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My Class Away from School

Group of 9 OD3 students by Academy Chicago sign

I remember that scary moment I opened the email containing my first schedule at NECO right before starting my first semester. I immediately missed those years at University of Maryland when I could freely choose my schedule. Suddenly, I could no longer avoid those early morning classes and needed to follow a set schedule.

Based on my initial experiences, I had the notion that our schedules would be fixed for our first three years of optometry school. In actuality, we have the opportunity to choose elective classes in our third year. Classes range from lecture-style classes, clinic-based classes focusing on special populations, online courses, and a conference elective.

With American Academy of Optometry (AAO) Academy 2017 conference around the corner in Chicago, I decided to take the American Academy of Optometry Experience conference elective this fall. In addition to a weekly class at the College, this elective entails attending 22 hours of Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (COPE) approved credit at the Academy conference. This consists of lectures, workshops, symposium, and paper or poster presentations. Post-Academy, you write a written report about your experiences, what you’ve learned, and a critical review of some of the educational programs. I found taking this class to be a great way to dip my toes into what it would be like to attend a similar conference for CE credits after graduation.

The hardest part my conference experience was learning to identify what types of lectures I preferred to attend. The second hardest part was probably figuring out my 22-hour lecture schedule in 4 days with hundreds of possible lectures lined up. Originally I thought that lectures would be suited to my liking, but quickly learned that many talks were similar to ones we have listened to in school, and I realized that my attention span was more suited to a grand rounds-style of lecture.

A grand-rounds lecture involves several practicing optometrists discussing an interesting case they have come across in their practice. As a student, I thought this was a great way to learn about rare cases. For example, I heard that black ink used in tattoos may trigger an inflammatory eye condition, and learned how to fit a contact lens over a cornea with a suture on it. Although I may never come across cases like these, it was a great way to sit through a case presentation and try to put everything I have learned together, while adding more potential causes to our mental list of differential diagnoses.

Outside of the many lectures, there was also an exhibit hall full of companies displaying and selling their products. One booth held NECO’s very own Dmitriy Richter, also an OD3 student, and his team. Their booth displayed Optranslate, an app they created to help optometrists communicate with non-English speaking patients in the exam room. Walking through the exhibit hall was a lot of fun, as we could stop by booths to learn about products, even try some products out, and wait in long lines for samples of food (like Garrett’s popcorn, so delicious!).

I highly encourage students to attend the Academy Conference while they are in school if they can, if not for the elective course, then for the opportunity to obtain student fellowship at Academy. If you fulfill a certain number of requirements, you can attend Academy the following year for free! 

Tiffany is a third year student at New England College of Optometry. Born and raised in Maryland, she graduated from the University of Maryland in both Biological Sciences and Psychology. Her initial interest in optometry stems from shadowing and working in practices that provide vision therapy.