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From Class to Clinic to Community

Michelle checking the eyes of a classmate with a phoropter. I am practicing subjective refraction on my classmate during our free time at the pre-clinic.

When applying to optometry school, I put two requirements high on the pedestal: choosing a school in a city that suits the lifestyle I want and one that will also provide me with the best, most hands-on clinical experience. Prior to optometry school, I had the privilege to work my summers at a private practice where I preformed case history, pre-tested patients, and booked appointments.

Although I was immersed in an optometric setting, I was worried that I was not gaining as much experience as other students, such as those in the United States. My classmates arrived at NECO with varying degress of clinical experience: from job shadowing to being an optometric technician at a specialty clinic that allowed them to scribe and take visual acuities. Because of this diversity of experience, I wanted to ensure that whatever optometry school I chose would provide me with the immediate clinical experience and tools to get me up to speed with other experienced students. After doing my research and interviewing at NECO, I knew that they would provide me with exactly what I sought out and then some.  

Here’s a taste of the hands-on experiences you’ll have during your first year at New England College of Optometry:

Clinical Skills Labs

Every week, first years have a lab at the new Clinical Training Center (CTC) located on Commonwealth Ave, where we get to put what we learned in lecture to action. As a hands-on person myself, having this lab every week is great for giving me another resource for studying concepts learnt in class. The CTC opened just in time for my entering class to use and I cannot imagine not having it during my first year! As a first year, we get right into performing and understanding entrance tests during the first term. That way, we are able to apply our knowledge to real-world settings in vision screenings. Additionally, with the CTC being equipped with a variety of optometric tools has exposed me to new technology that I have never seen prior. I really appreciate the school’s push for introducing the latest technology at the CTC as the exposure will help me post-graduation. We’re already beginning to learn subjective refraction, which is how we find out what prescription to give the patient, and slit lamp, for examining the eye microscopically.

Pre-Clinic

Alongside the CTC, there are also two Pre-Clinic labs located on the main campus. The sheer amount of space for hands-on learning allows my classmates and I to come in whenever we feel the need to work on certain skills. We aren’t confined by time and are never short of any equipment, something that’s really alleviated my stress before labs and the clinical skills exam. Practice makes perfect!

Vision Screenings

My favourite hands-on experience as a first year are taking part in vision screenings! For each screening, a group of students attend a school in the Boston area where we provide vision screenings through performing the entrance tests (and more) to school-aged children that we learned about in class. Not only are vision screenings a great way to get additional practice that you aren’t performing on your classmates, but they also helped me grow personally. Prior to optometry school, I wasn’t very experienced with children and when a young patient arrived, I was always nervous that they wouldn’t comply. The vision screenings have taught me how to be patient, give good instructions, and that its okay to be a little goofy on the job! How else are you going to get a 5-year old to sit still while you shine a light in their eyes, right? Sometimes your classmate might even have to attract your young patient's eyes to the other side of the room with a little animal puppet so you can get an accurate reading. For the most part, the screenings are held in classrooms, gyms, or the cafeteria where you may have to put away the chair and crouch in order to get eye level with the children. Vision screenings have given me a new found confidence in adapting to unfamiliar environments.

Observations

In addition to the vision screenings, NECO provides each student with two scheduled observations where you are able to sit in and observe NECO alumni at their own practices. I find this very valuable as it gives me a taste of what it’ll be like after I graduate. Students also have to book themselves for two other observations with whomever they please. This experience has helped me with networking and getting to know the practices in the Boston area.

Providing hands-on experience for first years is something that made me feel really good about accepting NECO and it still resonates with me now. Not only has the hands-on experience helped me excel academically by providing real-world application, but has also taught me valuable traits not only for optometry, but for general aspects of life as well.

Michelle
Michelle is a Canadian student in her first year. She graduated from University of Waterloo in 2018 with a BSc, minoring in Biology and Geography & Environmental Management. Her passion to pursue optometry stems from her experience working at a practice, as well as volunteering her time to blind and partially sighted youth. During her free time, Michelle enjoys running, photography, and exploring new places and foods.