempting to do so and then hiked back down.

bubble rock

After all this physical exertion, we stopped for some tea and popovers (a New England specialty that is a cross between bread and croissant) slathered with homemade Maine blueberry jam.  That evening we decided to explore the harbor town, known as Bar Harbor.  We were drawn to one of the many lobster/ice cream combo restaurants where we happily succumbed to the charms of melt-in-your-mouth lobster and blueberry ice cream.  Let’s be honest, a trip to Maine is not complete without indulging in some fresh local lobstah!



Number 3:  Enjoy a Concert!

One of the many perks of living in the city is access to some word-class singers.  This summer I made it a mission to attend a big-name concert at the TD garden. (I had my eye on one pop star diva in particular.)  You may know her as Queen B, Sasha Fierce, or more commonly as Beyoncé.  After spending several hours trying to score tickets the day of the concert, fate decreed that I could finally see one of my favorite idols of all time.  Stepping into the TD Garden arena for the first time, I was wowed by thousands of young women dressed in Beyoncé apparel, worker bees eagerly buzzing around the Queen’s nest.  As the lights dimmed, the black curtain emblazoned with the pink embroidered B slowly rose from the stage.  A dramatic video began to play of Beyoncé striding to her throne enrobed in an ornate outfit reminiscent of French royalty.  The music swelled and her minions slowly lifted the crown from its white satin pillow and ceremonially placed the crown on Beyoncé’s head, pronouncing her Queen B.  The arena turned pitch black until suddenly, bang, fire burst from the stage and Beyoncé appeared to the cheers and screams of her adoring fans.  From old favorites to new hits, Beyoncé never ceased to be less than amazing.  One of my personal favorites of the night was when she sang a tribute to Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You,” in such a touching, beautiful way that the whole crowd fell silent.

So, faithful readers, I hope this blog has inspired you to take a break from your busy work lives, and finally tackle your special list that’s been patiently waiting on your desk this whole time!

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Brats, Brezeln und Brillen!




When I first found out that NECO offered a three-week elective course in Dispensing Optics at Aalen University, Germany, I jumped at the opportunity.  The Hochschule Aalen is known for its excellent optics program.  Although American optometry school is heavily medicine-oriented, helping patients choose the right glasses that allow them to see and feel their best is equally important.

On our first day, Philipp Heller, our coordinator, greeted us with an itinerary for the next two weeks consisting of both lectures and practical lab experience.  Our classes were taught by Prof. Dr. Baumbach.  He was instrumental in progressive-lens development and is a recognized expert in the field of optics.  In his course, we learned how lenses are manufactured, from the initial blank to the fine-cutting of the lens that would eventually produce the precise optical power.

In the afternoons, we often had lab.  This was my favorite part of the program, since it provided us with hands-on experience.  During the lab sessions, we practiced how to properly align the glasses (called brillen in German) as well as fit them to the patient’s face.  By the end of the first two weeks, we even made our own pair of glasses!  Furthermore, all the labs were taught by students.  It was interesting to learn more about their program and discuss the differences between our programs.  The students in Aalen were wonderful hosts; we were even invited to a traditional German BBQ, complete with Bratwurst, Brezeln (German pretzel) and delicious bread!  (Please check out the NECO Facebook page to read about the visit of the Aalen Master’s students to NECO.)

After learning about lenses in lecture and lab, it was great to observe the actual production of them at both the Carl Zeiss factory in Aalen and the Rodenstock Company in Munich.  On our tour of the Zeiss facility, we were allowed to venture behind closed doors and observe where some of the best optical lenses for microscopes are manufactured from beginning to end.  At the Rodenstock site, we learned about innovative research programs, such as developing new plastic transition lenses and even myopia research in chicks!  Our tours focused more on the production of spectacle lenses and the manufacture of different lens coatings.  We were amazed at the high quality of the lenses and frames available in Germany.

Last but not least, we headed to the final stage of glasses production, our three-day internships at actual optical shops.  My destination beckoned beneath a large blue sign boldly displaying the words “Amon+Sebold Optik”, located in Aschaffenburg, right outside of Frankfurt.  As I passed through the gleaming glass doors, I appeared to have entered the realm of a high-end fashion magazine.  The walls were filled with awesome designer frames including Prada, Gucci, and Oliver Peoples.  On the floor stood four high-tech stations with sleek black chairs and an iPad at each desk.  After a warm welcome, the owner, Herr Amon, together with his team took time to share their business philosophy and how it contributed to the success of this optical shop.  He explained that it is not the chic frames or cutting-edge equipment that keeps his customers coming back but rather providing individualized service that goes above and beyond what is expected.  Each customer entering the store is greeted by an optical associate at the door and offered refreshment (cappuccino or bottled water).  As the client is enjoying the beverage, the optician carefully selects six frames and displays them for the client to consider.  Often times it is one of these initial six choices that is selected.  The optical shop also features a full line of equipment to perform standard eye exams, thus creating a one-stop shopping experience for many of its customers.  After observing the Amon+Sebold practice for three days, I gained not only a deeper passion for frames, but most importantly a better understanding of the different aspects of running a successful optical business.

Much too soon it was time to depart.  As the German landscape quickly faded beneath the wings of the plane, my thoughts lingered on the program.  What a journey it has been, from how lenses are born to when they are finally sold in an optical shop…and the treasures found along the way… new friends, new places, and new ideas for our professional future.



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ODe to First Year


 With a tremor vibrating through the body of the Boeing 757, the powerful Rolls Royce turbofan engines easily lifted the airplane into the gentle evening sky.  Here I was, on my way to Stuttgart, Germany, about to embark on my newest NECO adventure, an elective three-week summer course in Dispensing Optics at the University of Aalen.  What a year it has been: classes, labs, new friends to share work and play with, everything full-on until the last minute of the last day of the last final exam!  When we return in the fall, we will already be second-years, with yet another class of students eager to follow in our footsteps.  As night slowly settles around the plane, my mood turns contemplative.  I wonder how I would describe our first year to a prospective student tentatively knocking on NECO’s intricate iron gates….


 ODe to First Year

 “How would you describe your first year?”

A prospective student innocently asked.

With bags under my eyes I reluctantly replied,

“It really was a blast!”


“No really, be honest, give me all the dirt!”

So with a heave and a sigh I began to blurt:

It was hectic! It was crazy!

I lost seven pounds.


The workload never ends

As though climbing ten-foot mounds.

Even if you study for hours, don’t expect an A.

Maybe a B, more likely a C, come whatever may!


You’ll spend all your money

On fancy equipment that’ll leave you confused,

And carry your instruments everywhere,

All the while hoping that none you’ll lose.


You’ll perform screenings on children

It’s really more like a zoo-

As you fumble with your equipment

Not sure what to do.


You’ll practice endless hours in preclinic

To ace your proficiency,

But don’t worry it’s only 7% of your grade

Oh and what kind of doctor you’ll be!




As the future student stood rooted in shock,

The face quickly turning pale,

I took another deep breath

And attempted to tip the scale.


Don’t worry; truly, it’s not at all bad,

We have fun events, too,

Like dances, balls, ski trips,

And the famous fall Welcome Back Barbeque!


NECO is like a family,

Ever present to help you through.

No matter how hard it may seem,

They’ll always stand behind you.


No question it’s challenging,

But definitely all worth it in the end

Just think of when you finally earn,

That white coat with “OD” in cursive hand.


With these encouraging words the color returned,

The eyes shining with excitement and relief.

“Welcome to NECO!”  I proudly exclaimed.

“Cause once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave!”

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Exploits and Expos


As I finish putting on the last piece of jewelry, the elegant young woman in the mirror smiles gracefully back at me.  The time has finally come!  The happy shouts of my friends at the bottom of the stairs yank me out of my reverie.  Our chariot arrives, ready to whisk us away to the grand event of the year: the annual NECO Eyeball.  After a short ride, a liveried doorman welcomes us to the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.  He helps us step out onto the red carpet and ushers us through the golden doors.  Inside, a grand foyer awaits, complete with marble floors, flower centerpieces that seem to touch the ceiling and furniture straight out of Marie Antoinette’s Versailles.  We ascend the staircase and approach two gentlemen at the top who swiftly swing open a pair of white French doors.  Beyond these doors a room materializes filled with suave tuxes and elegant dresses that glide across the room.  Are these really our classmates or did we accidentally enter the Vienna Opera House on opening night?  The lights begin to flicker, signaling us to take our seats for dinner in the adjacent banquet hall.  We stare in awe at the tall white roman columns, an ornate balcony that wraps around the entire room, and a stage at the front draped in velvety maroon curtains.  Waiters emerge from hidden doors and quickly deliver a delicious menu to our tables.  As we finish our meals, a ringing sound commands our attention.  President Scott has appeared on stage and offers a toast.  After the tragedy in Boston, he is grateful and proud of how we rallied together, supporting and comforting each other during this scary time.  For a moment, my eyes wander across the room.  I realize just how fortunate we are to belong to this community, our NECO family, and how tightly our bond has grown over this past year.  Just like Boston has remained strong, so have we!  Afterwards music begins to play and we all rush to the dance floor as we celebrate our city and one another.  Much too soon the clock strikes midnight and it’s time to head home before our carriage changes back into a pumpkin…

The next morning, however, life returned to reality.  It was time to complete preparations for our first “Educating the World Leaders of Tomorrow” symposium.  Last Thursday, NECO took a break from its usual routine to showcase the ideas and accomplishments of its students.  On this day, our school was transformed into a professional vision expo, with teams of students exhibiting various projects.  For us first years, the assignment had been to identify and display current trends in vision public health.  The excitement was palpable in the room as faculty and students congregated around numerous posters as they engaged in lively discussions.  From new iris implantations techniques to helping consumers choose the best red-eye drops, the quality and depth of research were amazing.  Upstairs the third-year students presented their business plans, which they may wish to incorporate into their future practices.  After a brief break, we headed into the lecture hall to listen to the keynote address delivered by former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  He discussed the impact of the Obama Act and the benefits of universal healthcare.  Most importantly, he encouraged us as future optometrists to take an active role in shaping healthcare reform in our country.  His lecture brought home the message that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.  We have the power to make a positive impact on our community and the privilege of giving back in many different ways.

Please stay tuned for my next blog, which will mark the official end of our first year and which will discuss various exciting summer programs offered by NECO.  Until then and best of luck on finals!


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