Through the Looking Glass…and What Tom Found There

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Time has marched inexorably on, as it has a tendency to do, and now I am sitting here faced with my very last day as a student being just two weeks away. Four days after that, I will graduate from the New England College of Optometry as a newly minted optometrist. I will be Thomas Andrea, OD. Between wedding planning, preparations for my residency, and life taking up so much of my time, it’s almost as if this major milestone crept up on me. It raises a whole host of questions, ones that I’ve been too busy to really consider.

Now that I have the presence of mind to sit and consider what is on my horizon, I realize that there’s one major piece missing from our education. We are trained to be excellent clinicians, researchers, problem-solvers… but nobody really tells you how to handle the title of “Dr.” I don’t want to be that guy that goes around correcting everyone if they refer to me as a “Mister” instead of “Doctor” Andrea*. But what are you supposed to do? If anything? And going off of that, should I call myself Dr. Andrea – or will people think that they are going to see a less-bearded, female doctor?  I could be the hip, young doctor that goes by his first name – Dr. Tom. Or does that make me sound like a psychiatrist? I don’t know. Someone please tell me.

*Except for all of my friends. And my fiancée/soon to be wife. They will have to put up with me.

I haven’t graduated quite yet, but since this has been running in parallel to all of my wedding preparations, I have a feeling that once all is said and done, it may have a similar effect. The day itself will be very special, and there will be a great deal of pomp, circumstance, and possibly ritualistic ceremony involved. But after that, I will still be the same person; I just get a couple extra letters after my name. I don’t say that to minimize my accomplishment, or that of any of my colleagues for that matter. I just think it’s funny that my family has certain ideas of what being a doctor means and my reality is not necessarily in line with that. I will still drive my sweet ’05 Rav4, still live in a tiny basement apartment (garden-level is being too charitable when referring to it), but I can’t use my excuse of being a poor grad student.

The reason I point any of this out is that the change from being Mr. Andrea to Dr. Andrea will essentially happen overnight, even if the transformation has actually occurred over the past four years. It doesn’t mean I get a new Benz and a loft in Back Bay though… at least if it does nobody has told me yet. Much like earning that title with hard work over the past four years, these things too will take time and effort. Despite this disparity, I am extremely excited for what my future holds as a licensed eye care provider. The freedom to make decisions and provide care without the oversight I’ve had for the past four years is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. Fortunately, at the VA during my residency, I will still have my attending doctors as a safety net, which is definitely a reassurance. I will not have a carefree, playboy lifestyle, but that’s ok, too. I have come to understand that good things do come to those who wait, and as my fiancée has reminded me during my long road here, those who can delay gratification are those who achieve the most and are thusly rewarded.

Graduation looms, and my tenure as a student will soon be ending. That does not mean my ties to academia will end; in truth, I will continue as a student just under a different name. Every personality test I’ve ever taken has emphasized my need to be a “lifelong learner” and I am embracing that. Even if I go on to become a faculty member, I know now that such a career means I will still be striving to learn even as I teach. I hope that during my next year I will have the opportunity to continue blogging for NECO, but if that is not the case, I will take this chance now to say thanks for reading, and to wish you luck in your future. If any readers ever have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them to the best of my ability, or at least provide a witty response that is secretly laced with insight.

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