Many months ago now, I received an unexpected email from our Contact Lens professor, Dr. Watanabe. It contained an invitation to apply for an all expenses paid, four-day trip to the Alcon company headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, to attend their Academy for Eyecare Excellence. Dr. Watanabe had made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, so my friends and I were able to pick a date that worked for us, and RSVP’d accordingly. Time passed, as it tends to do, and suddenly, November 7 was upon us. My friends and I met up at Logan Airport the morning of our flight, and indulged in some gourmet Egg McMuffins and Newman’s Own Coffee. I’d thought I was cutting it close waiting to get home the night before to start packing, but as it turns out, my other buddies had waited until the morning of, so I deserve some points for my stellar planning there. We boarded our flight, and proceeded to make our four-hour trip, arriving three hours later thanks to the difference in time zones. This was my first time having a driver awaiting my arrival with a sign, so that was pretty cool too. After a short jaunt in a party bus from DFW Airport, we reached our hotel in downtown Fort Worth with some time to kill. Once we were checked in and situated in our respective hotel rooms, we met up again for some authentic Texas BBQ.
My memory of the names of all the foods we ate there are a bit hazy now, but suffice it to say we ordered a mountain of assorted meats, and proceeded to devour that mountain. This was, of course, a few hours before the catered welcome dinner started, but we were all fairly ravenous after failing to eat lunch before leaving MA, so it felt good. We had a chance after loading up on barbequed meats to walk it off in downtown Fort Worth, taking in the sites. It was a bit of a culture shock coming from Boston, where everything dates back to colonial times and roads were apparently laid out according to donkey paths or river currents or Paul Revere. In Fort Worth, the streets were clean, orderly, and laid out in a sensible grid that made navigation easy for us yankees. The rest of the night was spent at the welcome reception, enjoying the buffet and even better, the “Make Your Own S’More” station which featured indoor flames for roasting mallows. I was fortunate to meet up with some of my compatriots from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, and we had time over the weekend to catch up, and discuss the various experiences we’d had since parting ways three years ago.
On Friday, the Academy for Eyecare Excellence kicked off with a trip out to the Alcon campus, about 20 minutes away from our hotel. The facilities there were beautiful, and eventually we got to take a tour not only of the extensive grounds, but also of the manufacturing and shipping areas where products like Air Optix contact lenses and their accompanying OptiFree Multipurpose Solutions are born. We began the day in a very well-appointed lecture hall where experts on ocular surface disease, multifocal contact lenses, contact lens solutions, cataract surgery and more gave talks on their respective fields of interest. I was pleasantly surprised to find something in all of the lectures that related to a scenario I’d experienced in clinic, which showed how far I’ve come since starting out four years ago. It also helped that the organizers at Alcon were dedicated to feeding us every two hours to keep bellies full and spirits high. The afternoon sessions were spent touring the campus and getting some hands on time with the instruments used in cataract surgery, as well as some time observing specialty contact lens fitting. When the day was done, we headed back to the city for an amazing steak dinner, and got in some networking time. I met a number of the lecturers and some of the executives at Alcon, and had a great time picking their brains about their experiences in the healthcare field, which BBQ is the best BBQ, and local Texas brews.
Saturday was spent in the hotel’s expansive conference rooms listening to lectures about treatment options for glaucoma, ocular nutrition, and then about four hours of billing and coding. When I say that I was not thrilled about sitting through half a day of billing and coding talk, that may be understating things a bit, but I could not believe how engaging and relevant the speaker turned out to be on the topic. He did an excellent job of maintaining our attention while giving us insight on how to maximize reimbursement for all the many things we are trained to do upon graduation. This talk was the highlight of the weekend for me, and I had the opportunity to thank the speaker in person at our “Rita and Fajita” dinner that night in Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards district. After an amazing dinner of what I now know to be authentic Mexican food (like Chipotle, right?), we were free to wander the Stockyards and catch a shuttle back to the hotel when we were ready to turn in. This lead to some amazing hijinks that included, but were not limited to: meeting friendly Canadians, wandering into a rodeo, sampling of the local beer selection, attending a Josh Turner concert at the largest Honky Tonk I do believe I’ve ever seen, and generally having a great time with friends. We made it pretty late into the concert, but eventually the day’s activities caught up with us, and we headed back to the hotel to crash.
Our last morning in Fort Worth was a quiet affair. I enjoyed a nice breakfast alone, since I am a freakishly early riser compared to most of my friends. This was followed by a walk around the city to take some pictures and read about the history of the city. Once the texts started rolling in from friends who’d arisen from their normal-person-length slumber, I headed back to meet up with them, and to say our goodbyes to departing friends. From there, we flew back home, leaving behind the mild 60 degree weather in favor of the not so mild cold of November in the Northeast. None of us had thought to pack winter coats, so we had a great time arriving back at Logan to that realization.
All in all, it was an amazing trip that I would highly recommend to all fourth year OD students — or residents for that matter, as the course is offered to both. Not only did I genuinely learn a great deal about emerging treatments, technologies, and general practice management in the eye care field, but I also had a unique cultural experience. This was my first trip to the great state of Texas, and it was a refreshing break from what can be described as a fairly busy schedule of clinic full-time. So, whether you’re in optometry school now or looking to apply, there are many things to look forward to (like National Boards!) and this weekend conference should make your list.
Stray Thoughts: I figured I would share my list of original observations that I wrote up and posted on Facebook on our ride to the DFW airport, while the TX experience was still fresh in my mind.
Things I learned in Texas:
1. Not everything is bigger, but most of it is covered with bacon.
2. Texas BBQ is apparently the best BBQ.
3. Alcon makes some lovely products, and I make some lovely s’mores.
4. If you confidently walk into a rodeo without a ticket or cowboy hat on, nobody will ask you to leave.
5. Apparently Brian Ludwig and I are the only guys with beards in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area.
6. There are some surprisingly good dancers at country concerts.
7. Texas exists at the crossroads of both In N Out and Waffle House. Truly mind blowing.
8. Downtown Fort Worth is a ghost town at night, but the party is apparently in the Stockyards.
9. Both the buildings and the landscape are incredibly flat.
10. The people here are incredibly friendly, and frequently referred to groups of us as “y’all,” which I truly enjoyed.
- Let’s Take Things Slow