Clinic at NECO: A series of unique experiences

Student wearing a white lab coat, sitting in eye exam room.

Clinic at NECO: A series of unique experiences

One of NECO’s greatest strengths is its clinical education.

Rather than rotating students through one single clinic affiliated with the school, NECO partners with a vast network of clinics and hospitals in a city known for its world class medical care. Students embark to more than 150 of the hospitals and clinics to gain diverse learning experiences.

Within the first weeks we are doing screenings in elementary schools

Instead of waiting until the second or third year of school to begin seeing patients, NECO students are placed in patient care situations during the first few weeks of school in the form of screenings at Head Start and elementary schools across the city. At first this was intimidating—what did I know about patient care as a first year? But under the guidance of attentive and patient preceptors, I quickly learned not only how to conduct a school screening, but how to best work with children.

The clinical journey ramps up in second year

The summer after first year, NECO students receive their white coats and their clinical journey truly begins. As a second year, I was assigned to a community health center. In fact, my first three rotations were assigned to community health centers in different neighborhoods throughout Boston. Each assignment was completely different—serving diverse populations with distinct socioeconomic statuses, languages, and health concerns.

Specialty clinic experiences at NECO, hospitals, the VA, homeless shelters, and private practice

My current clinical assignment is one of the two NECO sites: NECO Center for Eye Care. There, I see lots of students and faculty from NECO and BU, as well as many contact lens patients, including specialty lenses. This is my first time working at a specialty clinic, though it is not the only kind NECO offers. Some of my classmates have been assigned to VAs, private practices, homeless shelters, specialty clinics, and hospital-based care. Though there are several types of clinics I have not yet experienced, fourth year bring more flexibility with clinic placements.

Fourth year rotations from Alaska to China but also in specialties like contact lenses, low vision, and pediatrics

Fourth year at NECO offers students the opportunity to explore clinical experiences of their choice. We rank our top choices among three categories: Veteran’s Affairs, Specialty Sites, and Elective Sites. These three sites plus one community health center are all three-month rotations that comprise fourth year. Though the sites are assigned based on GPA, almost all students get their first or second choice for each category. Not only do students get to travel to places as far as China, Hawaii, and Alaska, we also get to pursue specialty clinics that most interest us.

I am especially excited about one of my assignments: NECO Special Populations. This is a Specialty category assignment that exposes students to various specialty sites. For example, I have the opportunity to rotate through contact lenses, low vision, pediatrics, vision therapy, and special needs clinics. I will most likely pursue primary care after graduating, so I chose this rotation to give me a broad set of skills that I can take with me.

Experience with electronic health records, using interpreters, and various protocols

Each clinical site requires students to quickly adapt to a new location, new protocols, and new preceptors. Almost all of them use a different electronic charting system, so we are now better prepared for wherever we end up after graduating. NECO students are all familiar with using interpreters, and most of us have learned how to do eye exam in Spanish by now because our patients are from all over the world. The diverse ethnic backgrounds of our patients expose us to various diseases that target specific populations and expand our cultural competency skills.

Clinical care structure prepares you for your career success

I strongly advise all prospective optometry students to look into the structure of clinical care at each school they are considering. From what I have seen, NECO’s unique clinical education is in a class of its own. I am currently a third year and have already practiced in four different clinics and am looking forward to working in four more before I graduate. Starting at a new clinic each semester is certainly challenging, but the flexibility and openness to the experience we gain is valuable as we prepare for our careers.