After spending hours upon hours hunched over your Anatomy notes, the different lobes of the brain begin to melt together, the cranial nerve pathways become jumbled, and you begin to lose hope that you will be sleeping more than a few hours later that night. A slight whimper of defeat escapes from you as you take yet another swig from your coffee cup.
That might have been a bit dramatic. But sometimes life as an optometry student can be overwhelming. When the going gets tough, you just need to escape and take a little time off for yourself–which is exactly what I did a couple of weekends ago!
I’m not sure if you have heard of it or not, but Chicago has this little thing called Lake Michigan. On days when the sun is shining and you have some time to sneak away from campus, the lake is definitely a prime spot to hit up. Especially because there’s a newly developed lakefront destination right by ICO–31st Street Beach and Harbor. It’s only a 15-minute walk from campus!
You have to believe me when I say that this place is incredible. This is the first year the harbor has been open since its construction, and it currently holds the title for being the greenest in the world. Additionally, the panoramic view of the city from the roof of the harbor is a must-see.
I’d never been to Detroit, but then I’d never really had the desire to go, either. All this changed last month. At a time when everyone else seems to be leaving, the AAU Junior Olympics descended on Motown last month, the event bringing countless athletes along with a contingent of soon-to-be optometrists to the city.
Similar to the athletes who were ready to test their well-honed skills, I was excited to show my stuff at my first vision screening. This wasn’t just a few hours at a community center either–this was the big league. We’re talking about three jam-packed days of screening some of the best junior athletes and their families, and all thanks to Vistakon, it was completely free! The athletes and their families got a thorough check-up, the attending doctors were able to gain valuable data for research, and I got three nights in a hotel plus dinners paid for.
The ICO contingent, ready to go!
After arriving and spending a few hours setting up in a large downtown convention center, I was excited to get started and delve into all that first year knowledge I had accumulated. After setting up all the tests and looking at the equipment, I realized that over the summer I had either forgotten everything I had ever learned, or there were some new instruments that I had never seen. Turns out it was a mixture of the two.
My post-dilation mydriatic pupils
So during first year, we’re required to get an eye exam at the IEI and reflect on our experience as a patient in the clinic. This was my first dilated fundus exam, and was also the lengthiest, most thorough eye exam I have ever had. My pupils have never been that big! We were all warned that for four to six hours after being dilated, we’d experience photophobia, or light sensitivity, and would have blurry near vision. I recorded moderate-high light sensitivity, however, I did not experience blur at near. It was certainly an interesting experience.
After my exam, I of course received a copy of my new prescription–my prescription has changed slightly since being here, with an increase of -0.25 diopters of sphere in the left eye and an increase of -0.25 in the cylinder power in the right eye. I spent some time at the IEI’s dispensary, the Fait Family Eyewear Center, and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent selection of frames. Designer lines like Fendi, Tiffany and Boss were all represented, as were a variety of price points. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for in stock, they’re willing to bring in specific frames upon request. I chose to put my new prescription in a pair of Dolce & Gabbanas, and I can’t wait to get them!
We’re in our fifth week of the quarter and at this point I’m getting very comfortable writing exams almost every other day. Unlike undergrad, most days here start at 8 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m., with only an hour break for lunch. I’m getting used to working longer days and learning how to handle the work load.
At this point, though, I am really starting to miss home, and some of the things I can get there but can’t get here.
Meeting with Sen. Boozman (middle)
So one day I’m sitting down with a senator giving him my opinion on foreign policy (no big deal), the next I’m wired with caffeine at 5 a.m., sitting on my friend’s couch cramming for my Ocular Physiology exam. Just a day in the life I guess, ha! In all seriousness though, those events did happen last week, and it was crazy but incredible. Last Monday I flew to Washington, D.C., for the Congressional Advocacy Conference. I returned back home Wednesday at 10:30 p.m., crashing at my buddy’s house two blocks from campus and cramming as much as possible for my OcPys exam the following morning. On Thursday I took the exam on four hours of sleep, and also had clinic and a practical. Whoa!
For those of you unfamiliar with Congressional Advocacy Conference, every year optometrists and optometry students converge on Washington to lobby for pro-optometry bills and against anti-optometry ones. Attendees may also go to some fantastic restaurants and bars, meet tons of students and ODs (great networking opportunities!), and have the chance to rub elbows with some big names. Along with a few others, I got to sit down with Sen. John Boozman, OD at his beautiful office on Capitol Hill. He’s the only senator that’s also an optometrist, and he’s a great advocate for the profession and a very down-to-earth guy. We talked optometry, Arkansas football, and then he actually asked us for our thoughts on Syria before a meeting with Pres. Obama!
I am so serious–literally every upperclassman and faculty member uses the phrase “hit the ground running” when referring to the first-year class load/test schedule. And I can, now, with first-hand experience, vouch that really, there is no other way to describe it.
There’s no syllabus week. Sorry to disappoint, but that grand time of undergraduate frolicking is gone. For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, “syllabus week” is so-called because it’s the first week of classes when all in-class time is wasted reading the syllabus and talking about the rest of the semester, and out-of-class time is perhaps spent indulging in an adult beverage or four. That time is gone. Don’t even expect it. Fortunately, I really didn’t have that perception of ever having an “easy week” in optometry school, but I just wanted to make that clear.
We have now been in the full swing of exams for the past three weeks, and we’re starting our second cycle of exams tomorrow. When we first started, the air felt thicker and everyone had a look of sheer panic on their faces. Our lives are biochemistry, optics, anatomy, histology, physiology and optometry. Everyone has been in high-stress test-mode. When I asked friends what they plan to do over the weekend, they’d look at me like it’s some type of sick joke–because the answer is always studying.
Once classes resumed last month, my fellow second years and I began working in the IEI as student clinicians. Whereas last year we were flies on a wall, observing and admiring the skills of the upperclassmen, we’re now endeavoring to provide care in the PCP program ourselves.
At the end of first year, we learned how to complete a gamut of entrance and problem-based tests, evaluate the posterior pole with direct ophthalmoscopy, and determine a patient’s distance prescription. Half of my classmates and I are putting these skills to use in the first half of the quarter, while the rest of my colleagues will be clinicians later on. While practicing, we work with an assigned partner under the guide and eye of an attending doctor.
My partner, Ashley, and I are in clinic each Monday afternoon. The morning starts off with Binocular Vision at 9, is followed by Optics at 11, and then Pharmacology until 12:50. For us lucky few in the afternoon shift on Monday, that means that we have about 10 minutes–depending if we get out of class on time–to get from the lecture hall on the first floor, to our lockers on three, to our office in suite 1.
Our first day in clinic together, Ashley and I brought our cases of equipment along to our designated office, took out the necessary tools and attempted to organize our gear and arrange things neatly. But between the two of us and our trial lens sets, our briefcases and our BIO cases, there was only so much order to our chaos. We nibbled on granola bars between setting up, logging in and opening EHR, and then raced to meet our attending doctor and receive our patient.