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written by Theresa Maher
Sometimes two dream careers don’t seem compatible, like medicine and fashion. Life has a funny way of working out, though. At four years old, Dr. Katherine Fisher was sure she would be a fashion designer. She wanted to be a doctor too, though. She told her mother that she would be an eye doctor.
She was able to fulfill that dream. After graduating from The Ohio State University, College of Optometry in 2018, Fisher has her own practice in Dayton, Ohio.
We know that we wear glasses because we need them to see, but in recent years we’ve seen more trends of glasses being used as fashion accessories, as well. Big-name fashion brands like Gucci, Versace, Prada, Chanel, Coach and more manufacture glasses these days.
At the 2018 Oscars, Lupita Nyong’o wore two-toned cat-eye glasses that made fans on Twitter gush and revive the Twitter account from 2015, @LupitaGlasses. Fans started the account in 2015 after her watching Nyong’o wear Ray-Bans-esque thick, two-toned frames at the Golden Globes that year.
In 2019, Fisher saw an influx of glasses on the red carpet. She said, “I noticed when I watched the Oscars this year that a lot of the celebrities were wearing glasses as an accessory with their designer looks.”
Twitter users noticed, as well, and were glad to see not only the aesthetic looks of the glasses, but representation of people who need glasses and use glasses. User @heloeloila tweeted, “for someone who is wearing glasses their whole life and usually meets people trying to avoid wearing them—seeing actresses coming to stage wearing glasses is super-important #Oscars.”
Fisher has noticed a shift in the attitude towards these common tools that help us see every day, “People used to wear glasses because they needed them to see,” she said, “but now there is a style factor.”
Fisher said that she feels fortunate to work in an office with opticians who help patients find the correct glasses for their face shape, personality, and style. While she still had a few experiences with patients who were hesitant to wear glasses, she maintains that, “We have a frame for just about everybody.”
When Fisher has time between patients, she enjoys helping patients decide on the best frames for the patient.
“I think the patients appreciate another opinion most times,” Fisher said.
Fisher explained that she, as she assumes any health care professional does, loves helping patients and that was why she became a Doctor of Optometry.
“I also love helping people feel comfortable in their own skin,” she said, “and feel better about their appearance.”
written by Theresa Maher
For parents of a new child, the list of concerns is endless—limiting germ exposure, diaper rash, formula versus breastfeeding. As children get older, the list of worries change, but it doesn’t get shorter. Least of these concerns, for many parents, is a child’s optometric health.
Maybe a child’s optometric health should be of more concern. According to the American Optometric Association, or AOA, “an estimated one in five preschool children have vision problems,” and a quarter of U.S. school-aged children wear corrective lenses. Since optometric issues have the potential to worsen over time, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.
“What drew me to pediatric optometry is my ability to effect a life-long change in a child who has undiagnosed vision problems by making the diagnosis and providing treatment,” says Dr. Ida Chung, the associate dean of academic affairs at Western University’s College of Optometry.
What many may not realize is that eye and vision complications can affect the rest of a child’s life and development significantly—including their social interactions, school performance, and self-esteem. If left untreated, the AOA maintains that vision disorders could affect an individual well into adulthood, especially with regards to education and employment.
The AOA also says that by the age of six, a child is susceptible to over four vision-obstructing conditions. From six months to five years, over 20 percent of children could have farsightedness, or hyperopia. Children who have hyperopia have a higher risk of being cross-eyed or lazy-eyed. If left untreated, lazy eye could lead to severe vision loss.
The four most high-prevalence optometric conditions for children six months to six years of age are nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and anisometropia. Astigmatism is a condition caused by an irregular shape of the eye or curvature in the lens of the eye. Anisometropia is a condition in which both eyes have a difference in refractive power (meaning one eye could be nearsighted and another could be farsighted).
The three most high-prevalence optometric conditions for children five years to 17 years old are farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism. With visits to a child’s Doctor of Optometry, all of these conditions can be treated.
According to Dr. Chung’s study with a retired elementary school teacher, “A Vision for Learning: A Teacher’s Handbook,” one of the most important things to consider about pediatric optometry is that sometimes, children may not be able to explain how they see the world. They may not realize that what they see is unusual or that other people don’t see the world in the same way. Infants can’t even talk!
“What is different about the care for children versus adults,” Dr. Chung says, “is the area of vision-related learning problems, and the treatment of vision problems through optometric vision therapy.”
Pediatric optometry becomes even more important as the new school year begins. Vision problems can negatively impact a child’s success at school if not detected and addressed appropriately. The vision tests that the school nurses issue simply won’t cut it, either, according to the AOA.
A 2015 AOA survey found that 89 percent of respondents had believed that the “vision screenings in school or pediatrician’s offices are effective in identifying vision problems that can adversely affect learning,” which the AOA says is simply untrue.
So as parents schedule their children’s annual physicals and immunizations to prepare for the new school season, they should mark annual eye exams on their calendars as well, if their child has not already had one in 2019.
written by Theresa Maher
Aroostook County, Maine is a large geographic area that borders Canada. However, it is home to a small, tight-knit community with a variety of eye care needs.
Family Eye Care and Mavor Optical is a private, family-run practice that is four generations in the making. The Doctors of Optometry there serve Aroostook County and its residents with pride and a genial attitude. The practice has two locations in Presque Isle and Caribou, Maine—both towns in the community of Aroostook County.
Dr. Craig Small has run the practice for close to 35 years, with his wife Jane on site as the optician. His two daughters, Paige and Abby, recently returned home as Doctors of Optometry when they graduated from the optometry program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services in Worchester, Mass.
Abby, 27, discussed her deep feelings of pride and gratitude to get to serve and practice in the community that helped raise her and her sister.
“Paige and I feel so glad to be able to work with our dad and come home,” Abby said.
She talked about how much she enjoys being a part of a family of four generations of optometrists. Some patients she and Paige see had seen their great-grandfather when the practice was in its first generation.
Their great-grandfather, William Small, began the practice in 1920 and ended his years of practice around 1958, according to Craig. Then, their grandfather took over the practice and after his passing, Craig took over the practice. The girls had never met their great-grandfather, and their grandfather passed away when they were 11 and 13. Now, they learn about their great-grandfather and grandfather through the patients who saw them.
With four generations of doctors, the practice has seen four generations of change in the field. Craig said the patients who have gone to the practice to see all four generations of doctors, though there are only a few, see how things have changed.
“It is quite interesting to see the changes, and how the schooling has changed as well,” Craig said. He says seeing the girls practice with him, and observing the differences between how he was educated and how Abby and Paige were educated makes him want to continue improving his practice.
Paige, 25, explained how the community shapes how they practice in Aroostook County, as well. She said the county is unique and so is the location.
“A lot of people aren’t willing to travel if you tell them they have to go to Southern Maine,” Paige said. She elaborated that it was a fair concern, since Aroostook County borders Canada. Paige and the family have seen a variety of different ocular diseases and conditions, and they’ve had to have a broad practice, since they can’t refer to specialists due to their location.
Abby said that during her time at clinic in Worchester, she functioned as an affordable resource for people who didn’t seem connected to the community and migrated from other places, but still resided in the area. The clinic helped her get a broad sense of practices and technologies in the optometry field, though.
“We felt like it was important to go away and learn these skills and bring them back to these people we grew up around,” Abby said.
Craig was happy to work in his private practice because it motivated him to be more in-touch with the patient and their needs—he and his daughters weren’t restricted by tight schedules and unfamiliar administrative practices.
“In different settings I’ve seen and worked in,” he said, “I like private practice mainly because I feel like I have a vested interest in the community. In order for me to succeed in my practice I feel like I need to take care of the people I see.”
After finishing optometry school, Abby and Paige reflected on what they would tell students who are studying in that type of setting now. They agreed that it’s important to take advantage of all of the resources a student’s school gives them.
“We (Paige and I) were part of a club that did a program where they would walk with visually impaired patients on the weekends,” Abby said. It was interesting for her to see how pervasive the effects of a visual impairment can be to a patient’s daily life.
“I felt like it was great to take advantage of all of the opportunities to go to different conferences,” Paige said. She heard before going into optometry school that optometry education was home to a small community, but she really saw what that meant when she went to conferences and made connections with her fellow future Doctors of Optometry.
Family practices play an important role in communities like Aroostook County, and will continue to do so, according to the Small family. They allow for patient education, effective relationships between doctor and patient, and freedom from quotas and impersonally-dictated schedules.
“I feel like patients shouldn’t have to be their own advocate,” Abby said, “it’s the responsibility of the doctor to be that advocate.”
Why Start Your Own Practice, Choosing Your Location with Care, and Finding the Funds
An interview with Courtney Dryer, OD, Autarchic Spec Shop, Charlotte, NC
Dr. Courtney Dryer shares her step-by-step approach to a successful cold start.
Dr. Courtney Dryer began her independent practice, Autarchic Spec Shop, six years ago in Charlotte, NC after realizing she wanted more control over day-to-day decision-making.
“I had worked for a doctor and saw things that could be improved or expanded,” she said in an interview at her chic practice off Woodlawn Road in Charlotte, NC. The inability to effect any changes “led to a certain amount of frustration. I like to have control over staff decisions, product decisions. When you own your own practice, you’re able to choose those things for yourself,” she explained. In this three-part blog series, Dr. Dryer shares a wealth of information – learned first-hand – about everything from the why to the how of opening a new practice.
In a nutshell, why did you decide to open your own practice when there were other options available to you?
I graduated in 2011, then worked for a private practice for a year, and also in some commercial practices on the weekend. I realized very quickly I didn’t see a future there. Once I made the decision to go independent, things happened pretty quickly: I opened my own high-end luxury practice in 2013 in Charlotte, NC.
For anyone looking to start their own practice, what’s the single most important question they should ask?
That question is “Why?” Why do you want to start your own practice? For me, it was freedom, the ability to make changes, updates and improvements as needed and without waiting for approval or acceptance from others. With a cold start you have ultimate control of your destiny and you alone are responsible for your success. Having your own practice means that you can enjoy unprecedented pride in your services and products; you can fulfill your unique vision for your practice to serve both your patients and your community; and you have the flexibility to travel when you want to and spend quality time with family.
What advice would you give about location. How much does that matter?
Location is very important. The first thing you should do is research lease rates for office space in the areas you’re interested in, and then compare different areas of the city or town to find the going rate for rental space. Having this comparative data allows room for negotiation with a landlord. I also suggest that you meet with landlords to gauge the potential relationship. Another question to ask is about patient base: What type of patient base do you want to serve? Primary? Medical? Pediatric? Geriatric? Check your area’s demographics to see if your practice location will be able to attract your patient base.
Another critical step in choosing a location is to determine the number of ODs, both commercial and private optometry practices in the area. Who’s going to be your competition?
When you meet with the landlord of each potential site to negotiate best price, ask if they will allocate any money toward your buildout.
Talk to existing tenants and ask four important questions:
- Are they happy with the landlord?
- How is business in their area?
- Would they do anything different?
- Anything they wished had been a part of their lease?
And a final note – very important! — before you sign your lease, have a lawyer review it to make sure it complies with industry standards.
How did you go about finding the necessary funds for starting your practice? Talk to us about that hurdle.
I always suggest that people find out if they qualify for any of the Small Business Association loans. In particular, check interest rates and see how they compare to standard bank loans. There are female-owned business loans that are available and they sometimes offer favorable rates.
Keep in mind that there are benefits to working with a small, local bank versus a large bank. Each bank has their own loan requirements, such as a necessary number of years out of school, or the mandatory hiring of a consultant. Larger banks may have other special requirements you might find onerous. Small banks can be easier to work with, according to colleagues who’ve gotten loans from those institutions.
Loans will be given based on financial status, how much debt is tied up in student loans, and amount of living expenses. The bank will ask for tax documents and proof of income from an outside employer. Keep in mind that most loans require a business owner to work at least three days outside of their own optometry practice so that there is some cash-flow and working capital.
Don’t miss part 2 of our series: Your To-Do List, Branding, and Marketing
Want to hear more tips for starting a new practice? Watch the 9 Essential Ingredients for Sucessfully Starting a New Practice.
A Short Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe, ASCO President
Each July, ASCO swears in a new President to serve for the year. This year’s President, Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe, sat down with ASCO’s Director of Communications, Kimberly O’Sullivan to talk about the next twelve months.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe is a proud alumna of Ferris State University College of Optometry, graduating with the class of 1988. She earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Yale University, and a Doctorate in Public Health from the University of Michigan.
Dr. Hoppe has a true pioneering spirit, and along the way has accomplished several notable firsts. She is the first woman to complete the residency program at the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center at the West Haven, Connecticut VA. She is the first woman to hold both the OD degree and the Doctorate of Public Health. She is the first woman to earn a diplomate in the American Academy of Optometry’s Public Health and Environmental Optometry Section. She is the first woman to serve as the editor of the journal Optometric Education. In 2007 she became one of the first women to serve as the CEO and Dean of a College of Optometry in the United States, and one of only 22 individuals who has had the honor of serving as a founder of a College of Optometry in our professional history in the U.S.
ASCO: Dr. Hoppe, congratulations on being named ASCO President for fiscal year 2019-2020. What are you excited for most?
Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe: I am most excited to stretch and grow as I work to support creative strategies for ASCO to fulfill its organizational mission.
ASCO: What will be some of your top priorities this year?
EH: The quantity, quality, and diversity of our applicant pool remains a top priority for ASCO, and in fact overall for the future of our profession. We have put a lot of resources and support towards increasing awareness about our profession, targeting potential applicants. I am looking forward to seeing those efforts take off and expand over the coming year. I am thrilled to see, in less than four months, the metrics of the campaign are outstanding. The campaign continues to reach millions of potential students and engage these students through paid and social media, direct mail, the campaign’s landing page, www.futureeyedoc.com and other deliverables. I am excited to see the outreach grow larger these next several months.
ASCO is also working to increase opportunities for volunteerism, while also seeking greater recognition for our volunteers. We will be working on refreshing our organizational structure and updating our bylaws to capture the dynamics of our changing organization, while we also work to implement key elements of our strategic plan.
ASCO: Talk to me more about the Optometry Gives Me Life campaign. How is it going so far? How are the institutions involved? What outcomes are you hoping to achieve? Any results you can share with us so far?
EH: The campaign has made quite a splash within our Optometry community as we have begun sharing the materials as part of the roll out. Many schools are sharing the information within their networks, such as faculty members, alumni, and preceptors, along with including the campaign in their social media.
But the real reach isn’t our internal audiences – it is college-aged juniors who have expressed an interest in STEM careers. Just recently, our public relations firm showed us some early analytics from the campaign and they are very very encouraging.
For instance, in just a little over four months, our paid ads have been seen by more than 14 million people! The benchmark for click to open rates of these types of ads is 0.1 % and we are showing open rates of .14% — that’s 40% higher than average!
We feature short stories about three of our ODs through our futureeyedoc.com landing page and our viewing through completion rate is out of this world. The benchmark is 30% completion rate and we are showing a completion rate of 75.39% — 140% higher than average.
We are seeing a 151.5% increase in applications through our OptomCAS system compared to this time last year. The results are extremely promising.
ASCO: What drew you to optometry? What did you find most appealing about the field of optometry?
EH: Like many people, I really respected and admired my own home town optometrist. I knew that I wanted to do something in science and health care, and when my high school physics teacher suggested optometry as a good choice, it seemed like a natural fit because of my positive experiences with my own doctor. What I love most about the profession is how broad it really is. Whatever your passion, you can find your niche within optometry.
ASCO: If you were speaking with a student who is interested in becoming a Doctor of Optometry or with a student who has the aptitude but may not know about optometry, what advice would you give them?
EH: Visit a lot of different optometry practices. Find different practice emphasis areas and different practice modalities to learn more about the day-to-day experience. Talk with doctors of optometry and ask them to share more about their experiences and what they enjoy about their practices. Many years ago, when I was choosing to pursue optometry, visiting multiple practices was so beneficial. The thing that all of the different doctors had in common was a very high level of career satisfaction and they enjoyed going in to work every day.
ASCO: You are the founding Dean at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Optometry. Tell me about what you like about your institution and California, etc.
EH: The thing that I like best about being at a health sciences university is the opportunity to learn from, and to collaborate with, other health professions. There is so much wonderful information that you can learn when you talk with other health professionals and other health professions educators. And we get to contribute to them right back!
ASCO: I would think balancing your responsibilities at Western and your responsibilities with ASCO could be a challenge. How will you balance everything?
EH: I have a great administrative team at the College and I have a lot of confidence in them!
ASCO: We like to ask everyone we speak with to say something about the field of optometry that people may not know.
EH: Clinically, I love working in the field of rehabilitation. There are many ways that you can support people through optometric vision therapy, low vision rehabilitation, neuro-optometric rehabilitation, and care for vulnerable populations. When you practice in this area it challenges you to be at your highest levels and it also allows you to make the greatest difference. Working in rehabilitation allows you to literally change people’s lives by improving their ability to function and enhancing their quality of life.
ASCO: On a more personal note, tell us a little about your life outside of the workplace. What do you like to do outside of work?
EH: I love to take on DIY home decorating projects. We recently moved and I have been transforming the dining room into a home wine bar experience. I love to garden, with special emphasis on supporting wildlife such as butterflies and other pollinators, hummingbirds, and song birds. I am proud to say that even with limited space, I have been able to establish a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. I also love to help keep old, discarded furniture out of the land-fill by doing upscale re-purposing projects. Recent creations include a “glam martini bar” and a “wine and cheese portable island” which I donated for silent auctions to raise scholarship funds through our University. At home my most recent creations are an armoire dog kennel and a combined seating and storage banquet remake of an old dresser from the Salvation Army. I love any chance to use my power tools!
Thank you for your time Dr. Hoppe! We look forward to working with you!
written by Theresa Maher, ASCO intern
It was a typical day in May in Waldorf, Maryland.
Dr. Shahab Motamedi was seeing his last patient of the day one Saturday afternoon, and the patient asked if Motamedi could perform a comprehensive eye exam on his wife. He said he could, and when his patient brought his wife in, Dr. Motamedi realized she was blind.
As the patient and his wife explained that she was blind due to the toxicity of a drug used to address her lupus, Motamedi found that she also had a severe corneal disease known as keratoconus. The disease had never been addressed before they saw Motamedi.
Motamedi concentrates on fitting keratoconus contact lens in his practice, “and just looking at her cornea I knew her vision could be improved with scleral lenses,” Motamedi said. Motamedi put a trial lens on the woman’s eyes, and she started crying and shouted that she could see.
“I will never forget that moment,” Motamedi said, “because it was truly the best moment in my career.” That moment was filmed and shared and it went viral. The local Washington, DC Fox affiliate aired a story about the experience recently.
Motamedi said that the woman can now drive with a limited driver’s license and see her 11 year old son for the first time.
Motamedi graduated from the State University of New York with his OD in 2015. He graduated from college in 2008, when the economy was in a financial crisis—the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Motamedi took the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) because he initially thought he wanted to go to dental school, but was put on the waitlist for a few schools. Motamedi was then introduced to the field of optometry while he did research at the University of Pennsylvania. When Motamedi took the OAT (the Optometry Admissions Test), he did well and wasn’t thinking as much about dental school by then.
“I am really passionate about my profession,” Motamedi said, “much more than when I first started it.”
Motamedi says to hopeful Doctors of Optometry and anyone considering optometry as a profession that it’s a good one — it all depends on what you make out of it.
“My advice,” Motamedi said, “find a niche and be good at it!”
As for the future of optometry and Doctors of Optometry, Motamedi says that the standard of care has to remain high, and that Doctors of Optometry have to always be confident in their way of practice.
“Optometry will grow and will expand,” said Motamedi, “we all need to find out a way to be a part of it.”
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) founded Alcohol Awareness Month in April 1987 to provide education, resources, and reduce the stigma that is so often associated with alcoholism. NCADD continues to sponsor Alcohol Awareness Month each April by encouraging the public to speak out about the dangers of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and recovery. The theme this year is “help for today, hope for tomorrow.”
With binge drinking so common among students due to high levels of stress, the dangers of alcohol abuse can be destructive to your success in optometry school. As studies are an integral part of your future, it is important to be aware of the dangers of binge drinking, how stress influences drinking, and be able to identify whether or not you have a problem with alcohol.
Dangers of Binge Drinking
Among college students, binge drinking is a common, exhilarating weekend activity. Binge drinking is characterized by drinking a large amount of alcohol (more than 4 drinks for women, 5 drinks for men) within a period of two hours. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that nearly 60% of college students ages 18-22 drink alcohol monthly, and nearly two-thirds of this group reported that they engaged in binge drinking.
While this type of drinking may seem like a normal thing to do while in school, it poses some serious health risks that many are unaware of. The same study found that nearly 1,825 students ages 18-24 die from alcohol related injuries and 97,000 students are a victim of sexual assault or rape while alcohol is involved. Perhaps the most shocking finding from this study is that nearly 20% of college students are thought to have an alcohol use disorder, characterized by unhealthy alcohol consumption that may affect other areas of life.
Stress and Drinking
As alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, many find it effective in reducing stress and anxiety. The pressure from classes and professors can certainly place a lot of stress on students, especially when studying a specialized field such as optometry. These stress levels can dramatically increase around exam time, as students are hurriedly trying to pack in as much studying as possible. Stress can also be enhanced due to pressure from family to perform well, societal pressures, and relationships. When trying to balance all of these factors with school, stress can become heavy and abundant.
In order to manage stress in a healthy way, students should be aware of the resources that are available to them. Many schools are well-equipped with a mental health counselor who can provide guidance on how to effectively manage stress. Other ways that can help alleviate stress include physical fitness, proper nutrition and diet, yoga, meditation, time management and planning, and support groups.
Evaluate your Relationship with Alcohol
An important part of Alcohol Awareness Month will take place April 5-7th. This weekend is being considered Alcohol-Free Weekend which is an open invitation to participate in 72 hours of complete abstinence from alcohol. If you choose to participate and experience any discomfort or difficulty abstaining from alcohol during this time, it may indicate that you have a problem with alcohol. While differentiating between heavy drinking and alcoholism may prove difficult, you can evaluate your relationship with alcohol by asking yourself these questions:
- Has drinking caused problems with your family, friends, work, or studies?
- Have you continued to drink even when you know you shouldn’t?
- Have you tried to quit drinking, or control the amount you drink, but found yourself unable to stop or control it?
- Do you frequently experience a craving, or strong desire, to drink?
- Have you found yourself having to consume increasing amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the effects you desire?
- Have you placed drinking as a higher priority than things that are important to you – such as studying, classes, or other obligations?
- Have you found yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like insomnia, nausea, shaking, sweating, depression, or irritability when you don’t drink?
If you answer yes to several or all of these questions, it is a good indication that your relationship with alcohol has become unhealthy and you may have an alcohol use disorder. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, it is essential to get the help you need before it causes detrimental effects on your health, your education, or your future career.
With the opioid crisis taking over news headlines today, it is easy to forget that alcohol still poses serious dangers to those who abuse it. It is imperative to provide education about the risks of binge drinking among students as well as resources to those who need help with an alcohol use disorder.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Sherene Vazhappilly, Canadian Optometry Student
If you’re a Canadian wanting to practice or do a residency in the United States, a Canadian at an American optometry institution or an American with ties to the “True North” – you may be thinking about taking both board exams.
The Canadian board exam consist of two parts, and is administered by the Optometry Examining Board of Canada (OEBC). The American board exam consist of three parts, and is administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). It is important to keep in mind that the NBEO exam has to be successfully completed if you are a Canadian planning to complete a residency in the United States. Recently, the College of Optometrists of Ontario announced that they will be accepting the NBEO exam to practice in the province of Ontario if each part of the exam was successfully challenged after January 18, 2019. Currently, the province of British Columbia also accepts the NBEO, but the OEBC exam is required to practice in all other provinces and territories in Canada.
The OEBC exam consist of two parts, Part I, the Written Exam and Part II, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination. The cost to take this exam is $2,000 CAD for Part I and $3,900 CAD for Part II. The total cost is $5,900 CAD, or approximately $4,417 USD. Part I of the OEBC exam consists of 62 comprehensive cases, each with four multiple choice questions. It is a comprehensive exam of case management and includes topics such as ocular disease, contact lenses, refraction, binocular vision, and the like. It is conducted in a testing center in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Part II of the OEBC exam is a practical skills exam, and is also conducted in Hamilton.
The NBEO exam consists of three parts – Part I, Applied Basic Science, Part II, Patient Assessment and Management and Part III, Clinical Skills. The cost to take this exam is $725 USD per part, or $2, 175 USD total, which is approximately $2,883 CAD. Part I and II can be taken in testing centers across Canada and the United States, however, Part III must be taken in Charlotte, North Carolina. Part I of the NBEO exam consists of 350 scored and 20 non-scored items, divided into 185 items per session. There are two sessions in which you are given four hours each, for a total of 8 hours to complete the exam. The topics tested include anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, immunology, microbiology, pathology, optics and pharmacology, with an emphasis on the oculo-visual system. Part II of the NBEO exam consists of 45-55 full cases, 15-20 solo items, and 15-25 minicases. Topics covered include ocular disease, contact lenses, refraction, binocular vision and the like. It is a comprehensive case management exam of everything you learned in optometry school. Part III of the NBEO exam is a test of practical skills and consists of the clinical skills and injection skills exam. This exam is offered only in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As you may see, Part I OEBC and Part II NBEO are quite similar, so you may consider studying for and taking these exams within the same timeframe. Additionally, Part II OEBC and Part III NBEO are similar practical skill examinations, however the administration and the skills tested can vary and require targeted preparation. Part II OEBC focuses more on counseling scenarios, and any clinical techniques are done on models to provide a consistent objective evaluation, while Part III NBEO requires performing techniques on live patients.
For students choosing to take both board exams, the process can be extensive and requires planned preparation. Part I OEBC is offered in French and English in November of the students’ final year, and Part II OEBC is offered the following May. However, Part I may also be taken several days prior to Part II. These exams have to be taken in Hamilton. Part I NBEO is offered in March of third year and the following August, but most students not studying in the US choose to take it in August during their fourth year. Part II NBEO is offered in December of the fourth year or the following April, but most students in both the US and Canadian schools choose to take it in December of their final year. Part III NBEO can be scheduled at any time starting August of fourth year in Charlotte.
Many Canadian students choose to take both board exams to complete a residency, keep the borders fluid or challenge themselves in their clinical knowledge. Most of the preparation materials are equivalent and the content is similar between the two board exams. No matter why you take both, there is no doubt that you will be a more knowledgeable clinician in the process. Best of luck on your board exams!
Disclaimer: This information was last updated Jan 25, 2019. For the most updated information and current test administration dates, please consult www.oebc.ca or optometry.org.