When I interviewed at NECO a little over a year ago, the upper year who gave me my tour spoke about vision screenings and how one of the best things about NECO is how early on in our clinical career we get to do vision screenings. I remember so clearly thinking, “How can a first year do a vision screening one month in?” And simultaneously, “I’m going to be so nervous!”
While the early clinical education exposure was certainly on my pro column for NECO, my initial reaction was true in that I was very nervous about them as soon as I started school. It’s now November and I’ve been on three screenings already, so I want to share my experiences with the vision screenings with anyone who’s trying to imagine what that experience is really like.
The focus of the clinical education in the first semester at NECO is entrance testing, and you start learning these tests in lab as soon as you start school. As you learn about these tests, you start to go on screenings. Each student goes on 3-5 screenings per semester in the first year.
For each screening, you meet a group of your classmates and your preceptor at school in the early hours of the morning. Together, you take a car and travel to a school (all arranged by the preceptor) in the Boston area. The screening may take place anywhere: a classroom, a gym, a cafeteria etc.
Every week we have lab, where we learn and try to perfect new techniques, while being watched and critiqued by our preceptors. These lab sessions are (relatively) quiet and have perfect lighting conditions; our “patients” are our classmates who are studying the same techniques we are and abide by (almost) every instruction we give them. This is a great way to practice, but the real vision screenings are different in meaningful ways. The lighting is not perfect and the kids may not listen and you may forget something you learned in class. But it’s real and fun and it feels important. The kids are also pretty cute.
Between the time I had my first screening to the one I had this morning, I’ve learned how to do two additional eye tests, and I know another big one is coming. I was struck this morning by how much more comfortable I felt with the kids on this screening than on my previous ones. Because I’ve been practicing, I can focus more on engaging with the kids and less on trying to remember how to do each test and that feels good.
It also feels good to be able to engage my preceptor with questions that connect what we’ve learned in class with this real-world situation. After every screening, I am able to look over what I did correctly and what I may have missed, and I can ask my preceptor what she saw that I didn’t do (a lot, of course) and why she made certain choices. To have the opportunity to think critically outside of the classroom so early on is really valuable.
I’m really glad that as a prospective student looking at different schools, I was smart enough to put my nerves aside and value NECO’s clinical education as highly as I did. As I stretch into the tough final third of my first semester of optometry school, being able to practice the skills that we’re learning so early on makes the profession I’ve chosen more real and the road to get there more worthwhile.
Rachel is a first year OD student from Teaneck, New Jersey. She graduated from New York University in 2011 and after working for a few years, pursued her post-bac at William Paterson University. In her free time, she enjoys reading and watching "The Bachelor."