Eye on Optometry Blog SUBSCRIBE TO EMAIL UDATES
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
Meet Dr. Parres Wright, Assistant Professor at Midwestern University – Chicago College of Optometry. This video shows how she navigates educating her students during Covid as well as her passion for her students and for her profession. She is proof that academic optometry is a rewarding and fulfilling career path.
Dr. Wright is on the following social media platforms:
Podcast: Capital W
Read Shail’s Part 1: Don’t Let Eyes Be The Demise
Northcote Parkinson, 1942
Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Less time studying, and better grades. Though factual, it sounds entirely fictional. Hi all, my name is Shail Gajjar and I’m a second year at The University of Houston College of Optometry. I hope to share some lessons and insights from my first year in the Doctor of Optometry (OD) program.
I recall a time when I used to dumbfoundedly wonder how my classmates juggled their commitments. Whether it be marriage, taking care of a pet, volunteering every weekend, having a kid, playing on a regional ultimate frisbee team, working a part-time job, or commuting from home, the people around me somehow found a way to fit a doctorate program into their schedules. The question I used to wonder was how? As is, I felt there wasn’t enough time to study, so how could someone – with substantially less time – still manage to sufficiently study. What was the secret?
While I cannot speak on their behalf, here’s the answer I came to one semester later:
Lesson 2: Quality ≥ Quantity. Per Parkinson’s Law, your results will improve when you spend less time studying more. Treat each studying session like your last, as if the final is the next day.
You’ve probably already been told about the importance of time-management. I wish not to expand that dialogue. My emphasis is instead time–usage. To illustrate this, consider the following scenario:
Let’s say you take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) in 2 months. I want you to imagine how a typical day of studying would go. More specifically, imagine how many hours you would study in a day.
WHAT IF I told you there was an issue with your registration (you can’t reschedule) and you now have 2 weeks. AS IF THIS WASN’T ENOUGH, you cannot study any more per day than you did previously. What would you change? How would your days of studying evolve?
With absolute certainty, my stress would go through the roof. That variable aside, however, I can also say my time-usage would significantly change. I would undergo a paradigm shift. Rather than casually studying the material for the day and taking breaks as I please, I would spend each and every single minute of that studying session with focus and concentration. My breaks would be limited to an “as-needed” basis for the sole purpose of expanding my studying. Such new behaviors would be rooted to a sense of urgency; the realization that each minute matters would push me to spend the limited time that I had with maximal efficiency.
THIS, my friends, is the key that revolutionized how I approached studying my second semester of first year. Sure, scheduling in activities for the sake of my mental health decreased the available amount of time that I had, but enhancing my time-usage allowed me to cover more material in less time.
Now… this might sound really intense… And to be frank, as I re-read the points I make above, it does sound a little forward. Yet, I can say that employing the methods mentioned will allow you to free up more time for yourself. And so, whether you’re group studying or studying by yourself, always ensure you’re studying with a sense of urgency. It can be really easy (and tempting) to sit back, relax, and casually flip through PowerPoint slides. Or maybe have a few conversations with your friends, order some food, and so forth. Unfortunately, such behaviors will only prolong your studying time and ultimately restrict you from doing the things that you actually enjoy.
Study in an environment that keeps you motivated, but don’t make studying longer than it needs to be. All of this brings me to…
A variation of Parkinson’s Law:
FIRST, schedule doing the things that you love. Work will THEN expand to fill the available time remaining for its completion, assuming you’re spending that time correctly.