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6 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Optometry Residency Year


So, you’ve almost made it! You’re about two months away from officially finishing optometry school, and you’ve made the decision to pursue a residency. Congratulations!!! It’s an exciting time for soon-to-be grads!

No matter which residency concentration you’ve chosen, the upcoming year has the potential to be one of the most fun, most educational, and most professionally enriching years you’ve had yet. This post will give you six ways to make sure those 365 days count.

1. Go to professional meetings

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to attend one of the many optometry meetings while you were in school, but whether you have or not, it is extremely beneficial to do so as a resident. Why? For many reasons…

      • They’re usually located somewhere fun! What better excuse to visit Seattle or San Francisco or Boston? I’m sure you can find time to squeeze in a little leisure amidst the classes and networking.
      • You can get most, if not all, of your continuing education requirements fulfilled. In some states, like Alabama, a residency will fulfill the CE requirements for that year. However, in many states, you are held to the same rules as other ODs, which means you will need to attend some CE during your time as a resident. Professional meetings offer hundreds of hours of education all in one place. EASY!
      • Residents almost always get a discount! Registration fees for meetings like AAO, AOA, SECO, etc. are extremely low for those in their residency year, if not waived entirely. This is the last chance you’ll have to get these rates, so take advantage while you can!
      • They are great networking opportunities. Most of our professional meetings offer special events for residents or young professionals. For example, AAO has annual residents’ events such as luncheons and receptions that allow new grads to meet their fellow colleagues, as well as make connections with future employers and industry. You never know what doors you may open just by simply meeting someone new!
      • Many companies offer travel grants for residents. Keep your eyes and ears open for notices from different companies, such as Allergan and Alcon, who often award financial support to many optometry-related meetings. Typically, the application consists of an essay and your CV.

Below is a list of meeting dates and locations for some of the most popular conferences that will take place during the 2015-2016 residency year:

  1. Vision Expo West– Las Vegas, NV; September 16-19, 2015
  2. American Academy of Optometry– New Orleans, LA; October 7-10, 2015
  3. SECO– Atlanta, GA; February 24-28, 2016
  4. Vision Expo East– New York, NY; April 14-17, 2016
  5. American Optometric Association– Boston, MA; June 29-July 3, 2016   **you can still register as a resident for this meeting since it begins before the residency year ends**

2. Make connections

You’ll come across a wide variety of new people during your residency year. Make it a point to get to know these individuals, both within the optometry world and the community. This is important regardless of whether you are doing a residency in a location in which you one day may choose to practice or not. Building bridges will only help you in your professional life, just beware not to burn any.

The optometry professional world is small. You’ll be amazed how few degrees of separation there are between you and someone you’d like to connect with. Make sure the people you know are ready to be on your side, not against it.

By getting to know your advisors and becoming involved in your city or town, you’ll form relationships that will expand your network and broaden the base on which you can call in the future.

3. Teach

Almost all residency programs also have students at their location. Use your time with them to share your knowledge, especially if you trained at different optometry schools. It is interesting to see how separate programs approach the areas of optometry in varying ways. Through teaching, whether in a clinical or classroom setting, you’ll challenge yourself to know the material on a deeper level, get to know your future colleagues, and likely learn something from them as well.

Don’t worry if you’ve never had experience with teaching. You don’t have to be a natural-born educator to get something out of working with students. Just have fun with it, and I promise it will be worth your while.

4. Present a poster or paper

You may be thinking, “I have no interest at all in academia or publishing once I’m in practice. Why do I care about presenting as a resident?” That’s a fair and understandable question. My answer to that thought is:

Your residency year is a time to try new things and see what you truly do and don’t enjoy now that you’re no longer a student.

Having to do papers or posters during your time as a student was typically not by your choice and often not on a topic that actually interested you. However, as a resident, these cases are completely yours. You’ll never really know if you might enjoy presenting your work unless you try it. Plus, you have a support system during residency. You have other residents and doctors to bounce ideas off of and give you feedback before you unveil your hard work to the optometry world. Use that to your advantage.

Like teaching, presenting challenges you to dig deeper into a topic. It also gives you practice speaking on a case or topic, earns points for fellowship in the Academy, and establishes you as someone to watch in our profession. All of these things are positive, wonderful ways to broaden your professional career and resume.

For those that choose to take advantage of this opportunity, there are many avenues for presentation as a resident. For instance, AAO has an entire day in which papers and posters authored by residents are presented to meeting attendees. If you don’t want to participate on that large of a stage, think about opportunities at smaller meetings or through an optometry school. Give it a try! You have nothing to lose!

5. Apply for fellowship

Becoming a Fellow in the Academy is something that can set you apart from your colleagues. It is an honor geared toward all ODs, not just those in academia. If you have any interest at all in taking this step, I strongly encourage you to apply for candidacy during your residency year. Here’s why:

      • Residents get a huge discount! Typically, those applying for candidacy are required to pay a $60 application fee and annual candidate dues, which are calculated on a sliding scale based on number of years out of school. If you are already a student AAO member, that membership continues through your residency and allows you to have the application fee waived. In addition, the candidate dues are $0 if the application is submitted during the calendar year of graduation. To make things even better, dues submitted after October 1 are credited for the next calendar year. So, if you apply at the AAO meeting in New Orleans this October, you would pay NOTHING for 2015 or 2016!
      • You have 3 years to complete the fellowship process. So, if you aren’t ready to sit right after you finish your residency, that’s ok. You’ll have plenty of time.
      • You’ll earn 20 points by successfully completing an accredited residency program and another 10 if you present a poster or paper. That means you’ll already have 30 of your 50 points earned. Two case reports, and you’ll be ready to become a Fellow!
      • The longer you wait after school, the less likely you are to actually take the steps toward becoming a Fellow. While there are countless talented and successful doctors in our profession who are not Fellows of the Academy, it is a way to set yourself apart in a job market that’s becoming more and more competitive. Fellowship will only help you, so why not take that extra step?

6. Start job hunting EARLY

It’s never too soon to plan your future. The end of residency will likely be far from your mind when you begin in July, but the year will fly by. Don’t wait until March to start deciding where you’ll go from here. There are many things you can do to help pave the road to finding a successful practice home.

  1. Get business cards– this seems like such a small thing, but when you meet someone whom you might be interested in working with, it’s important to make a professional impression and leave them with something tangible to remember you by.
  2. Network– I know I’ve already mentioned this, but because it is so important, I’m saying it again. Build your professional connections because you never know when someone will know someone looking for a new doc. Get your name out there.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say what you’re looking for– whether you’ve just met a colleague or an industry rep or one of the leaders in optometry, don’t be scared to tell them what you’re looking for. Make sure to do it in a respectful and humble manner, but if you don’t express where you’d like to see yourself, people won’t know to contact you if they run across that opportunity. Know what you want, and go for it.
  4. Utilize the newest job matching platform– Have you heard of If not, you definitely need to check it out! Covalent is the first ever online job matching site for eye care professionals. Instead of posting your resume to a generic job board, Covalent allows you to match with practices looking for a doctor like you. When you sign up, you will create a profile expressing what you’re looking for and what you have to offer, and the system will show you what practices you have matched with. The landing site gives you the chance to get early access and sign up for notification when the site goes live in May. It’s never too early to create a profile, and the best part….it’s always FREE for employees.

Click here to get started with CovalentCareers!

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Good luck, new grads, on your residency and your future! I hope the next year is everything you want it to be. Make the most of it! It’s your last year before you hit the real world…

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About Patricia Fulmer O.D.

Patricia Fulmer O.D.
Patricia is a 2012 graduate of The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and former AOSA National Liaison to the AAO. After graduation, she moved to Amarillo, TX, to complete her residency in Ocular Disease and Primary Care at the Thomas E. Creek VA Hospital. Patricia is the current Center Director for VisionAmerica of Huntsville, a co-management practice specializing in secondary and tertiary care, cataract surgery, strabismus, and oculoplastics in Huntsville, AL. She recently earned her Fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry at the 2015 meeting in New Orleans. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, attending concerts, art, and Alabama football.

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