I know it’s hard to believe there will be any extra time for anything but studying once you’re in optometry school. Many of us really do spend endless number of sleepless nights before exams. But you’d be surprise at the things you can do outside O-school. Sometimes I think about the personal statement I wrote when I was applying to schools. How many different ways could I indicate “I would like to help others” without sounding cliche or absolutely tacky?! Yes, it’s important to get As in classes (and god knows I try)… and yes, it’s important to use every moment of my waking hours to perfect my skills as an optometrist (except when I am at the beach playing volleyball), but I do try to remember from time to time why I wanted to become a doctor. This is why I made a small (though it sometimes feels big) commitment to myself to get involved in ICO, whether it’s optometry-related, community-related, or just about having fun.
It’s so easy to find something to do to get more involved at school and in the community when you’re in a city like Chicago. There are tons of vision screening opportunities, as attested by other bloggers, and ICO has lots of great clubs that are incredibly active and fun. This is evident when you arrive at school in the fall. In the space of a couple of weeks, about 20 different clubs organize introductory meetings, luring newbies with free pizza and introducing themselves and explaining what they do–not only to incoming first years, but to returning second, third and fourth years as well. Don’t think you can get sick of eating pizza? Think again.
Then, there’s an event called the Club Blind Spot. The clubs set up tables, and students can go around and see which ones might be a good fit (yep, there’s more free pizza). At this event during my first year, I fell in love with ICO’s Leo Club; two years later, I’m its president. It was also at this event where I discovered that there’s a “support group” for Wisconsinites who have to deal with the Bear fans in Chicago (I’m confident the Packers will take home the win tonight!). My love for running also drew me to the Running Club, and at this event I also learned about the possibility of doing an optional fifth year residency by becoming an officer in ICO’s American Academy of Optometry student chapter.
I was surprised to find my name on my first bike! It sure made me feel a little special and excited for many more bike rides to come!
When you’re a budget-tight student in a 555-square feet studio apartment, owning a bike can be a hassle–from scraping together the money to buy it to storing and maintaining it. And you have to weigh the odds of the bike getting stolen–it’s already happened to me twice. But my dream has finally come true: Chicago now has an unlimited bike sharing program called Divvy. My life as a full-time student of optometry isn’t exactly a thrill a minute, but THIS… IS… EXCITING! Last Thursday, after two weeks of unexpected delays, Divvy finally unleashed its awesomeness onto the city’s commuters and visitors. The $75 annual fee gives members unlimited 30-minute rides, or people looking for a shorter commitment can opt for unlimited 30-minute rides for $7 per day.
When I heard about Divvy a few months ago, I really thought it was too good to be true. I believe that Portland, Ore., is home to the first bike-share program in the U.S., and I’ve seen similar programs in cities like Montreal, New York and D.C. But I just didn’t know how bike-sharing would fit into the lifestyle of Chicagoans–particularly this Chicagoan. Yes, I had some doubts, but I went ahead and paid my hard-earned (erm, government-borrowed) $75 to sign up before the launch and become one of Divvy’s founding members (no joke, that’s what they call those of us who signed up early).
From all over the country and even from outside of the country, students in the class of 2016 might be wondering how my first quarter is going as a third year at ICO. On second thought, none of them are probably thinking about me at all. I can in fact guarantee you that they are enjoying their summer off, hanging at the beach or doing something that is not eye-related. For me, this summer is going to be much different than than the previous one. Last summer, I worked a lot, yes, but I also traveled to various places and was able to find some spare time for myself to relax.
In contrast, this was is what my weeks will look like for the remainder of the quarter:
Monday starts with an 8 a.m. contact lens lecture taught by Dr. Jurkus. When I’m done with class, I have five minutes to gather all of my equipments and run over to the clinic for my 9 a.m.-1 p.m. shift. Afterward, I have 10 minutes to eat lunch and go back to hours two and three of CL lecture. I run back to the lecture hall with a microwaved bowl of pasta, my notes wedged under my armpit. Luckily, having a bit of previous exposure to practical CL from working at a private practice helps me understand the concepts easily.
This year, my work study job is leading campus tours for prospective students visiting for admissions interviews. One question that I consistently get is, “Should I bring a car to Chicago?” As easy as the question sounds, I have such a hard time answering it, and here is why.
I own a car that I still make payments on, but I don’t even keep it with me in Chicago. That sounds stupid, right? Well, it is not that simple. It’s part of my “Let’s be creative with money while I’m in optometry school” plan. I’ve always had a vehicle in high school and undergrad. In college, I was that person who took four or five carless people for weekly grocery store runs. At the time, I remember thinking, “How do they live without a car?” In the four years between graduating from college and entering ICO, I was working and I acquired an awesome Honda Civic coupe (I call her Miss Galaxy, after her color, galaxy grey). In addition to getting a fantastic 33 miles per gallon, I now also had a car loan. On top of the loan payments that my student self couldn’t afford, there are additional expenses that go along with maintaining a car. My creative plan involved keeping the Civic with my Milwaukee-based fiancé, who drives a Ford F-150 (14 MPG). To save some money on gas while visiting me down in Chicago–we’re talking almost 200 miles of driving every other week–he drives Miss Galaxy. With the gas money he saves by driving my car for these visits, as well as routine driving in Milwaukee, he contributes extra money to my car payment–meaning he pretty much pays for the car that I can’t afford. And, I’m able to access my car for those few times each quarter when it’s necessary, and have it available when it’s time to go out to externship sites during fourth year rotations.
When my fiancé recently traveled to the East Coast for an extended work trip, he asked me if I wanted the car back full-time for a month. I’ve missed the freedom and flexibility a car can provide so I jumped on the opportunity. I ran a mini-experiment on how much more I would love or hate my life in Chicago when I’ve got a car versus my normal life without one.
Drs. Roy and Associates is where my love for optometry started and grew. Back in 2009, I found their job posting on Craigslist for a technician, and I applied for the job to gain some patient exposure while making some extra income. I worked with six amazing optometrists, all ICO alums, who gave me wonderful insight and unique perspectives on the profession. After working as an optometric technician for over a year, I applied to ICO and follow in their optometric footsteps.
Top: with Debra Simon, OD ’01 (left) and Cara Ystad, OD ’05 (middle)
Bottom: I am a queen of Optomap, a good screening tool for viewing patient’s retina without the hassel of dilating pupils.
I’m lucky to have these optometrists to look up to, and I’ve continued my relationship with the practice, keeping in touch with all of the doctors and staff members. During my first year at ICO, I continued to help them out by traveling to Wisconsin and assisting during busy times. I’m fortunate that now, during second year, I’ve been able to work at the practice even more.
Optometry school is really expensive and money becomes a great stressor for a lot of us. You’re borrowing so much for tuition and essential living expenses that any out-of-the-ordinary financial circumstances are difficult to swallow. When I expressed frustration about this during a phone conversation with one of the practice’s owners, she was generous enough to offer me the opportunity to return to Wisconsin to work for a weekend or two whenever my scheduled allowed. I think I’m one of a very lucky few people who gets to work whenever I can.