It’s the word that still makes your heart skip a beat and your hands slightly tremble. The one that makes the palm of your hands sweat, and your anxiety kick into high gear. Every ICO student, from first year to third, knows that the pressure never goes away when you hear the word ‘practical.’
It always starts off overwhelming for me. I have to create a mental speech, or even physical script, to ensure that I hit all the objectives. Next, I have to make sure I actually know how to perform the skill correctly. You may think something as simple as changing the acuity line on a screen, or changing the screen to a red/green E target, is simple. However, you are very mistaken; my fingers always lead me to a new screen I have no idea how I even got to.
As I practice performing the skill and saying all the right things to become the skilled clinician I know is deep inside, I fumble not only with the buttons on the remote, but also, my words, equipment, and everything else you can imagine. As I continue juggling to master the art of performing Oscar-worthy assigned skills in the optometry lab, another remote from two lanes over changes my target. If it’s not one thing it’s always another; my ‘perfect’ practice patient will start to suppress, I forget to instruct your patient on how to respond, or I forget to turn on the light- literally leaving my patient in the dark.
As time progresses, and I continue to practice, I eventually figure out that getting the 20/50 line is actually done by pressing the button above the 50, no matter how many times I naturally want to press the button below it. I begin to nail what I need to say in order to get all the points. I finally remember that darn stand lamp, and know that I forgot it so many times, there’s no way I could forget it on the 12th take. Then one day, after many failed attempts at practicing, I ace the entire skill(s) and only wish that particular time could have been my score for the real thing.
My confidence builds. The more I practice, the more efficient I become. Coming in with a few minutes to spare on the clock, I begin to believe that I can actually do this. The practical day no longer seems like impending doom. On that day, I walk in feeling cool, calm, and collected with all of my necessary equipment.
I sit in front of the infamous three doors and can only hope that the proctor inside is having a good day, and is ready to be blown away by my professionalism and preparation. I walk in, take a deep breath, get my alcohol pad ready to clean off the necessary equipment, and the proctor asks, “Are you ready?” I always answer with “Yes,” but then begin to doubt myself when I am interrupted by an intimidating,
“Doctors your time begins now.”
All of a sudden, everything I thought I knew is erased from my mind. I go into auto-pilot, rattling off words I didn’t even have in my vocabulary two minutes prior. I put on my best performance, hoping to wow the audience- my proctor.
I end my practical with, “I think I am done?” as if my proctor has the answer for me. Then, I walk out and it’s all over. Just like that. Normally, if I can’t remember what just happened, I did great. In the end, it always works out and I survive.
This is the way my practicals always tend to play out, but each practical experience is always unique to the student who endures it. We all struggle, learn ,and grow as ICO students, always learning from our previous mistakes and moving forward to be the best clinicians we can be. The best part is, as long as you remember your name from the time you walk into the practical room until the start time, you’re guaranteed a small victory if you state it to greet your patient. If there is one thing to remember, it most definitely is: practice makes perfect.