Spring in Boston.  Baseball, the Boston Marathon, running along the Charles River, Eye Ball, final exams, and BOARDS.  These are the thoughts that spring in Boston brings to my mind.  Every March, hundreds of third year optometry students across the country take part I of the national boards.  This is a crucial part of our education.  After all, if you don’t pass the national boards, you can’t become licensed to be an optometrist in any of the 50 states.  This is the culmination of almost 3 full years in the classroom, with details from every single class being tested.  Yes, that class that you said you would “never need to know anything from” is included in that.

Studying for boards generally starts at the beginning of Spring semester in your third year (at least, that’s when I started).  It was way more rigorous than any class I had studied for before.  I had a light course schedule during this time, but all of my free time was spent studying for boards and even though my course schedule was light, I still had 3 or 4 classes that I had to study for plus clinic hours.  So, time management was key.  But when everything was all said and done, it was definitely do-able.  The exam itself consisted of 2 days, about 8 hours each day, 500 questions total.  Physically taking the exam was probably close to as taxing as studying for it, given the long hours involved in it.  After taking the exam, we waited about 6 or 7 weeks and finally got our scores.  That is when I realized that all the studying was worth it.

Part II of the national boards followed in Fall of 4th year.  This part is more clinically relevant and given in the form of cases.  It focuses mainly on diagnosis, treatment, and management of ocular conditions.  This test was 1 eight hour long day and, if I remember correctly, it consisted of 350 questions.  Studying for this consisted of about 1 month of studying, rather than the 2.5 months that I studied for part I.  Again, the waiting period to find out our scores was the hardest part, but again, the studying was well worth it.

Part III can be taken any time in your 4th year.  I took mine in October of 4th year, so I actually ended up taking this exam prior to taking part II.  The exams do not have to be taken in sequence.  I decided to take it early for a few reasons.  I was leaving for my rotation in Alaska and wanted to finish it before then or else I would have had to have waited until March.  Also, I wanted to avoid traveling for the test in the Winter, since that can add more complications.  The test itself is at a brand new testing center in Charlotte, NC.  I flew down the day before the exam and stayed until the day after the exam, however it is definitely feasible (when traveling to/from Boston) to do it while only staying one night.  The exam was very well organized and tested basic clinical skills.  The setting was a little bit stressful, but if you prepared well, it was not very difficult.  So there you have it, a recap of the three exams that I took in order to be licensed in the US.  All 3 are slightly different from one another, but for all of them, if you adequately prepare, they are more than feasible.

NECO Through the Past Few Years

As I sit back and reflect upon my 4 years at NECO, I can’t believe how much it has changed me. Not only as a clinician, but as a person in general. When I first began, I had just graduated college. I thought I knew everything, but that mindset quickly changed.
As a first year, I learned very fast that the amount of studying I did in undergrad was not enough for optometry school. Hour long study sessions from undergrad turned into 4 hour long study sessions in optometry school. Short lab assignments from undergrad became much longer. However, I was also learning about optometry, a career that I was passionate about and more interested in.

Second year brought increased clinical responsibility. Not only was I studying for my classes, but now I was interacting directly with patients, often times in a 1 on 1 setting. The way I interacted with people was changing. At first, my interactions were robotic. I was basically spewing back what I had learned in class. I quickly learned that I needed to ask questions of patients in different ways, and that sometimes by having just a regular conversation with the patient, you can get many of the answers that you are looking for.

With third year came the inevitable: boards. While I had been studying throughout my time at NECO, this was a whole different beast. Now I was studying for a test that was on practically everything I had learned in the past 3 years. The aforementioned 4 hour long study sessions turned into full day study sessions. This was another hurdle to get past but I told myself that if I put the time in, it would all pay off. Of course, this was on top of the regular course load and clinical load, which had increased since second year.

Finally I was a fourth year! The day I had been waiting for since starting optometry school. I remember during first year, looking at the fourth years in awe. After all, they knew so much and were about to become doctors. Everyone told me that fourth year would fly by. I didn’t believe them, but every rotation this year has gone faster than the last one. I have been given great opportunities this year. First, I rotated through the VA.  Then I had low vision and pediatrics, then my experiences in Alaska before returning to Boston for my community health rotation. All of these clinics have exposed me to different aspects of the practice of optometry, and I have learned unique things at each of them.

If I had any advice to give to incoming students, it would be to take advantage of the time you have in school. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can, ask questions, and enjoy your experience as a student. There are countless opportunities available to you that will not be available after graduation, so make the best of it. If you are interested in an opportunity, go for it. I promise you won’t regret it.

The Apartment Hunt

When I first moved to Boston, I remember being unsure of how it would be to live in this city. I did not know where to live, how much to expect to pay, and how the transportation worked, so I thought I would dedicate this blog to that.

Apartment hunting was nerve wracking to say the least. I knew I had to find a place to live in, in just 1 weekend, which I had to be happy in for a year. I had 2 days to look and sign a lease. So I decided to live in Brighton. After all, it was only 3 miles away from school and the T was a block away from my apartment. Not only that, but my rent was over $200 cheaper per month than anything I could find in the Back Bay. Now, don’t get me wrong, the area of Brighton I lived in was very nice, but I realized quickly that the T was not the way I wanted to be getting to school every day for 8 AM labs. While my friends were rolling out of bed and leaving their apartments at 7:55, I had to be out my door at 7:00 or run the risk of being late to class.

Also, going out in the evenings and on weekends was a challenge. It would take me 45 minutes to an hour to get to a friend’s apartment, if they lived near school. Then, the T would close pretty early and I would be forced to either stay at that friend’s place or take a not-so-cheap taxi back home to my apartment. Studying was also difficult if I wanted to go to school, since it added 2 hours to my day on a weekend.

Second year I moved to the Back Bay. Here, I was paying $1200 for a studio apartment, but at least I was able to get an apartment slightly larger than the one I had in Brighton. I was living 3 blocks away from school, which was very convenient. I lived in this place for 2 years. Especially as midterms and finals came around, it was the perfect location for studying at home, school, or a variety of coffee shops and areas in the Prudential Building. However, like I said the rent was much higher. Also, as I got a car in third year, parking was much more difficult in the Back Bay. Sometimes I would drive around for up to an hour trying to find a parking space, even with my resident permit. I enjoyed the ability to spend more time with friends, get to school easier, and also enjoy the night life in Boston easier.
I would recommend to any student who is entering their first year of optometry school at NECO to live within close walking distance to the school. It certainly makes getting to school more convenient, as well as socializing and having more of a life outside of school. In my opinion, it is well worth the extra money that is spent.

Final Year Rotation in Bethel, Alaska

My four years of optometry school have been a whirlwind.  I have learned a lot since I started school, not just about optometry but also about what I am capable of doing.  Throughout all of my classes, labs, and clinical rotations I have grown professionally and personally.

For the past three months, I have spent a clinical rotation in Bethel, Alaska.  When I decided to come to Bethel, I was unsure of how it would be.  After all, it is very isolated there, with a population of only 6500 compared to the 4.5 million people in the greater Boston area.  Bethel is located in the southwest region of Alaska, and the clinic serves an area the size of the state of Oregon.  There are no roads in or out of Bethel, so all travel is by airplane and boat, with the only option in the winter being by airplane.  I figured it would be a test of what I could do.  What I found was a different world.  I was flying to different villages in the region, setting up clinic lanes, and performing exams.  The populations of these villages ranged from 75 people to about 500, with no access to the outside world aside from air travel.  With the equipment that we brought, we would set up in either a clinic or a school building and we had the capabilities to perform complete eye exams, including testing the patients’ refractive errors and doing a complete ocular health assessment.  It was very rewarding being able to provide eye care to a population that would otherwise not be able to afford to be seen.  I had the opportunity to travel to 6 different villages, and in those visits, which spanned about 2 weeks of time total, performed about 250 eye exams and 200 pediatric screenings.

The people that I have met in Bethel, including my preceptors, fellow interns, other health care professionals, and the native population have all been exceedingly nice.  The lifestyle in Alaska is more relaxed and paced much more slowly than in the cities that I have lived in.  I learned to enjoy the simpler things to life, like cooking, relaxing with a book (easier to do when there is no more studying for my classes!), or going for a walk.  Yes, even in the -50⁰ temperatures we still walked around town.  We also spent time learning the native culture and participating in various community events.

This rotation has been just one of the many great experiences that I have had at NECO.  I was lucky to have this opportunity, but there are many other opportunities available for a wide variety of experiences, depending on what you are interested in doing.  I have had the opportunity to rotate through the Indian Health Service clinic as well as numerous Community Health Centers around Boston, two different Veterans Affairs hospitals and the a few different sites of the school’s clinic.  Through each of these places I have come out a better clinician with an increased skill set to perform primary care exams as well as fitting contact lenses, working with the pediatric population, and working with low vision patients.  I can truly say that the school has shaped how I will be as an optometrist for the rest of my career.