Through the Looking Glass…and What Tom Found There

Big Plans

Ever since I was a kid in high school, I knew I wanted to be a high school biology teacher. Then I got to college and discovered no, I wanted to be a biology professor. And a doctor, of course. So I continued on with my biology coursework, suffered through organic and inorganic chemistry, and found physics to be quite tolerable. I followed what I thought was a logical path, and ended up obtaining a research assistantship in a microbiology lab studying antibiotic resistant bacteria. The grand nature of the research definitely appealed to my inquisitive nature and I, of course, expected to be making weekly breakthroughs that changed the face of microbiology. But the day-to-day reality of mixing up agar, plating it, streaking out lines of bacteria, and then doing statistical analysis on the data we collected at a glacial pace was… less enthralling to me. Despite sticking with it for a year and a half, I was sent back to the drawing board in terms of career paths. I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to pursue a PhD, and I didn’t relish the additional decade of training required of MDs, but I didn’t want to turn my back on my dream of being a clinician and teaching.

Fortunately, my soon-to-be wife enlightened me on the existence of optometry and the rest is history. I am now pleased to announce that I have been matched with the residency in Ocular Disease and Primary Care at the VA Hospital in Brockton! I am ecstatic to have been selected for this position and look forward to the challenges and rewards that await me as a resident next year*. For those who aren’t aware of what a residency means for optometry school, it is an optional addendum to your formal education, typically a year in length, where you are working full-time as an OD, but still under the tutelage of one or more clinical preceptors with expertise in the field you choose to study. One of the many advantages of completing such a residency is that you are not only more marketable due to the advanced training, but that this training is also often a prerequisite for both didactic and clinical teaching positions.

*Side note: It is also nice to know well in advance that I have a job lined up after graduation, so I can take the time between completing my schooling and starting my job to plan my July wedding and/or lie on the beach all day…but probably just lie on the beach all day.

I have elected to complete my residency in Ocular Disease and Primary Care at a VA Hospital. I was fortunate to have had a three-month rotation at this particular VA already during my fourth year, so I am familiar with how the clinic runs and what is expected of a resident there. Initially, the position involves working closely with an OD who oversees you, much like when you are a fourth year student. However, the rate at which you become independent and the nature of your decision-making evolves rapidly into a collaborative process, and the level of responsibility is also increased commensurately.

I will be providing healthcare to veterans at a primary level, meaning that I am the “gatekeeper” of sorts, the first healthcare professional who is often seeing and treating them for any ocular diseases or comorbidities (symptoms/issues that arise from having other health problems, but manifest in the eyes). In addition to this role, I will also support the emergency room personnel by answering any urgent consults for patients with acute ocular conditions, which can range from getting poked in the eye by a grandchild to a full blown retinal detachment. On top of these responsibilities, which will  occur during normal business hours at the hospital, I will also be on call every nine weeks, during which time I will have a real-live, ye olde beeper to carry around with me at all times. That means any emergency visits that occur after hours will result in a phone call to me (or should I say, to my beeper) at which point I will be responsible for triaging the complaint. Luckily, residents are always on call with more experienced ODs who have dealt with similar issues, so we aren’t left hanging if we need to make a tough call. It is admittedly a bit terrifying to know I will be given this level of responsibility, but simultaneously a bit exciting to be able to say “Sorry friends, can’t make it this weekend, I’m on call. Go enjoy your fabulous boating trip without me.

Besides all of the clinical responsibilities that go with being a resident, there are additional didactic responsibilities. These range from weekly participation in Grand Rounds (a sort of professional development meeting where we discuss cases and cover administrative duties) to preparing and presenting a poster on a case of our choosing at the American Academy of Optometry meeting in Denver, Colorado, this year. There is much and more I can say about the educational aspects of a residency, but I may save that for a later post when I have time to delve into the finer points. Suffice it to say, I am overjoyed to know what I will be doing next year, and that it is sure to be the best course I can take towards my dream of combining teaching and clinical care. I also know I’m going to be quite busy, but it is sure to be worth it.



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