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Finals Week Syndrome

Posted by on Nov 17, 2015 in Blogs



At the end of every quarter, an alarming number of students around the world experience symptoms of an illness known as Finals Week Syndrome (FWS).

This ailment has received little-to-no attention as a serious medical condition. However, many are familiar with its symptoms- either by experiencing FWS directly, or by watching as a loved one withers away under its influence.

The presentation of FWS in patients can be worrying to family and friends, but little has been done to understand or study the condition.

The scope of this paper will be limited to defining FWS as a medical condition and providing a model of behavior that reflects the case of a typical FWS patient.

Signs and Symptoms

FWS presents with a wide variety of symptoms and clinical signs that include but are not limited to:

  • cabin fever
  • irritability
  • the exam uniform (for more information, please consult the world’s foremost expert on exam uniforms, Natalie Raies, future O.D. ’18)
  • an expression of dread, fear or loathing that intensifies as the week progresses, or a general loss of facial expression
  • a complete sense of apathy towards reading of any kind
  • dark circles under the eyes and pale skin (indicative of early stage FWS)
  • a listless gait reminiscent of zombification (indicative of moderate FWS)
  • catatonia (rare, but indicative of end stage FWS)
  • chronic procrastination
  • sudden bouts of panic and emotional turmoil
  • a dependence on caffeine in order to maintain basic bodily and mental functions
  • frequent napping
  • the development of a sudden and uncharacteristic interest in new hobbies
  • Netflix marathons


Recovery from FWS is as sudden as its onset. Patients typically report feeling normal again following a 24 hour recovery period characterized by a deep slumber, although this recovery period may last as long as 72 hours. Similarities have been noted between this recovery phase and hibernation.

Patient Observation

Below you will find the detailed observations of an anonymous patient, whom we will refer to as Delta.

The following takes place between Oct 31st and Nov 7th.

Oct 31st – day 1
Sleep: 8 Hours
Breakfast: Cereal with milk
Lunch: Black Forest Ham sandwich
Dinner: Home cooked rice, chicken, and vegetables

Subject Delta appears to have been well prepared for the pharmacology exam and was unfazed upon its completion.
Delta remarks that “it was aight.”

Nov 1st – day 2
Sleep: 6 Hours
Breakfast: Cereal with milk, apple, cup of coffee
Lunch: Take out ; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta does not appear to have an exam today and appears to be working diligently in between sessions of rest and relaxation.
Delta remarks that “Finals week is like a marathon. You have to pace yourself so you don’t burn out too quickly.”

Nov 2nd – day 3
Sleep: 6 Hours
Breakfast: Cereal with milk, banana, cup of coffee
Lunch: Black Forest Ham sandwich
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta appears to have an optics exam today. Upon its completion, he remarked “two down, four to go.”
Delta was observed binge watching TV shows.
Delta proceeded to study at 8:15 PM.

Nov 3rd – day 4
Sleep: 4.5 Hours
Breakfast: Coffee
Lunch: Leftovers; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Upon completion of his optometry exam, Subject Delta went to take a nap. After lunch, he proceeded to study for a half hour. Subject Delta then proceeded to watch TV shows.
Delta returned to studying at 9:00 PM. This only lasted 15 minutes, after which, Delta gave up and played video games. It was noted that Subject Delta did not have an exam the following day.

Nov 4th – day 5
Sleep: 6 Hours
Breakfast: Cereal with milk, cup of coffee
Lunch: Take out; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta proceeded to play video games following breakfast.
At 9:00 PM, Delta began to study.
Delta was observed napping at his desk at 9:21 PM.
Delta was observed browsing Facebook at 9:44 PM.
Delta was observed browsing the Internet at 10:11 PM.
Delta was observed studying at 12:11 AM.

Nov 5th – day 6
Sleep: 3 Hours
Breakfast: Two cups of coffee
Lunch: Leftovers; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta appeared to be shaken up following his Ocular Physiology exam.
Delta was observed studying in the library.
He returned home after 5 hours.
Subject Delta proceeded to study with varying amounts of success until he passed out on the couch.

Nov 6th – day 7
Sleep: 3 Hours
Breakfast: Two cups of coffee
Lunch: Leftovers; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta completed his Ocular Motility exam and walked out of the exam room in a trance-like state. Efforts to communicate with Subject Delta were unsuccessful.
Delta proceeded to take a nap at home.
At 11:46 AM, Subject Delta awoke shouting in a rage.
He ran out of his apartment at 11:48 AM after abruptly grabbing pencils from his backpack.
Delta returned at 11:54 AM looking very displeased.
He explained “I thought I missed my exam and was going to school to ask for a retake.”
The rest of the day was unremarkable.

Nov 7th – day 8
Sleep: 3 Hours
Breakfast: Milk with cereal, two cups of coffee
Lunch: Leftovers; Chi Cafe
Dinner: Leftovers; Chi Cafe

Subject Delta spent the morning studying.
At 4:00 PM, Delta proceeded to take the exam for Binocular Vision.
After the exam, Delta proceeded to his room and did not leave for several days.

Upon questioning, Subject Delta did not recall any detail from finals week.

Subject Delta’s case is very typical of FWS sufferers around the world. Clearly, a comprehensive understanding of FWS is necessary in order to better serve students around the world and their families. We hope that more research will follow in the future.

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The Trials of a Second Year Student Clinician

Posted by on Oct 6, 2015 in Blogs

This year, my classmates and I are being introduced into the clinic. We get to do what we came to optometry school to do.


The rules of the game:

  • The class is broken down into two groups.
  • Each group has six clinic shifts – one each week.
  • One group gets to be in clinic for the first half of the quarter; The second group takes the second half.
  • Students work in pairs to do clinical exams on real patients.
  • They must perform the skills they know how to do.
  • The Attending Clinician will take over the rest of the exam.
  • One student takes the role of doctor, the other is the note taker.
  • The students alternate each week.

On the first day, I remember walking into my examination room with my equipment and my usual air of overconfidence. My partner, Lisa Pham, had already set up. This would end up being a common theme for our next six weeks together. Her equipment had been immaculately arranged on the desk and her suitcases put away neatly in the corner of the room, while I, in my ignorance, casually mentioned how excited I was. We decided to use Lisa’s equipment since it had already been set up; we also decided that I would be doctor.

And then, it was go time. Lisa and I met our attending, Dr. Foreman. After an introduction, she promptly and kindly handed us a patient record and sent us on our way with one direction: skip keratometry and use the patient’s lensometry reading to begin manifest.

And that was it. I don’t know what I expected, but it was pretty underwhelming.

We went to pick up our patient from the waiting room. We introduced ourselves, took her to the examination room, and then the trial by fire began.

The skills I spent first year honing were developed in a sterile environment. The people I practiced with usually gave me the answers I expected and my directions were always followed without confusion. My skills didn’t play out that way in a clinical setting. Patients who don’t know how the tests are done need clear and simple instructions, unlike my classmates who knew exactly how to respond and gave me answers I always expected. I kept my cool, but as the testing went on, my pool of confidence evaporated into a meager puddle. I began to doubt myself and my results. Then, I began to make a few mistakes, which Lisa helped me correct.

I consider manifest refraction to be one of my strong points, but I couldn’t do it that day. We had to call in Dr. Foreman to help us get through it- something I should have been able to do on my own. My confidence took a huge hit after that. Dr. Foreman was very kind and re-did the refraction herself. In short, it was embarrassing. Everyone in the room knew that I messed up.

Not wanting to repeat my experiences, I spent some time leading up to my next clinical session practicing my skills. On our third week (my second week as doctor,) things went a lot more smoothly. I was nervous during that clinic session, but the extra time spent practicing helped a lot. It turns out that I wasn’t a bad clinician; I was just rusty.

During my second week as doctor, I was able to make a difference in someone’s life. The moments leading up to it involved some doubting on the patient’s part. She knew I was a student and mentioned that I was making her vision blurry during manifest, which is a normal part of the process. I reassured her as best as I could, but felt doubt creeping back into my thoughts. Flashbacks from the first week made it a little difficult to concentrate, but once I had her final prescription and she could see clearly, she laughed, complimented my work, and said that “there’s a method to your madness.”

That moment made me realize that I’m more than just a student. It also made me realize that no matter how badly I embarrass myself, I can always turn things around- provided I get enough practice in before the next time I get a chance to try again.

I have a long way to go, but I’m still making tangible progress. It feels good. Sometimes you hit a wall and want to give up, but you have to brush it off and dedicate some time to rounding out your weaknesses. I came to ICO to learn to be a clinician, and no amount of embarrassment will stop that from happening.

I’m sure that every other optometry student experiences something similar at some point in their career. So, if you’re hitting a rough patch in clinic right now, hang in there. You can do this.

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A Promise to Myself

Posted by on Sep 25, 2015 in Blogs

I’m the kind of person who likes to have a little bit of everything in his life. Variety is necessary for me to stay sane. I tend to get restless when I’m missing some aspect of my life, but then again, I also get bored when there’s too much of something in my life.

So for second year, I promised myself that I would find my balance and do everything I wanted to do to the best of my ability. I was going to study harder, work harder, go out with my classmates and party harder, explore the depths of my mind and psyche through deep introspection, and attain levels of relaxation rivaling those of a boulder in a rock garden. I can say with confidence that I’ve fulfilled the first half of that promise (study, work, and partying).

Having survived first year, I have a pretty good handle on studying now. It’s an art form. You have to set the “mood.” Yes, you could just jump into it, but where’s the fun in that? My process is simple: set up your work space, make distractions invisible, be comfortable, follow a study method, and take breaks. When you do that, the studying comes a little more easily.

I’ve taken a work-study position as a tutor. It was necessary to offset at least some of my spending. I also get to work on my communication skills. Having to explain concepts to students and adapt to their way of learning is giving me some insight into how I express ideas. Tutoring also helps me brush up on first year material, which is awesome because it’s like I’m getting paid to study for boards.

And now: partying. I’ve gone out more in the first month of second year than I did for all of first year. I’ve had a blast with my class mates and increased my tolerance for alcohol (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). So yeah. It has been fun.

It hasn’t all been about good vibes, productivity and fun though.

I still feels like I’m on the grind. First year felt like running 20 miles along a manicured path every day. This year feels like going for a 10 mile run on the same path, only now, it has been severely neglected. I’m still spending a significant amount of my time at school or studying – but that is what I signed up for when I applied to ICO. I shouldn’t be complaining. It just gets repetitive. It’s too much of the same thing for me.

The other problem is that my promise has been fulfilled at the expense of sleep, nutrition… physical and mental exhaustion. There isn’t enough time in a day to do everything I want to do.

Anything done well takes a significant amount of time. It seems impossible to fit all of my interests into my daily life (and trust me, there’s a lot.)

Over the past week or two I’ve been wrestling with the realization that I’ve expected too much of myself. I’m starting to find my footing; I need to be more realistic if I want to survive second year. I’ve imposed limits on some of the things I do so that I have more time for my priorities and I’m using my calendar to help manage my time.

I’ve also been catching up on sleep, which is nice.

My promise has been tweaked a bit. The emphasis is no longer on work hard, play hard. I need to be realistic after all.

I’m kind of partied out for a while, so my focus now is on “quiet social engagements.” School has always been a priority, but I need to be more organized when it comes to my work and studies. I’ve cut down a bit on work-study hours now that tests have started. I need to prioritize my health and rest – I’m thinking of no-work Sundays. And if at all possible, I would like to read and explore my thoughts in my spare time. That would probably be on Sundays. The rest of my interests will be pursued on a how-I-feel-in-the-moment basis.

So yea. What have you promised yourself?

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Goodbye, Toronto.

Goodbye, Toronto.

Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Blogs

Goodbyes never play out the way I expect them to. How can I tell someone that I’m going to miss them? That I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me, and that I’ve enjoyed and appreciated their company? …and how do I do that without creeping them out?

Goodbyes are my weakness. I’m the kind of person that needs to think about the words I want to use and the way I want to say them. I can’t string complex thoughts in the moment, and goodbyes deserve better than my poorly thought out see-you-laters and peace-outs.

So now I’m here at a bus terminal, surrounded by strangers and a strange sense of peace that has allowed me to collect my thoughts. I feel like I can finally say those things that I want to say.

I am not afraid to begin my second year at ICO. I’m actually pretty excited. I am only afraid that things will change so rapidly from this point forward that I could forget where I came from- my roots. So, this goodbye is dedicated to Toronto, and in a way, it is the ending of a big chapter in my life.

Dear Toronto,

We haven’t always gotten along. Your bus service is the bane of my existence, and for a long time, I resented your often late or missing buses. But home doesn’t feel like home without the sound of buses passing by every 10 minutes right outside my window during peak hours. And home doesn’t feel right without the hour-or-longer bus rides I need to take to see my friends or do anything even remotely stimulating. You have, in a strange way, helped me develop selective hearing, zen-level patience, an ability to temper my own frustration, and a love of reading, all of which have served me well on many occasions.

You are a beautiful city. I recently visited the Lakeshore and those rocks I used to climb as a kid, where I would stand at the top and watch the cityscape from across the lake. The shore has changed in the many years since I’ve been away. I remember vividly how freeing it felt to be there, with the wind sweeping along those curving paths and the water dancing along the paths. Now, it is over shadowed by a row of newly built skyscrapers. The place that used to seem like my little secret is now teeming with joggers, cyclists, and young families taking selfies on the beach (if you can call it a beach.) It is bittersweet, knowing that the Lakeshore is no longer mine, but at least you are not lonely anymore.

We have had our differences, but Toronto will always be my home. I will miss you Toronto. Thank you for raising me.

Before I left, I took one last walk around my neighbourhood and watched the moon sitting serenely up in the sky. I took my time breathing in the still-sweet air- literally sweet from the cookie factory down the road.

Toronto, I have known you for over half my life, and although that may not be as long as some friendships out there, it is among the longest that I have ever had. We had lost touch over the years when I went to undergrad at Waterloo and in that time, I had also unknowingly lost my creativity and imagination. It has been a joy for me to rediscover these in your presence. You have inspired a creativity I have not had in a long while. We don’t always agree on everything, but that’s OK. I have learned a lot about my biases and broadened my horizons. I am excited for the things you will discover in the coming years and I am proud of what you have accomplished these past few months. We will be going our separate ways for now, but “with friendship, we can do anything.” Until next time. We will always have call of duty and energy drinks.

Goodbye, old friend.

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Thoughts Going into Second Year

Thoughts Going into Second Year

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 in Blogs

I have two weeks before I leave Toronto for Chicago again. Things are starting to speed up now. There’s a lot to do and get ready for.

This will be my second year at ICO, and I’m told that it’ll be different.

This year, I’ve moved out of the RC into a small apartment complex that was once known as Unity Hall. The rooms are slightly smaller, but the ceilings are high and I get two arched windows in my room. That’s a fair trade, I think. I still have to pick up some furniture from students leaving for rotations, and I might have to go to IKEA to get more. I have to move belongings that I’ve left with friends who have been kind enough to keep them for me while I’ve been away, and I have to figure out what I still need to get for the apartment.

I just got international student insurance last night. I have to remember to contact my landlord the day before my 12-hour bus trip so that he’ll be available to give me my keys. To be honest, a bus trip wasn’t my first choice, but I want to take my guitar with me and airlines don’t have the best reputation with transporting musical instruments.

Now, there is a possibility that I may have to go to school in the States in the middle of a recession, while the Canadian dollar is expected to lose more of it’s value. Losing almost a quarter of the dollar value when converting from CAD to USD isn’t fun. I can only imagine the debt I’ll be in by the time school is over, but that’s life, and I’ll make it back one day (far, far in the future).

I suppose these are the kinds of stressors that everyone faces in optometry school, but they aren’t always obvious when you decide to pursue it in the first place.

This year, I’ll be using the skills I’ve spent so much time polishing in labs in the actual clinic. I’ll have new responsibilities to carry, expectations to live up to and challenges to conquer. I still have a lot to learn academically and clinically.

I also have hopes for myself – hopes of being the kind of person, friend, son, brother, student and clinician I want to be. There are things I want to do and learn outside of class- new things I want to try, and fears I want to master.

There’s a lot on my plate. I know that, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from my experiences so far, it’s that I can do anything as long as I am dedicated to my goal- and if dedication isn’t enough, I know I’m adaptable enough to change my approach.

Despite all my worries, it’s going to be a good year. I can feel it. It will be a roller coaster ride of beauty, the unexpected, fun, chaos, rude awakenings, shattered ego and glorious triumph… and that’s ok, because I love thrill rides.

I’m nervous and excited. I know that nothing will go the way I plan, but that’s part of the fun.

So… how is this year going to be for you?

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