Want to know a little secret? Graduation is the most fun you’ll ever have, and post-graduation is the most confused you’ll ever be. Where to practice, what to practice, who to practice with, who to practice for, and what to call yourself all become questions of paramount importance.
Most of these things you’ll figure out quickly. For some, corporate is the way to go. Pay off your loans and look good doing it. For others, residency holds the keys to their future, and with it the prospect of academics and specialty niches. For others still, the family practice beckons them home, ready to bring a new generation and legacy to the business. For some it might be straight-up denial that four years have come and gone and you still aren’t good at scleral depression. Oh wait, that’s just me.
Regardless of your post-graduation plans and where your battered suitcase chock-full of entrance tests take you, one way or another you will end up meeting other optometrists.
When you introduce yourself, be prepared to add an addendum to your name. No matter whether you’re practicing on the corner of Roosevelt and State, the shores of Miami Beach or the vistas of Vancouver, there’s one thing you’ll get asked over and over again.
What school did you go to?
It’s as defining a characteristic as any you possess, and one that speaks volumes about how you were brought up in the world of optometry.
I’m currently knee-deep in a pediatric and binocular vision residency and it has already afforded me more opportunities than I had dreamed possible. The exposure I have received in every facet of the profession has been, no pun intended, eye-opening. This is where I would make an exophthalmometry joke, but it seems too easy.
One of the lecturers who spoke to the new residents a few months ago described very eloquently the bond you feel with your alma matter versus the one you feel with your residency school.
The school you attended for your optometry degree is your blood family, she said. I can’t help but agree. I feel like we all share a chromosomal connection that spans the centuries and unites all ICO graduates. Even the classes that were a few years ahead or behind me all kind of mesh together and we become a motley crew of brothers and sisters. If you know the feeling of getting a pink addendum for Dr. T’s notes in your mailbox the week before the final, or did the arm dance with Dr. Messner when learning about nerve palsies, you and I are connected in some visceral way.
In contrast, the school you do your residency with is your married family, she said. You chose them, they chose you. There is cake.
My ICO genes have served me well.
ICO taught me so much beyond the scope of optometry. It taught me how to be a clinician, how to be a professional, even how to politely cut someone off when their case histories took an awkward and unexpected turn. As a student, I remember thinking every detail was the most critical I could record. Now as the provider, I realize that my earnest younger self was perhaps a touch too eager.
I remember thinking the world was run the ICO way, and while the ICO way has served us all very well, it’s worth noting that there are in fact different ways to skin a cat, or rather peel an epiretinal membrane.
Even things as silly as pronunciation (the infamous Midwest/East Coast gonio/GOH-nio debate comes to mind) are small reminders that just because we learned it one way at ICO doesn’t mean the rest of the world runs that way.
However, having that ICO connection is somewhat invaluable. I can’t tell you how many text messages have been sent with the hopes that someone else remembers what the second line of the third paragraph was in Dr. Frantz’s strabismus notes.
Of course, learning new ways of doing things, exploring new ideas, and meeting new people is critical in all aspects of life.
But there’s something about family, isn’t there? The people who witnessed your childhood tantrums (first year Ocular Anatomy), teenage rebellions (not wearing tights or a tie to clinic, just once), collegiate supremacy (fourth year return to campus) and who ultimately saw you venture into sure-footed adulthood (OD following your name as you crossed the stage).
It still feels a little awkward to introduce myself as Dr. Meiyeppen, but it’s getting easier with every patient. Signing off on a chart no longer feels as terrifying as it first did. Even the longer white coat is starting to feel more natural, although it grazes the floor and makes me look like I’m playing dress-up.
I hope to see you all soon at various optometry events in the future–and if someone out there knows, please teach me what the exact pronunciation of gonioscopy is so we can end that feud once and for all.