I’m assigned four 45-minute vision therapy sessions with four different patients every Wednesday night. The best part about this shift is that unless a patient wishes to discontinue therapy, I pretty much get to see the same people every week. It’s an opportunity to get to know them, bond with them, encourage them and learn from them.
I think the most unique experience I’ve had throughout my entire career at ICO happened with my 23-year-old vision therapy patient who needed some new glasses (getting the right prescription is the first step to therapy). She was my last appointment on that first Wednesday evening. Her day starts at 4 a.m., so she was tired, practically falling asleep during the exam. Her main issue was that she saw double of everything due to an eye turn, and her vision was blurry.
In a nutshell, I refracted her the best I could, and got her to see 20/20 from both eyes, but she was still seeing double of everything in the room. My attending, Dr. Smolyansky, then instructed me to put some prism into the temporary trial-glasses we put on her.
That’s when the magic happened.
Patient: “Oh my gosh, I can see!”
Dr. Smolyansky: “Do you still see double?”
Patient: “Not even a little bit.”
I never thought I’d have the guts to write this. It’s pretty personal, but I want to hopefully inspire those who have hit similar hard paths, and to remind people to appreciate what they have, and never give up.
How I found optometry
I haven’t always known a lot about optometry. I didn’t consider it as a profession growing up, mostly because I come from a family of bankers and IT professionals. I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare, so I spent most of my life volunteering and talking to healthcare workers to see what I wanted to do. For a long time, I thought I’d be a pharmacist or physiotherapist–it makes me laugh now. The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing in my first year of undergrad, and had no drive to succeed in anything because I had no set goal in mind.
I am not one for cliches. But when I randomly turned in my resume to an optometry office, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t meant to be. I was also on my way to drop off my resume at a local restaurant for a position that would presumably pay better, but I couldn’t find the restaurant. At the interview, I still remember I telling my soon-to-be boss that I wanted to become a pharmacist. But I loved every patient interaction I had at the optometry office, and I fell in love with the profession. My co-worker, Janet, worked for the LensCrafters next door and told me about her mission trip to the Philippines to help give eye exams and glasses to those in need. That’s when I knew I wanted to become an optometrist someday. I wanted to be in a position to help people, to go on those mission trips and give back globally and locally to the best of my abilities.
Preparing myself in undergrad
Once I was back in school, I went to the career office on campus to get more information about my newly chosen profession. We had a folder with a list of careers and schools; I think one measly page was devoted to optometry. I even signed up to talk to a career counselor, who admitted she didn’t know anything about the profession. In fact, when I asked her about the OAT, she talked to me about MCAT, DAT, and even the GMAT instead. I remember being so disappointed to be so thrilled about this career path, only to have virtually no information about how to get on board. Optometry felt almost taboo during undergrad. I remember doing a ton of research online (thank goodness for the advent of the internet), and got a lot of good information about schools in the USA, job rankings, the profession in general. I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through the hard path that I did to find optometry, so I founded the Pre-Optometry Club at the University of Toronto. I wanted to tell everyone about this awesome profession, disperse all the information I collected so others wouldn’t have to accidentally stumble upon optometry like I did as they considered their own career paths. I collaborated with a business student to write the club’s constitution, and even used my own money and artistic skills to create my own membership cards and banner.
So in terms of labs, I think third years get the best ones. We have a new course offered at ICO: Ophthalmic Lasers. Dr. Chaglasian organized an awesome lab with the help of the doctors at TLC Laser Eye Centers to give us first-hand experience working with lasers. We had several different stations set up and got to learn the components of each different type of laser refractive eye surgery.
At the first station, we were each given our own pig-eye-in-a-cup to work on, and had the opportunity to remove the epithelium, simulating how we’d prepare it for laser eye surgery. It was at this station that I saw a bag of real eyeballs for the first time in my life. Most people might feel a little squeamish about it, but for me, as an eye nerd, it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen (besides lasers, of course).
My pig eye in a cup
Tools we used to remove epithelium
Our tools in action under a microscope
1. You start collecting everything that has an eye chart or glasses on it
Even before hipsters or the “nerd look” became cool, optometrists have always been on the lookout for glasses everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of us have owned an optometry mug or two at some point. Just how many shirts with glasses on it could I need in my lifetime? I don’t know, but what I DO know is that I will probably spend a good portion of my savings on optometry-related pieces for my wardrobe. I almost bought a bottle of wine with an eye chart on it, and I don’t even drink wine. I have at least four rings with glasses of different styles and colors. My roommate has earrings with an eye chart on them. It’s an addiction, I don’t know how to stop it, but I am secretly quite proud of it.
2. TV isn’t the same anymore
I was watching “House” and noticed that Dr. Foreman was holding an ophthalmoscope funny. Silly Dr. Foreman, his finger should be on the dial so he can focus on the optic nerve! Even while we watch “Friends,” in the episode where Rachel goes to see the eye doctor (Google Rachel at the Eye Doctor for the video), you’ll notice the optometrist uses a slit lamp and pretends it can deliver a puff of air. Things I could overlook as a naive first year can no longer escape me. I noticed I started getting satisfaction from correctly guessing what ailments the characters had. I distinctly remember yelling at the TV, “THIS GUY HAS A TIA!” (transient ischemic attack) right before the doctor diagnosed the same thing. Sure, all my non-optometry school friends have no idea what I just said out loud (a little too loud), but hey, I felt pretty smart. I don’t think I could get much more nerdier than that. I guess that’s one way to apply the knowledge I learned at school.
The National Board Examiners In Optometry and the Canadian Assessment of Competence in Optometry exams were always a mystery to me. Until perhaps two months ago, all I knew was that I had to write some sort of exam that’s going to determine whether I get to practice my passion for the rest of my life. Although I’m Canadian, I chose to take the American boards to give myself more options when I graduate. Those of us taking the NBEOs begin the exam on March 19.
The most influential factor in my decision to come to ICO was the board exam pass rates. I scoured the internet forums, talked to optometry students, and went on program websites to understand how students from each school perform on board exams. ICO’s amazing pass rates were reason enough for me to brave the cold winters of Chicago. After all, the whole point of getting an optometric education is to achieve this one goal: obtain a license to practice optometry.