For some students, optometry is in their blood. Their parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles are optometrists, and they are following in their footsteps. For others, becoming an optometrist is something new. They may even be the first to become ‘doc’ in their family.
I grew up unaware of what optometry entailed until I had my first eye exam at sixteen. Growing up without optometry in my vocabulary, I pulled the inspiration from other aspects of my life. My biology background, interest in healthcare, and passion for art drew me closer to picking a profession that involved both science and beauty. My own optometrist became my boss, mentor, and inspiration to become an optometrist. I eventually tried my best to make a name for myself… but this was only the beginning.
There are so many things I have had to do to get to where I am today. If you are anything like me, and are the first in your family to take interest in optometry, here is some advice on how to direct your time as a student. Hopefully, it will help set a foundation for your future job as doctor.
Be involved. Try and participate in anything optometry related. This includes clubs, volunteering, work studies, lunch-and-learns, and any school-related events. Leadership roles also provide you with a host of connections others may not get the chance to make. Overall, this helps build relationships in various realms of optometry, and pushes you out of your comfort zone.
Visit practices- successful and unsuccessful. If you do not have relative or friend set to hire you when you are finished with optometry school, this is especially important. Visiting practices helps you determine what to do and what not to do when you are out on your own. It also helps with finding out what mode of optometry you may want practice in, or what companies you want (or don’t want) to work for in the future.
Go to optometry conventions! This is not only a fun way to engage in optometry-related activities, but also allows you to network with tons of doctors in one place. There are always optometrists looking to hire, and you may just be the person they will wait for. Being without a link to a job after graduation can feel daunting, but if you put yourself out there and network, you never know what type of job opportunities await you. Plus, as a student, you can usually get some of the registration fees, travel, or hotel paid for!
Give back. Things like vision screenings, public school visits, mission trips, charity events and more can all help you expand your capabilities, make yourself known, and open up relationships within the community. This is something that can set you apart from others, and make potential employers or colleagues want to work with you in the coming years for your outstanding care.
Work hard. Nothing is more important than focusing on your education to be the best doctor you can be. Even if you are becoming a next generation optometrist, you still need to have knowledge, a good work ethic, and perfected clinical skills to be successful. There is not anything that stands out more than someone who can do the job and do it well.
All of the above are important, whether or not you have an optometry legacy in your family. How you were raised will always influence your decisions and values, but it is important to remember to form your own path for your future. Although I do not come from optometry roots, I have learned to build my own and continue to proudly pave the way to OD at the Illinois College of Optometry.