ICO Blog http://blog.ico.edu Illinois College of Optometry's Official Blog Thu, 21 May 2015 21:26:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What graduation from ICO means to me http://blog.ico.edu/what-graduation-from-ico-means-to-me/ http://blog.ico.edu/what-graduation-from-ico-means-to-me/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 21:26:29 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4939 If you have read my story on how I got to ICO, you might be able to empathize with how much graduation means to me and my family.

It means my brother can probably start investing in himself more instead of penny-pinching to ensure that I have food on the table while I have no source of income while I am on externships.

It means that I now have the opportunity to retire my parents so that they can stop working multiple jobs 7 days a week.


My family

It means all those times the big bankers told me “you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t make it,” didn’t stop me from actually doing it anyway.


Graduate of 2015

It means I can sign off on my own prescriptions and start to develop my own patient base that grows with me (no more asking for permission to dilate!)

It means I can pursue my dreams of continuing with mission work all over the world so I can make a difference in those that can’t afford to see.

Puebla SVOSH mission trip 2013

Puebla SVOSH mission trip 2013

It means I have a career where I am doing what I love every single day that I am working, and the world is my oyster.

profile pic

It also means that I will miss the ICO staff like Teisha Johnson, Hank, and Anthony who have been there for me and look out for me like my family away from home.


Anthony was the first person to greet me on my interview day and gave me words of encouragement when I was nervous.

Hank made sure I was safe even while I was off campus. He's my family away from home.

Hank  is the head of security and he made sure I was safe even while I was off campus. He’s my family away from home.

My time at ICO allowed me to grow both as an individual and as an optometrist and I truly had the time of my life. You know it’s true when you start a hash tag #timeofmylife for it. I got to travel, build friendships, network with doctors and vendors. Each trip was an unforgettable experience.


Optometry’s Meeting in Philadelphia 2014

Friendships were formed with people from all over the world that I would have otherwise never been able to have the pleasure to meet. Graduation is bitter-sweet, and I struggle with not being able to see my classmates like I used to in first year, but I definitely won’t be missing studying every weekend!


ICO class of 2015

I am honored to be an alumnus of ICO class of 2015, I am proud of my education that I worked hard to obtain, and am forever grateful to all my professors and preceptors who have taught me all that I know, and encouraged me throughout my career here. A special thanks to Dr. Mindy Nguyen, Dr. Dominick Maino from ICO, as well as Dr. Barry Jose and Dr. Gregg Russell from my externships who were the most influential and inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I have no doubt in my mind I learned from the best of the best doctors.

Optometry for me is a dream come true, and like any other dream, it doesn’t come easy. It’s sweat and tears and more sacrifice than you can imagine, but standing with my cap and gown on graduation day made one thing clear; it was worth it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Thank you ICO for making me Dr. Jennifer Tai.


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and now presenting…THIRD YEAR. http://blog.ico.edu/and-now-presenting-third-year/ http://blog.ico.edu/and-now-presenting-third-year/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:31:22 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4933 Suddenly… I was a third year. blog1

I swear I just wrote to you all about living in Chicago and nervously starting my first year of school. However, suddenly, I look around and the hallways look a little more familiar and clinic time is on the upward spiral as I shift into my third year of optometry school.

Second year proved to be a whirlwind in itself, filled most notably with practicals testing our clinical skills. These included everything from palpating for lymph nodes to assessing the most peripheral parts of the back of the eye. It is no joke that academics are of the utmost importance here, but I personally take greater comfort in knowing that ICO puts a much higher precedence on our clinical knowledge, application, and efficiency. After all, what will I be after school but… an optometrist? I would like to be a competent one, and I can feel that ICO is slowly making the Dr. Rina Sheth, O.D. that I had always planned to be. Of course right now, in the midst of it, it has been feeling like school will never end, but then suddenly… here I am, seeing patients by myself.

So now, I’m at the penultimate step in optometry school, third year. Filled with three clinic shifts, two at the Illinois Eye Institute and one at CPS (Chicago Public Schools), I’m finding that much more of my time isn’t sitting behind a desk – although don’t get me wrong, there is still much studying to do and much knowledge to absorb. I am frantically moving in between said clinic shifts and labs and class. This differs greatly from second year, where much of my time was in lab practicing skills to be one day hopefully apply in clinic. I’m beginning to feel like this is the moment that I had been waiting for: having enough knowledge where I can begin to see an entire educational career culminate into an actual career. I hope to solidify that knowledge this year.

IMG_3278Best part so far about third year: the world of contacts. I’ve been wearing contact lenses since I was a young teenager, as I was stubborn to adorn a foreign plastic object upon my face. Finally, we get to learn and understand appropriate contact lens selection and care for patients and ourselves. I now know why I wear an Acuvue One-Day Moist. Wouldn’t you be curious to learn why your contact lens was picked for you?

Well, I write this blog in the very first week of my third year. I know it will get harder. There will be many days where I will be tired from the hustle and bustle of summer quarter here at ICO (especially taking the most demanding class in our academic career, Retina.) If there is one thing that is becoming more evident to me, day in and day out, it is that I have the makings of an optometrist in the sooner-than-I-think future.

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End of First Year http://blog.ico.edu/end-of-first-year/ http://blog.ico.edu/end-of-first-year/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 21:41:43 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4930 Things felt different when I finished that last exam.

The last exam of first year. We talked about it like it was some kind of rare and exotic animal, and in my opinion, it ended far too soon.

My step out of that exam room punctuated the end of the first chapter of my career at ICO. The next 24 hours felt like I was waking up from a dream that was desperately trying to teach me something. Now, I am reminded of the words I wrote those many months ago:

“Life is full of things that you can enjoy, and they are around you at this moment. Don’t wait until you lose what you have to treasure it.”

So right now, I’m in Chicago: home of the Bean, a skyline to die for, and great food.

I’m here, on my laptop, in a hotel room on Mother’s day, 500 miles away from home and reflecting on the last 9 months. That wasn’t the plan – but my flight got cancelled.

Before I left, I took a walk around ICO. The first time I walked the halls of the school, it was a maze to me. As I became better acquainted with it, ICO served as a backdrop for the theatre production of my life. And today, it was different. It felt like home. And I had taken it for granted – the same way I took Toronto for granted before I left in August.

When you first get here, people will tell you that “four years are going to pass by quickly.” You’ll hear it over and over again – and it’s said with good intentions. It’s meant to be comforting. People say it to remind you that the difficulties you’re facing as an optometry student will only last four years. You just have to hang in there! You can do it!!

But sometimes, people say that magic phrase to remind you to enjoy the moment. I’m beginning to appreciate that now.

This year has passed so, so quickly. It’s gone by in the blink of an eye, and it was so startling to me that I’ve already worried about having to leave my friends in a few years when I graduate.

This experience has changed me profoundly. I have made great friends and colleagues that I hope I will know for life. I’ve learned so much in the realm of academics, as well as personal relationships and life. I am grateful to have survived first year with a wonderful group of people – ICO’s class of 2018.

My biggest regret from the last 9 months is that it took me until the end of first year to realize that I should value the time we have together – as friends, colleagues, and as a class. And I am sorrier still, because I should have learned this lesson the first time around, when I left Toronto.

If I could go back to orientation week, I would have gone out with you guys a lot more. I would have made an effort to get to know you all better and earlier.

Take note, all of you first years who come after me. I know that it is difficult to realize it when you’re swamped by exams, practicals and your personal life, but this will end far faster than you expect it to. Make sure you appreciate the friends and people you have around you, because someday soon, you may not be able to spend time with them.

Man, I miss you guys already.

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Second Year Flies by! http://blog.ico.edu/second-year-flies-by/ http://blog.ico.edu/second-year-flies-by/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 20:59:54 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4560 Nine months ago, the class of 2017 started the second year of optometry school. We hoped that this year would be as wonderful and amazing as so many upperclassmen had told us. Now that we have finished our second year, I can say from my own experience that second year is great. We are finally delving into the really eye-related stuff- the stuff we will actually be recalling during an eye exam one day. Everything counts from this point on- no more “I don’t really need to know this.”

This, however, is good and bad at the same time. Obviously, it’s good because this is what we came here for; bad because this means we can no longer cram for exams, then have the material jump right out of our heads the minute we finish taking it. This is the point when your professors expect you to know the things you learned in first year, and every exam you take becomes cumulative. I have found myself reviewing Dr. T’s ocular anatomy notes from first year just to keep up with some courses and help make sense of it.

The second year students have classes scheduled in the morning only. This means that if you don’t have clinic or labs in the afternoon, you can go home and enjoy all the free time you get as a second year. You will not have an opportunity like this in third year, which is quickly becoming a reality for me.

Since the second year is much less demanding and time consuming than the first, I have had a lot more time to take a more active role in the campus clubs, work study jobs, and elective courses. One of my friends also convinced me to to sign up for an improv class at iO; that was for level 1. I’m almost finished with level 4 now!

Looking forward, we’re going to be considered 3rd years in 2 months!! It’s hard to believe we are going to be selecting our externship sites and getting graduation photos taken relatively soon.

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Tasty Chicago http://blog.ico.edu/tasty-chicago/ http://blog.ico.edu/tasty-chicago/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 20:48:57 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4908 Everyone knows that Chicago is all about food. This past year, I have found some new favorite places:

Yolk‘s strawberry orange juice!


If you love donuts, Firecakes is a must.


Make sure to go there when they are serving their ice cream donut sandwiches!


If you don’t like donuts, Insomnia Cookies is the next best option, especially if it’s a late night. You can build your own ice cream cookie sandwich.


Eataly has everything you would want to eat! The Neapolitan pizza is a great alternative to the famous deep dish.



This last place is probably my favorite find in Chicago. I’ve been looking for an authentic tapas bar since studying in Spain, and I finally found one: Café Iberico! They have tortilla espanola and paella!


They even have jamon Iberico and manchego cheese with tomato bread.


Or, you can try their goat cheese with pesto bread.

Even if these places do not sound appetizing, they are just a few examples of the tasty places you can find in Chicago. It is definitely impossible to pick a favorite place because they are all so different from each other. I cannot wait to return to Chicago next year and continue exploring all that it has to offer.

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Optometry Students and Lasers: In a Pig’s Eye! http://blog.ico.edu/optometry-students-and-lasers-in-a-pigs-eye/ http://blog.ico.edu/optometry-students-and-lasers-in-a-pigs-eye/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 14:37:16 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4852 Alas, NBEO board exams have come and gone. My classmates and I are free again. Free from studying at all hours of the day and night without end. Except, we’re not free. At any moment, we’re haunted by the bone-chilling thought of having failed boards. But that aside, life is pretty great right now.

After those two dreaded days of exams, we picked up where we left off and spring quarter classes began. In our last quarter here at ICO, we are taking four classes:  Injections for the Optometrist, Business of Optometry, Strabismus & Amblyopia II, and Ophthalmic Lasers. Back when spring quarter had began and we were off for a month to study for boards, my classmates and I got a taste of Ophthalmic Lasers during an evening workshop with TLC. TLC is a company of ophthalmologists and optometrists providing eye surgery and LASIK in Mid-Michigan and Northwest Ohio. TLC providers specialize in “cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal tears and detachments, eye infections, and laser vision correction.”

The event with TLC brought in optometrists and technicians that taught us how to perform a number of refractive laser procedures complete with hands-on demonstrations. In some states, namely Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma, optometrists can perform these laser procedures.

In our gymnasium, stations were set up to teach three techniques. The first station that I visited was set up to teach corneal epithelium removal, an initial set in PRK. In PRK surgery, the corneal epithelium is removed and then the corneal stroma is treated with laser. Once an overview of the technique was given, I gloved up to perform epithelium removal on pig eyes. Since pig eyes are pretty similar to human eyes, the simulation was great and comparable to doing the procedures on real patients.

The second station I visited demonstrated how to create a flap for Lasik using a femtosecond laser. During Lasik, a flap is made from corneal epithelium, then laser is applied to correct refractive error and the flap is laid back down. Like in the first station, we carried out the procedures using pig eyes. While we used the more precise femtosecond laser to create the flap, corneal flaps can also be made mechanically using a device called a microkeratome. In a way, the last station I visited finished the story. While listening to an ICO grad talk about his own experience working at TLC, one by one we got the opportunity to apply the corrective excimer laser to pig eyes that already had flaps created.

All in all, the workshop was pretty neat. We learned a lot about refractive surgery techniques and how to perform them ourselves. And if time takes any of us to places like KY, LA or OK, performing these skills will be well within our scope of practice. Now that boards are done and classes have resumed for us, we’re learning the intricacies of how lasers work, about the multitude of other lasers used in eye care, and much more.


Work station for corneal epithelium removal 


A closer look at the days old pig eye and our instruments of choice


Work station for femtosecond laser guided epithelial flap creation 

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House Of ICO: Act like Matadors http://blog.ico.edu/house-of-ico-act-like-matadors/ http://blog.ico.edu/house-of-ico-act-like-matadors/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 22:31:00 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4873 If for some reason you aren’t a fan of House of Cards (yet), you must have noticed the hundreds of posts, quizzes and memes take over your feeds when the new season was released about a month ago. My friends and I may or may not have binge-watched the 13 episodes over a weekend (we HAD to finish before exams started!). The show is a reference point for some pretty important life lessons (for example, never trust politicians). So, I got to thinking, how does House of Cards relate to optometry students? Can I learn anything from Frank Underwood?

“If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table”. Optometry school is like politics. The student body is the House, and the faculty is Congress. We work together to find the best possible solutions to problems when they arise. Now, we don’t have 160 first year students ambushing the professors, but our class representatives do a great job making sure our voices are being heard. In fact, Dr. Mothersbaugh and Dr. Ittner decided to make changes early on–within the first two weeks of spring quarter–based on the feedback we gave.

“There are two types of vice presidents: doormats and matadors. Which do you think I intend to be?” I doubt anyone at ICO is trying to be vice president of the United States, but imagine if he had said, “there are two types of optometrists: doormats and matadors.” ICO isn’t teaching us to be doormat optometrists; they expect us to come here and act like matadors. If we don’t understand something, we practice and ask questions until we get it. Besides, who wants a doormat as their eye doctor?

“Even Achilles was only as strong as his heel”. Individually, we try to work on our weaknesses. Every day you hear students saying that such and such is their worst class, and so they study ten times more for that class than for any other class. However, collectively, ICO tries to strengthen its “heel”. If someone is having trouble with topics in a class, they can ask anyone and someone will help them. No one is looking for anyone else’s Achilles heel and everyone wants people to succeed.

“Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me”. Like most graduate schools, graduate students are used to being the smart kids in class. Last quarter was hard for a lot of people, and I saw one too many of my friends break down at some point from the stress. They would complain that their family and friends back home didn’t understand, and that is because they don’t. For people like us, treading water is the same as drowning. But we also need to remember that treading water is not the same as drowning, it just feels like that. We need to take a step back and realize that we won’t drown.

WWCUW? Ok, you got me, this isn’t a quote from the show but it is probably one of the most important lessons from the show. What would Claire Underwood wear? We can learn to be ruthless and powerful from Frank, but Claire shows us all that a great outfit can be just as powerful and give you the extra confidence you need.

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Live Consciously, Eat Deliciously http://blog.ico.edu/live-consciously-eat-deliciously/ http://blog.ico.edu/live-consciously-eat-deliciously/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 04:21:37 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4808 Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset

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Private Practice Club Dinner http://blog.ico.edu/private-practice-club-dinner/ http://blog.ico.edu/private-practice-club-dinner/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 19:57:01 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4740 “Surround yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses.” “Focus on what you’re good at.” These tokens were just two of the many pieces of advice given by William Montag to a group of students at the Hilton. Montag, a certified financial planner at the North Star Resource Group, hosted a dinner presentation on finances for members of Private Practice Club.

The PPC plans numerous events each year for students to learn about the important aspects of owning a private practice as well as the trials and successes that current owners have experienced. Through the club, I’ve listened to optometrists talk about their experiences and visited practices. The event hosted by Montag was a little different and made for a fun new experience, as a group of 25 of us attended a fancy dinner presentation at 720 South Bar and Grill. We received folders filled with spreadsheets, charts and checklists addressing the important financial aspects of owning a private practice, and what steps we can take now to achieve that goal. Montag took questions from the group as he gave his presentation. The event was informative and the dinner was delicious. At the end, students could schedule a one-on-one session with Montag about finances.


Dinner Menu + Program folder


Left: Bartlet pear Salad. Right: Salmon Spaetzle


Cheesecake with fresh fruit for dessert

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Practicing for Practicals: Who Makes the Best Patients? http://blog.ico.edu/practicing-for-practicals-who-makes-the-best-patients/ http://blog.ico.edu/practicing-for-practicals-who-makes-the-best-patients/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:50:48 +0000 http://blog.ico.edu/?p=4778 With the next round of lab practicals inching closer, we first years must decide on how to study. There are basically four options: practicing with our classmates, practicing with family and friends, reading over the syllabus/rubric for the lab practical, and just winging it. The last two options aren’t good ones. Even though we have been practicing in lab, we’re not prepared for the pressure of someone breathing down your neck and grading you. Which means we need to decide who we’re going to practice on.

Practicing with Classmates

Tips and feedback: Other OD students may do something in a different (better) way and can help you on the areas that you are struggling with. They also (hopefully) know the rubric and can let you know what you missed.

No explanations: While you have to tell them why you are performing something, they won’t ask you a million questions about every little thing.

Time: They won’t take as long to answer questions, as they know you’re being timed and will make it about the same level of difficulty as the actual practical.

Convenience: You can always find another student to practice on. You can either sit in the Eyepod and wait, or walk across the street and knock on anyone’s door in the RC.

Answers: Other students know their stuff, so you can double check if you get the correct C/D, strabismus, etc.

Pressure: Other students know if you’re doing something wrong. While they will give you advice, you still want to look like you know what you’re doing in front of your peers.

Tips and feedback: Your classmates may do something in a different (worse) way. You may know that you’re actually in the right, but you will still have to be polite and shake your head (being Minnesota nice and all) or it could lead to a debate, and your patient might leave you.

You’re next: Nothing comes free, so be prepared to sit as patient. Definitely a con, unless you like bright lights in your eyes and checking to see if your strabismus is still there.

Practicing with Others

No pressure: Don’t worry, they’ll never know if you messed up (even if you realized it). Just act natural and don’t do it on your next patient. Also, if your patient is a close friend or family member, they’ve seen you embarrass yourself plenty, so relax and you’ll be fine.

Next patient, please: They’re not studying to be an optometrist, so you don’t need to sit as their patient. If you have a large family or lots of friends, just line them up and keep on practicing!

Variety: You can practice on a wide range of ages, and may see something that you wouldn’t regularly see on a classmate.

Eager patients: Your friends and family haven’t sat through five weeks of optometry lab and therefore haven’t done these tests yet, so they’ll be more willing to sit and let you practice on them.

Questions: Get ready to explain in a lot of detail what every test does. Even worse, be prepared to explain what all your findings are. For example, saying “Oh my gosh your C/D is huge!” might make your patient going into panic and rush to the ER.

Equipment: Unless you live at an optometrist’s office, you probably don’t have all the equipment you need (and the correct lighting). Therefore, you might not be able to practice distance VAs and lensometry.

Convenience: Unless you have close connections nearby, it may be difficult to find non-classmates to practice on. You may end up lugging home all of your equipment so you can practice during school breaks. Or if you’re lucky, you can catch Santa in the act as he’s delivering presents at your house and you can practice on him!

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