Dear Pre-Optometry Students,

March 19, 2019

Written by Autumn Killop Southern College of Optometry Class of 2021

Dear Pre-Optometry Students,

It is hard to believe that I am almost done with my second year of optometry school at Southern College of Optometry (SCO). It seems like just yesterday I was a student at Central Michigan University, playing trivia at Hunter’s Ale House on Tuesdays, performing with The 6th Man Band at basketball games, and going to the movies with my friends that worked at the theater. I have wanted to be a Doctor of Optometry since I was nine years old, so in the 12 years leading up to optometry school, I had plenty of time to explore the profession I had set my heart on at such a young age – or so I thought. There is so much I wish I would have known during those years, and I hope sharing these things will benefit your journey into an exciting career that is ever growing, changing, and flourishing in today’s world.

  1. What you should do before optometry school: volunteer, shadow, take those harder classes, and reach out

To start, I come from a family in which the majority are teachers. I only have two aunts and my older sister who are affiliated with the medical field. With that in mind, there was not a lot of medical talk, public health discussion, or anything optometry-related that came up at the dinner table. The only reason I thought to shadow a Doctor of Optometry in high school was due to an event I competed in at the Michigan State Leadership Conference through Health Occupational Students of America (HOSA). The event required a minimum of 10 hours of shadowing. I had no idea how to get involved with optometry, but also didn’t realize that I could start as early as high school, if not sooner.

There are so many organizations that are eager for student involvement and input. However, if you only have time for one thing, my biggest advice to you would be to volunteer as much as possible. Programs like Lion’s Club, Rotary, Key Club, National Honor Society, American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and many others provide excellent opportunities for students. A few of these – like Lion’s Club – are organizations that are heavily involved with optometry specifically. This can provide connections that you can carry into your optometric education and your career.

In addition to volunteering, shadow everywhere but make sure to mix it up. Go to a corporate institution like Walmart, an ocular disease clinic, a mixed optometrist/ophthalmologist office, a public health center, a vision therapy office, or whatever else sounds interesting. There are several options within optometry to pick from when choosing which aspect in which you want to specialize. The more you see before school, the easier it will be to pick which clubs you want to join, which seminars to take, and what you want to do after graduation.

Nevertheless, don’t forget to do well in school, but know that as long as you get your pre-requisites done, administration does not weigh heavily on what you picked for your major or minor. There are so many different majors among my classmates, and not all of them are science related. If the school you are looking into recommends a class, TAKE IT. You will have to take it eventually, so why not familiarize yourself with the material sooner? I am very thankful I took anatomy and physiology, but there are a couple of classes I wish that I had taken, like pathology and immunology. A majority of my classmates feel the same way. In addition, if your school has one, get involved with the pre-optometry club because it is an easy “gold star” to have on your resume.

Finally, call the optometric institution, follow them on social media, and get your name out there! During my junior year of undergrad, I called the four schools I was interested in to ask them about their opinion on research experience. I ended up talking to a school for 45 minutes and I talked to SCO for an hour and a half. Just by calling the schools, I was able to set up guest speakers with my pre-optometry club from Nova Southeastern University and SCO, confirm that I was preparing for school appropriately, and receive feedback about what else I could do, such as how to apply, when to apply, and more.

  1. What you should do during optometry school: self-care is crucial!

During optometry school, the to-do list never seems to end, and it always seems to grow, regardless of everything you check off. There is always something to study, a practical to practice for, a meeting to attend, or an event that needs volunteers. No matter how busy you are, you need to make sure you take care of yourself.

First, what is the easiest way to do that? Don’t forget to do what you love! Throughout my first year of school, I had a membership with MoviePass when they were offering their program for only $10/month. Every Friday after lab, I would buy myself a “treat yourself” dinner, usually Chipotle, and go see a movie. My class gets together to play ultimate Frisbee, which I always make a point to attend. And finally, in November, a classmate and I started playing trivia with some of her friends from club volleyball every Tuesday night at the Flying Saucer, a regional bar. This year, I discontinued my MoviePass account, which was a heartbreaking day. So, I changed up my Friday ritual. Now, my boyfriend and I – whom I met through trivia at the Flying Saucer – make sushi and take turns showing each other movies that the other hasn’t seen.

So, whatever you enjoy doing right now, whether that’s Netflixing, going dancing with friends, taking your dog to the park, trying out new restaurants, calling your grandparents once a week, or even underwater basket weaving, keep doing it when you are in school. You will thank yourself for it in the end.

Secondly, there are two other important aspects of self-care that should never be forgotten: sleeping and exercising. I make a point to never give up sleep for studying, which is the one rule I have yet to break. Trying to study, take an exam, or focusing on anything is much more difficult when your eyelids are drooping and your brain feels fuzzy. As for exercising, I have noticed that I perform better in school when I work out on a regular basis. I believe this is because I feel more self-disciplined, motivated, and energized while also sleeping better! Overall, remember that your brain studies better when it is fully rested and refreshed.

As mentioned before, optometry is an amazing part of the medical field that I am growing to love more and more each day. No one says that graduate school is easy – and it’s not. However, the more that you do to prepare for school and the greater emphasis you put on self-care, the easier it can be for yourself.