What I Learned in Optometry School (Besides Optometry)

March 5, 2019

written by Sherene Vazhappilly
4th year optometry student
University of Waterloo
School of Optometry

It’s not until you reach the summit that you realize how high you’ve climbed.

— Unknown

Through my final phases of transformation to an exemplary Doctor of Optometry, I cannot help but to reflect and reminisce on the past few formative years of optometry school. It strikes me that I am no longer the same hopeful doctor that walked through the letter chart doors on the first day. Over the past few years I have learned a lot about optometry as a profession, about people and most importantly, about myself. I have grown in my abilities, made important decisions and connections with people that have shaped my life and who I am in ways unimaginable. Somewhere in between seeing patients in clinic, a rigorous class schedule, extracurricular activities, conversations and lessons with fellow students and professors, I am on the cusp of becoming a Doctor of Optometry. At the culmination of what has been an extraordinary journey, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned in optometry school – besides all of the optometry of course!

  1. A good doctor is a lifelong learner. With the field of optometry progressing at a rapid rate, it is important to keep up with emerging research and innovative new technology outside of classes. Honing in on your interests and researching topics that are interesting to you allows you to gain knowledge that will help you better serve your patients.
  1. A patient is a person, not a disease. When you spend your days seeing patients, you begin to see not just the disease or abnormality, but who your patient is as a person. You see people for the myriad of activities they do every day, their beliefs, hopes, dreams, goals, the relationships they have with other people and with themselves. While you are attending to their visual needs, you catch a glimpse of their story, and make a meaningful connection as a student doctor in their circle of care.
  1. Speak up about the profession. Optometry comes with some challenges but it is our voice that determines the future. So, get involved in your school clubs and associations, become active, and speak up about relevant topics affecting our community. Our input can determine the difference in the care that our patients receive.
  1. Take responsibility for your actions. Gone are the days where you only studied or worked for yourself and negative consequences were for you alone to face. In the real world, it is important to be honest with your patients, to own up to your mistakes and to find a plausible solution together.
  1. Time is an investment, spend it carefully. As much as it is important to spend time on your education, it is equally necessary to spend time on other activities that are enjoyable, challenging and fruitful for you. Just as you are growing to become an excellent clinician, you are also developing into a multifaceted and unique person who can relate to your patients.
  1. Keep some relationships, let others go. As you grow to become the person you’ve always dreamt of being, you’ll realize that not everyone will like who you are. You’ll deal with many people on a daily basis – patients, colleagues, staff, company reps, mentors, potential employers – the list goes on. Whether it is a difficult patient, an unsupportive colleague or a harsh supervisor, it is important to ensure that you are in a headspace to take care of your patients. Sometimes this means leaving a toxic work environment or terminating a patient-doctor relationship, situations you will learn to handle with grace and tact.
  1. Realize that you’re not alone. We all may struggle, especially in a demanding environment such as optometry school. It is important that we take care of our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing first before we take care of our patients. There are many resources and support systems in place for you to seek help should you need it. Be prepared to recognize when your patients, classmates, colleagues and others you work with need help as well. Though it is challenging, you have your classmates, supervisors, professors, support staff and the whole school rooting for your success in this journey.

Striving to be an incredible Doctor of Optometry is a long and challenging road and we don’t realize how far we’ve come until we stop to look back. Learning happens within and outside of the walls of our optometry institution and it profoundly shapes who we become as clinicians, and as people. Best of luck on your journey, you can do it!