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2020 most certainly was not the year any optometrist or optometry student expected. When the global pandemic first rampaged the country, we were in the height of our midterms and had an exam planned for the day our school was to close. Since then, a lot of the pandemic was just “unknown.”
When the stay-at-home orders started, and all school and public buildings were closed, I had to make the adjustment to become an at-home student. As someone who loves to study at the library, in order to keep focusing on school and relaxing at home separate, this was a very difficult transition. However, it was a necessary one in order to do well during my spring and summer semesters. This adjustment, along with watching the news on the pandemic across the globe, studying for midterms, not knowing when we would return, or what the course of my curriculum would be like, caused my focus and motivation to decrease and my anxiety to increase.
As I was getting accustomed to studying from home, the professors were also going through their adjustment of moving everything online, and we as students just had to stay patient. In order to help ease the transition to virtual learning, several professors pre-recorded lectures in addition to holding collaborative sessions and online office hours, making sure that they were available to answer questions and help us through difficult material. One of my favorite aspects of the virtual environment was being able to attend an open forum with PCO Dean Melissa Trego and faculty every week, where we discussed current events, their impact on our current learning environment, and how to move forward with our curriculum. I greatly appreciated having the chance for my voice to be heard and having such close communication with our administration during an unprecedented time.
Another aspect of virtual learning that required a major adjustment was taking exams online. Taking exams from home created an entirely new level of test anxiety, as being told things like you cannot put your hands on your face or if you look away from the camera you may be flagged was fairly daunting. When I first began taking the exams virtually, I would feel so incredibly nervous beforehand and then feel shaken down after every exam at the prospect that I would be flagged for something and be penalized. Additionally, as I was quarantining at home with my parents and grandparents, I had to adjust to there being other activities happening and background noise around me. Sometimes, they would forget I had an exam, which made me nervous that the Respondus Lockdown Browsers would pick up their conversations and flag me for that as well. This meant that exam time had to become quiet time for the entire household, which made me feel as though I was taking away from my family members’ freedom. However, as time went on and I took more exams, I became increasingly comfortable in the environment and my family worked with my schedule to help me in the best way they could to excel in my exams.
What got me through these semesters was my support system. It was the professors who were willing to take a chance with virtual learning to help us understand the material. It was the University’s Center for Professional and Personal Development who was able to schedule a virtual session with me and help me process the changes I was experiencing. It was being able to Zoom call and stay in touch with my friends and study groups. It was the virtual study sessions where my friends and I were able to work through PowerPoints and even create our own Kahoots to practice and study the material. It was my family who adjusted their schedules to accommodate my exams. It was everyone who helped me learn that while adjusting to new environments takes time, I can still be successful anywhere.
Throughout this global pandemic, I had to do a lot of self-evaluating, make a lot of minor and major adjustments to my lifestyle, and take things one step at a time. However, through all of that, I grew as a student and as a person. I became stronger in the way I handled global news and the idea of the “unknown.” I learned that things will not always go as planned but you learn to adapt and make adjustments as you go. And, most importantly, I learned that you are not in this alone, and, at any point if you need help, you have a support system, even if it may be virtual. I am very grateful for the opportunities Salus University and PCO continue to give us students as we continue to learn and prosper in our careers.
Sophia explains how a childhood experience as well as a conversation with her Doctor of Optometry as an adult led her to consider optometry. And she’s never looked back.
written by guest author Dr. Laurel Kelley
I made the decision to pursue optometry when I was a freshman in college. Like many young adults just out of high school, I knew I wanted to be in the medical field due to my interest in the biological sciences and the vague idea that I wanted to help people. In addition to helping people, I wanted to have the freedom in my personal life to make decisions and commitments as I got older and my priorities changed. One of my first courses in the pre-health program in undergrad reviewed a catalog of potential healthcare careers, including many that I had never considered – like optometry! I had been going to the eye doctor since fourth grade but had never thought of optometry as a career option until going through the catalog. It seemed to be the perfect combination of science, helping people, and the freedom to adjust as I got older.
For those who are considering a health profession, especially medicine, realize that becoming a medical doctor is not the only path. I did not learn until college that there are many more opportunities available, including other 4 year professional programs in which you can receive a doctorate.
Once in optometry school, I realized how optometry balances the combination of art and science. You have tests that you perform to achieve a glasses prescription, but then you have to talk to the patient to determine what their lifestyle needs are and you may need to adjust the prescription to best suit their activities of daily living.
What I knew about optometry came from my experiences as a patient and shadowing, I didn’t realize that optometrists did more than just prescribe glasses!
As primary eye care providers, optometrists can diagnose both ocular and systemic conditions, and treat many eye conditions and diseases. They also have the ability to co-manage with ophthalmologists, specialists, primary care physicians, and surgeons.
Growing up I had always entertained the idea of becoming a teacher – I thought it was so fun to help others learn and see them excited about new topics and material. When I entered optometry school I thought there was only one option – private practice. I didn’t realize some of the possible clinical settings in addition to private practice: Veterans Affairs hospitals, university hospitals, commercial settings, and academia. Once I realized I could combine my passion for teaching with this profession that I had fallen in love with, I knew exactly the path I wanted to take.
With those goals in mind, I pursued a residency after completing optometry school so that I could become specialized in anterior segment and dip my toes in precepting students. It came naturally to me and the only place I applied for a job after completing residency was back at the optometry school I had graduated from. Academia also provides all the newest and most up-to-date research and technology, so I knew I would also be on the cutting edge.
I chose to pursue optometric academia because I wanted to make an far-reaching impact on the world. By seeing patients and training the next generation of optometrists, I feel that I am fulfilling the dreams I had set for myself.
I find the act of “fitting in” incredibly exhausting. “Fitting in” implies there are pre-requisites to belonging. Such terminology has pushed me to exhaustingly reevaluate my progress each step of the way and constantly question whether I had finally achieved that dream of “belonging.” You would think being admitted into a doctorate program would be enough to silence my insecurities. The Optometry Admissions Test was over, I was admitted into The University of Houston College of Optometry, and yet I found myself staring at my Anatomy and Physiology Lab Midterm grade wondering whether I could (or would) ever become a good doctor.
My name is Shail Gajjar and this is the third lesson I learned in my first year of optometry school:
Lesson 3: When your sense of self-worth is rooted in comparisons to those around you, you’ll find yourself drowning in constant parasitic competition. To sum it up concisely: learn to learn, and let go of the idea that grades define the trajectory of your doctorate journey.
Imposter syndrome is no joke. I imagine many students have found themselves wondering whether they belong. Despite having been chosen for the program, students might find themselves “competing” with each other rather than synergistically working together to become the best doctor that they can become.
I’ve grown up a Type-A person. I was someone who was obsessed with scoring as high as possible. This mentality was only further reinforced by the OAT thanks to the percentiles that were conveniently printed alongside each score. Even throughout undergrad, all my professors would provide a “class exam average.” I inadvertently found myself comparing my scores to this average. If they were lower than the class average, I had failed on my part, even if my grade was an A. It didn’t help that I was younger than many of my peers. My younger age reinforced my constant ambition to prove I belonged.
Doesn’t that sound horrible? If you answered yes, you’re spot on. There was no end to the cycles of comparison. Each clicker question, each quiz, each exam, each hangout had at least one instance of comparison. I approached the first half of my OPT I in this very same manner. I evaluated my performance based on where I fell on that wretched bell curve. As you might imagine, this version of me was demolished when I saw my score fell in the bottom quarter percentile on the Anatomy Lab Midterm. It was my lowest test grade, ever.
Look, I’m not perfect. No one is. Everyone has good exams and bad exams, and I understood that. My disappointment wasn’t necessarily because I had received a “bad grade.” It was instead the idea that I was incompetent that disturbed me so much. The idea that I was inferior to my classmates. The idea that I was somehow incapable of providing high-quality patient care in the future.
I wish I could tell you what my “EUREKA” moment was, and teach you some life-altering lesson. Unfortunately, life is not always so black and white. Some lessons settle in slowly. The below is my current understanding on this topic, after many more exams:
Competing with your classmates with the intent of superiority will irreversibly scar your relationship with your colleagues. At the end of the day, perhaps you do score better than your classmates. Perhaps you do achieve that “self-worth.” What will this achievement cost you? What did you gain? A comforted ego? Some condition-based friendships?
There is a winner and a loser in a competition. Meanwhile, there are only winners in a team effort. To conclude, treat your classmates as teammates. Their successes are successes for you too. Your triumphs are triumphs for them too. Why? Because at the end of the day, pushing each other to become better will ultimately benefit the patient. And that is the whole purpose of a health professional.
Autumn, a fourth year optometric student at the Southern College of Optometry, is a friend of ASCO and has submitted several blogs in the past. Her latest vlog shows us a bit from her optometric externship in Alaska.
Autumn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in submitting a video blog or a written blog? We are looking for submissions from optometric students, faculty/administrators. and residents. For more information, contact Kimberly O’Sullivan at email@example.com