Alas. I made it through the first quarter of optometry school, surviving 10 weeks of rigorous classes, 30 intensive exams, five nerve-wracking practicals, and lastly, six intensive cumulative finals. However, what I can’t quantify is all of the wonderful memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
A few weeks ago we had a break between fall and winter quarters, and after the hustle and bustle of school, it was nice to have a nice seven-day frolic to unwind and de-stress from the first year craziness. How did I spend my time? First thing: sleep. Second thing: TV and all of the delicious and comforting foods that I love, courtesy of my mom. I may or may not have gained five lbs. from being at home, but I can’t tell you how accomplished I felt after marking that last answer on our last final. That final happened to be biochemistry (a WHOPPING 100 questions!). Now, biochemistry in general is no walk in the park, but pair that with utter sleep-deprivation…that is no easy feat.
Many of my classmates stayed here over the break and finally took the time to really explore Chicago (the city I’ve loved for now 23 years) and if you ever get the chance, I can say with 150 percent confidence that you will not be disappointed. There’s nothing like being on top of the John Hancock Center with its 360-degree views, exploring scientific wonder at the Museum of Science and Industry, or indulging in one of the signature beverages at Hot Chocolate on a chilly fall day. Being in Chicago, you never know where the day will take you.
My commute is kind of crazy: Door-to-door roundtrip, it takes five hours. Some days I really don’t mind it, others I feel I could go off the deep end like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Here’s a quick synopsis of my everyday journey:
-up at 5:30 a.m., pulling out of my driveway by 6.
-frantic 5-10 minute drive to get to the Metra train station in Kenosha, Wis., praying to hit every green light and hoping for no cops with speed guns along the way. Try to find a close parking spot at the train station. Jump out of the car, grab my backpack and lunch, and do the awkward shuffle/run with my backpack swaying from side to side, and hop on the Metra by 6:15 a.m.
-an hour-and-a-half train ride where it’s crucial to be productive. I create my own little work space in the cramped seat: computer open, notes propped up, pen, phone, water bottle and snack by my side. Arrive at Ogilvy Station in downtown Chicago by 7:45 a.m.
As a prospective student, I was always curious to know how externship selection worked. All my life, the best everything was awarded to those with the highest grades (or “marks,” for my fellow Canadians) or standardized test score. Personally, I think they deserve it. I expected externships to be no different–students would be ranked by their GPA, clinical skills, perhaps leadership involvement, and then allowed to select accordingly. The top-ranked students would get to choose whatever their heart desired. Seriously, if you have a 4.0 at ICO, I think you freaking deserve top choice, you smarty pants, you. Actually, I’ve heard rumors that this is how it happens at some other optometry schools, and even at ICO in the past.
But that’s not how it happened for the class of 2015. So friends, get ready to hear all about the most draining, complicated, twisted mind game ever invented. As blogger Michelle once observed, it’s almost like a fantasy football draft. Except this affects your future for the next year, and possibly longer, depending on the type of experience you have.
Disclaimer: This guide reflects the experience of my class only. It may change for your class, depending on what style you vote for and ideas from your class reps. Here’s a neat little diagram in case you get lost:
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.
On October 13, 45,000 people took to the streets, putting their bodies through a grueling 26.2-mile trek through the concrete jungle of the Windy City, and I was one of them. Finally, after months of training, the day of the Chicago Marathon had arrived. It was an exhausting journey filled with muscle-ache, Gatorade and snacks only runners could put down.
The night before the race I had everything planned out. Pasta dinner, check. Clothes and race number, check. Small runner’s fanny pack with my energy snacks, not the most fashionable, but check.
Everything a runner needs.
The only thing left was a long deep sleep. As I lay in bed, the only thing running through my mind was how much more training I should have done, and how embarrassing it would be to fail. I look at the clock and it’s 10 p.m. All of a sudden the months of training I had put in and the long hours running along Lake Michigan didn’t matter in my mind. Suddenly I was reeling in horror trying to decide how to explain my inferior athletic ability and how I didn’t even make it halfway before collapsing in a heap of disappointment and incompetence.
I look at the clock and it’s midnight. I try in vain to relax. I take deep breaths. I even count sheep. I got to 78 sheep. On one hand I’m surprised I stuck with the counting sheep idea for so long, on the other hand I curse the images of those soft fuzzy sheep and their inability to put me under.