It took a lot of hard work to get into optometry school, but the path to becoming a successful and skilled clinician has only just begun. Here are five steps you can take during school to set yourself apart for employment opportunities and discover what you really want to focus on once you become a full-fledged optometrist.
1) Attend guest talks, lectures, and conferences
Our courses teach us everything necessary to pass our boards and take care of the majority of our patients. Guest speakers, however, provide unique insights from the optometric industry and also from blossoming areas of academic research.
More specialized areas of optometry such as vision therapy, scleral contact lenses, etc. are also discussed in guest lectures. Going to these talks allows you to learn about more these areas and gauge your specific interests even before you have to start making more important decisions like where you would like to do your externships.
At conferences, you will find panels regarding the virtues of private vs. corporate optometry and other possible career paths like consulting. Again, this could give you valuable insights into what you might actually want to do once you finish your optometric education. Finally, talks, lectures, and especially conferences provide valuable opportunities for building professional relationships.
2) Never stop networking
We have all heard how valuable networking is to professional success, yet many of us, especially students, do not do it enough nor even know how to begin the process. Networking, fundamentally, is building relationships in a professional setting. It is the process of making friends, with the caveat that these friends work in the same profession or industry as you do.
As with any relationship, it takes time, openness, and some effort, and you should not build your network with only a self-serving aim in mind. However, payoffs for both parties do of course exist. Building industrial connections can allow you more knowledge of employment opportunities, help you land these jobs, create favorable trades with suppliers of clinical equipment for your practice, and so on.
Knowing people in the industry and learning from mentors also allows you to be more informed about current events and issues. This will help you to understand your potential value as an optometrist to employers, and will make it easier for you to land jobs.
3) Ace your courses
Anyone who has made it into optometry school knows what it is like to work extremely hard and achieve excellent grades in their undergraduate program. After matriculation, your numerical marks indeed no longer matter for your professional path if you are passing your courses.
This does not mean, however, that the effort you channel into your optometric classes no longer matters as well. It is just the opposite: you are now training for your lifelong profession in which you want to be as skilled and knowledgeable as possible.
An attitude of passionate hard work, perseverance, and lifelong learning in your studies may not even come across in a job interview. However, it will absolutely rub off on everything you put your time into in life, from your patients to business matters to leisure time and beyond. Eventually, the payoffs of this attitude will indeed be visible, especially in terms of your professional success.
4) Get involved
In addition to knowing the right people in our industry and learning everything necessary to become a good optometrist, one must be well rounded and used to additional responsibilities in order to thrive in the transition from education to working.
Extracurricular activities, even if not directly involved with optometry, are certainly helpful for building a variety of skills that will contribute to your professional life. These skills could range from organizing plans and finances, public speaking, networking and making connections, to many others.
If you are involved in an organization that is actually focused on optometry, you will meet colleagues who you would not have normally come into contact with and practice working with them as a team. This will put you ahead for graduation when you will likely be co-managing patients with other medical professionals.
5) Learn all you can
Ultimately, the amount that you get out of your education on the way to being a professional is up to you, not your professors. Your classes are but one fraction of many ingredients to a successful optometrist. You also have to keep up with current issues in the industry through websites such as NewGradOptometry and others, or research topics in optometry that are of interest to you online, in the literature, and perhaps in the laboratory if you choose to.
In short, you should take responsibility for all you will know and be once you graduate, and constantly strive towards your goals. In this way, you will not only differentiate yourself from your peers, but also become a great doctor in the process.