The time has come for us third year students to choose our externship sites for fourth year! Fourth year education at ICO consists of gaining real-life experience in clinic. That means no more learning inside of the classroom. During our fourth year, we work at four sites. We gain experience in different practice settings and interact with a diverse patient population. Dr. Elyse Chaglasian, our former Assistant Dean for Community Based Education and International Programs, talks more about the externship experience here.
As a third-year student who's starting to set foot in the IEI's specialty clinics, I was unsure which externship sites I wanted to go to. The most important step for me was to write down what kind of experiences I was looking for and then to talk to someone about what I did and didn't want to do. I personally knew that I wanted to gain more specialty contact lens experience, and that I wasn't as interested in pediatrics. Additionally, I wanted to see what practicing in an OD/MD private practice or hospital setting would be like. After talking to Dr. Jaymeni Patel, our current Assistant Dean for Community Based Education and International Programs, I had a clearer idea of how to start the process.
There are so many factors to take into account when choosing an externship site. Some things to consider include location, how many ICO students each site allows per quarter, how many quarters that specific site accepts students, what type of patients you will see, and what kind of practice setting it is (VA, hospital, private practice, university, corporate). I found it helpful to first figure out which location I wanted to be in and then to go from there. I chose to stay in Chicago for all my sites, based on the abundance of externship sites that were available here in many different practice settings and specialties. Being a Chicago native, I also wanted to stay within the area if possible.
After figuring out which location I wanted to be in, I sorted through externship sites on the ICO externship website. Thankfully, our externship website provides us with a composition of what type of exams we will be seeing at each site. This allowed me to further narrow down my site selections based on what exams I wanted to do more of. Particularly for me, I was looking to get more contact lens experience at my primary care site, in a more fast-paced environment. For my optional VA externship site, I was looking for more ocular disease experience as opposed to low vision.
The next step for me, was to look through the extensive reviews written by ICO alumni about each externship site I was interested in. These are provided to third years and are completely unfiltered. The reviews allowed me to see whether I was a good fit for a particular site. I also talked to upperclassmen currently at my chosen sites to gain more insight. Some sites can be more fast paced or hands off, whereas some may have more complicated cases and longer days. Reading through the feedback from ICO alumni and talking to upperclassmen, gave me clarity on what to expect of the various sites. This helped me further narrow down where I wanted to be.
After the hard part of choosing my top sites was over, I had built a list of backup sites in case I didn't get my first pick. Each student is assigned a random priority for picking a site within a specialty. I had first priority for picking my "Speciality 4" site (which refers to us having the option to pick among sites in any specialty, such as pediatrics, contact lens, ocular disease, primary care, etc.) and second priority for picking my primary care site. Everyone within a priority signs up for sites at the same time. This means that you must have a list of backups in case your top site gets taken. For primary care sites, I had a list of 8 places, written in order of preference, ready for me to choose from.
As I had decided to do all my externships in Chicago, I was able to select my sites within the Chicagoland area before the rest of my class makes their selections from sites all around the United States, Canada, and other countries. The night of selections was filled with a lot of anxiety for me, but I was able to secure spots in my top choices. I'm so excited to be going to those sites in less than a year, and am very grateful to all the professors, upperclassmen, and best friends who helped me with choosing where to go. I'm excited to share my externship journey with you all next year, but in the meantime if you'd like to check out some of our student experiences on externships, check out the ICO instagram page highlights!