Social Life in Optometry School: What’s it Like?

March 14, 2017

Compared to undergraduate school, a health professions education such as a four-year Doctor of Optometry degree program involves a heavier course load, more challenging material and a more serious commitment. Students really invest themselves and work hard to eventually experience the
stability, flexibility, desirable income and personal satisfaction of an optometric career. But that doesn’t mean optometry school is all slit lamps and studying. If you’re about to begin your optometric education, you can also expect to have a fun, gratifying and refreshing social life.

Just ask Kendra Weiler, a third-year student at Pacific University College of Optometry (PUCO), who says, “There’s certainly a lot of time that you need to spend on studies and practicing procedures, but all that mental work deserves a break!” While concurrently pursuing her Doctor of Optometry degree and a master’s degree in vision science, Kendra is president of PUCO’s Student Optometric Association and a member of several on-campus clubs, including the Sports Vision Club and Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH). She spends time off campus with friends as well. “The college is in a small town, so it may seem that we’d be isolated, but we’ve never had a hard time finding things to do,” she says. “We take short trips into Portland to explore the city, go on local hikes or running trails, visit wineries or breweries, or just enjoy each other’s company at someone’s house. The great thing about optometry school is you can really personalize your experience.”

Fun and Friendship in Optometry School

Indeed, in their free time, optometry school students can take advantage of a variety of official clubs available to them and the opportunities to socialize and travel that they provide. They can also make time to do whatever it is they like to do to “recharge batteries.” Jeremy Outinen, a third-year student at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry (NSU), is president of the Student Government Association and a member of several clubs including the Private Practice Club. “I really enjoy being involved in the organizations we have at NSU. They all have events and meetings that are enjoyable.” Beyond events and meetings and trips, Jeremy says you may find him and his friends simply “vegging out watching TV or hanging out over dinner or at a bar.” The same goes for Evelyn Dearing. She’s a fourth-year student at Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (Salus/PCO) who’s a member of the National Optometric Student Association (NOSA) and also enjoys playing on an intramural basketball team, bargain shopping, crocheting and watching movies. According to Evelyn, optometry students tend to “work hard and play hard, and the great part is you’re not alone. All of your classmates are striving scholastically while creating friendships that will last a lifetime.”

That’s one aspect of optometry school social life that many students may find is different than it was in undergrad, Kendra says. “Your classmates are also your closest friends. You end up becoming each other’s support systems and best friends. Plus, you always know what other people’s schedules are like, so finding time to do things outside of class is easier!” Jeremy agrees, saying “I feel like my social and professional lives are mixing more and more because my classmates are so tied into my life now.”

Each Year in Optometry School has a Different Dynamic

According to the optometry school students who spoke with Eye on Optometry, classmates tend to bond over the academic experiences they’re sharing, which evolve in each year of a program. The curriculum changes also have an impact on their social lives. “How much time you have varies depending on which part of the semester you’re in or the year you’re in, but you can still have adequate free time,” Jeremy says. As Kendra notes, “Social life definitely changes in each year, mainly because of your school schedule and priorities.” Each program is different, but shedescribes the typical flow at PUCO: “First year, we’re adjusting to life as graduate students, but the classes are manageable. Second year is definitely our busiest year school-wise, so we have the least amount of time to socialize. In third year, our class schedule is lighter, so we have more time for outside activities, but that includes studying for boards! It’s definitely a balance, but even at our busiest times, such as during finals, we’ve found ways to have fun.”

What Current Optometry Students Say is the Key to a Good Social Life

Balance is key, students say. As Jeremy explains, “You have a lot more on your plate compared to undergrad, so you have to make time for a social life. That said, it’s that much more important to have one. You always need that time to unwind and have some sort of outlet besides your studies. And you savor it more.” Making time to unwind is all about time management, Evelyn says. Throughout her years in optometry school, she’s been proactive about her study time, even
making sure to schedule time every weekend. She advises, “Try your best not to procrastinate, be proactive and set aside time for rejuvenation too. You may never be completely caught up in all your classes, but it’s important to keep pushing and take it one day at a time. Take time to relax, whether it’s with a pick-up game of basketball, going to church, exercising or just watching a good movie. Balance is a necessity. School has always been my top priority, so I’ve studied hard. Therefore, I felt I deserved my hours of socialization and never felt guilty about it.”

Kendra wholeheartedly believes that “Finding a balance between school and outside activities will make you a better student.” And in her experience, “The amount of time people need to have off from school varies. Some people prefer lots of time to socialize, while others need more time to dedicate to studying. As long as you find a good balance for you, it’s easy to find the right amount of time for both.”