Matt Geller, OD, and fourth year optometry student, Jessica Chan, OD/s, sat down at the SECO conference to chat about how student ODs can best prepare for their optometry career.
Networking is a must, says Chan. “Obviously, you have to have good grades, but it’s not always about your grades,” she argues: “Having that connection [with people] goes a lot farther than just getting good grades.”
One aspect of this is getting involved in optometry outside of school. Chan edits for OptometryStudents.com, and also works at a private practice off campus. “It’s been really good to build my skills and learn more about practice management,” she says. She started as a technician, and started a vision therapy program at the practice.
Juggling this many commitments can be a challenge, but it comes with many benefits. “It’s a good break from school, and a good way to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom,” says Chan. It can also improve job prospects, whether it’s in terms of getting recommendations from doctors you’ve worked with, or sending out emails to ODs you’ve met at conferences—even if your part-time gig can’t hire you as a full optometrist, you’re expanding your community of future colleagues, and that’s incredibly important.
Furthermore, expanding your involvement in optometry outside of school can help you decide what your values are as an optometrist. Do you have a particular setting in which you’d love to practice? What kind of role appeals to you? Do you know where you want to take your career? Being able to answer these questions is a huge help in keeping you focused.
“Juggling all of [those commitments] can be hard when you have boards coming up,” Chan acknowledges. When asked about what her biggest challenges were while in school, she laughs. “Part one, but—no one talks about part two and three,” she jokes. “When you’re taking part two, you’re on your externship, so that was actually really hard to study for.”
So setting a schedule for yourself is really important, she advises. “I do the old-school calendar way, where I plan out what I’m going to do each day, and week by week.”
She has advice for those in each year of grad school, too. As a first year optometry student, “Don’t be scared to go to the conferences! I think I was really intimidated in the beginning, because I was like, I don’t know anything, and I’m going to walk into this and be totally overwhelmed. But people love talking to new students!”
As a second year optometry student, it’s important to build on that foundation. “Being more confident in your path, and figuring out what you want to do” will set you up for your future as an optometrist. In your third year, take advantage of that, and explore the different specialties that you’re interested. “And pick good externships that will help you define that,” she says. “It will really help you form the different perspectives, help you see different patient populations and different modes of practice.” In your fourth year, take advantage of all your externships and make the most of it!
Chan has started looking for jobs and interviewing, and she’s applying for her license using all the resources that are available for optometry students (shoutout to NewGradOptometry!). “I’m also going to take a short break and go to Iceland,” she laughs. “You’ve got to treat yourself!”