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Clinic as a 2nd Year - My Experience at Charles River

NECO students at Charles River!

After a restful winter break, my classmates and I once again find ourselves deep into another packed semester. Spring semester of second year is similar to last fall: 6 classes, 3 labs, and of course, clinic once a week. While many of my classmates were moved to other clinics for this semester, many of us, myself included, remain at the same site for the whole year. I was placed at Charles River Community Health Center, a clinic that provides medical, dental, optometric, and pharmacy care to Allston, Brighton, and the surrounding neighborhoods. The building itself is relatively new and spacious, full of healthcare professions and other student doctors. The optometry clinic consists of 5 exam rooms and a full optical shop, so typically 5-6 NECO students are placed there each semester.

When we first started clinic back in September, my classmates and I were constantly swapping stories about our clinic experiences. We all started with different clinical expectation, preceptor expectations, clinic equipment, and patient population based on where we were doing our clinical rotations. 

At Charles River, we second years were slowly eased into full exams. We began with a day of orientation where we learned the clinic rules, the computer system, and how to work all the equipment. The first few days of clinic, I only conducted case history and entrance tests with a helpful fourth year student in the room with me, and scribed for fourth years during more complicated exams. We also rotated through working in the optical shop, where we ordered, neutralized, and dispensed glasses. Working with real patients is distinctly more difficult than practicing with classmates in preclinic, and time management is a valuable and challenging skill. Gradually, I worked my way up until I was conducting almost the entire exam by midterms.

Charles River Community Health Center
Charles River has challenged my language skills as well as my clinic skills. There are many Spanish-speaking patients as you may expect, but we also see people from China, Haiti, Taiwan, and Brazil, just to name a few. In fact, I’ve probably seen only two or three patients who had English for their first language! My Spanish language skills have improved immeasurably since starting clinic here, and I had to learn how to effectively use an interpreter over the phone. This experience has taught me to be more direct and intentional with the words I choose when communicating with patients. 

One of the most enjoyable things about Charles River is the opportunity to work with upperclassmen, my classmates, and preceptors. I went into clinic feeling like I knew absolutely nothing about conducting an exam, and the upperclassmen and my preceptor have been incredibly kind and patient with me. I am learning so much from them about patient care and clinical pearls. If I don’t have a patient, I often will observe another student’s exam, watching how they interact with patients and giving me a different perspective. After each day of clinic, our preceptor comes into the student room and we informally discuss the cases for the day and talk about treatment plans. 

In such a demanding optometry program, it’s impossible not to caught up in the stress of classes and grades. However, each week, I look forward to working in clinic where I can have some hands-on learning, be mentored by a preceptor, and interact one-on-one with patients. Each clinic day is challenging, yet refreshing. Being in clinic reminds me why I chose this profession and what more I have to look forward to in the years to come.  

Sarah is a second year student from Auburn, Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University in 2016 with degrees in Psychology and Spanish. She chose to pursue optometry after shadowing at a practice in Auburn and volunteering at a free eye clinic. During her free time, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and cooking.