Spreading Their Wings
Educators witness a transformation in students from first year to graduation.
MICHAEL BACIGALUPI, O.D., M.S., F.A.A.O.
Recently, as I walked to a parking garage on our campus, I came across four baby ducks led by their mother. They took up residence next to the canal that separates our garage from the classrooms. The ducks were so adorable that I snapped a picture of them with my smartphone.
Later, I began to think how those ducks grow so quickly. Within a matter of weeks, these cute yellow ducklings venture out with their mothers. Next, they’ll develop feathers instead of cute, yellow fuzz. Shortly thereafter, they will swim on their own. Before I know it, they will be fully grown adult ducks, and I probably won’t see them again. Understanding this cycle, I can’t help but draw the analogy between their rapid growth and maturation to the optometry students I see.
Students enter our program with amazing potential from undergraduate institutions across the country. But, it is during an optometry program where they really grow and develop. They reach and strive for the lofty goal of becoming highly skilled optometrists. This journey is not easy. As I like to say, “If it was easy, everyone would be a doctor.”
As faculty members, we witness changes in our students beginning in the first year of optometry school. Students are faced with intense course loads and unexpected volumes of information. “This is not like undergrad” or “I didn’t know that I would have to study so hard” are often heard on campus during first year. But, soon, students begin to handle these challenges.
Most actually don’t realize that the second year of optometry school is more challenging than the first because they have honed their study skills to such a level that they can manage. Second year is filled with information that students can truly apply directly to patient care. It is inspiring to see them work so hard to understand anterior segment disease, ocular pharmacology and glaucoma management.
The next milestone is at the end of this second year in the “Preclinical Proficiency Exam” where they demonstrate mastery of all optometric patient care procedures. Many hours and late nights are spent perfecting retinoscopy, biomicroscopy, tonometry, gonioscopy, ophthalmoscopy, etc. But, once mastered and demonstrated, students are ready to begin their clinical experiences.
What do ducklings and optometry school students have in common?
Everyone remembers the first time the door shuts, and they are one-on-one with a patient in an exam room. In fact, most optometrists remember their first patient throughout their lives. Dean David Loshin, O.D., M.S., Ph.D., loves telling the story of his first patient: He says he couldn’t understand why the patient’s acuity didn’t improve when he refracted their prosthetic eye. I, myself, remember my first patient: a 46-year-old presbyope who needed reading glasses. It was the first time I actually was able to determine a near add power because everyone I had practiced on was in their early 20s.
Before we know it, optometry students are away on their externships, which cause another metamorphosis. I marvel each year as I witness this time of intense clinical training transform students into our optometric colleagues. They experience patient care and garner the stories of a clinician. Presbyopes don’t surprise them anymore. They have seen hundreds of diabetic patients and feel confident in their treatment regiments.
Soon, graduation is upon them. We celebrate their accomplishments, honor their achievements and wish them success. The remaining hurdles: completing their licensing exams and finding a place in healthcare.
We definitely miss our students when they are gone, and, like the little ducklings on campus, we wish them well and hope that they return one day to the place where they “grew up.” OM
DR. BACIGALUPI, A FREQUENT AUTHOR AND LECTURER IN THE AREAS OF PRACTICE MANAGEMENT AND STUDENT AFFAIRS, IS THE ASSISTANT DEAN FOR STUDENT AFFAIRS AT NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF OPTOMETRY. FROM 1995 TO 2005, HE FOUNDED AND GREW A PRIVATE OPTOMETRIC PRACTICE IN RURAL TEXAS. SEND COMMENTS TO OPTOMETRICMANAGEMENT@GMAIL.COM.