*New England College of Optometry offers students the opportunity to pursue a concentration in pediatrics as they pursue their four-year OD degree. Students in the concentration program follow the four-year OD curriculum, but it is augmented with seminars outside of class, targeted coursework, and focused clinical placements. *
Student Reporter Sahithi recently interviewed a group of NECO students currently participating in the concentration in pediatric optometry to learn more about this program. Read more about why they chose to participate, the biggest benefits they see, and any advice they have for students considering this experience.
What got you interested in the pediatric concentration program?
Helping children with multiple disabilities through vision therapy was the reason why I wanted to become an optometrist, so I wanted to gain as much knowledge in pediatrics as much as possible to provide optimal care to my patients in the future. I liked that the program pairs students up with mentors to learn from and gain guidance. Additional seminars/courses relating to pediatric optometry also was appealing to me as well because it's extra personal education on a specialty I enjoy.
I was pretty young when I started having my own eye problems (strab and amblyopia), and I really loved working with my optometrist as she helped me to see better. I became interested in the pediatric concentration program because I wanted to be able to help other kids with any and all eye issues, just like my optometrist helped me. Plus, I've always loved working with kids, so it was a no-brainer for me to apply to the program.
I have always been interested in the development of a child's character, behavior, and health. As a future optometrist, I wanted to be able to combine my career with that focus, hence joining the pediatric concentration program.
Before I got into optometry school, I found myself enjoying “work” when kids were around. They made my work day more fun. One of the reasons why I chose NECO was because of the pediatric concentration program.
I chose this concentration to gain experience working with kids in several different ways.
I started optometry school knowing that as an optometrist I would like to work with children in the future- the concentration program was actually one of the reasons that I was drawn to NECO. I knew that the more experience I had working with pediatric populations in school, the better set up I would be for a career in pediatrics later. The opportunity to gain extra knowledge in a specific are of interest is incredibly valuable, and I'm so glad to be in the program!
I have always been interested working with kids and have been involved in many tutoring organizations since I was in high school. During that time, I learned there was a huge connection between vision and learning and wanted to be involved in that process. The pediatric concentration program allowed me to explore pediatric optometry and open up opportunities to have an impact on a child's learning experience.
In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of being a part of the concentration?
I love having a wonderful group of staff members/students who look out for you and your education. We always provide help for each other and are always there for each other in general.
There are many benefits of the concentration, but one of the biggest benefits I think the concentration offers is having and developing a relationship with your faculty mentors, other pediatric concentration students, and the pediatric residents. They really want you to do well and help you learn, they help you adapt your exam flow to work better with kids, and they are such a supportive group of people that foster an excellent learning environment.
The amount of experience you get clinically with children is by far the greatest benefit of the program. I have realized as I talked to other students that I get more exposure to children during my second and third year. Dealing with children and their vision is very tricky, and is a totally different process clinically and you can only experience it by seeing patients.
I think the Pediatric Concentration Program is a great addition if you already know that you enjoy working with kids. I found that my comfort level working with kids and parents has excelled since 2nd year. The mentorship comes from the pediatric community and you get insights from different providers, which has been such an enriching experience. I take the different tips from each mentor and apply it to my examinations. Another great benefit is networking. I got the opportunity to meet several deans at Academy and get their insights and helpful advice for residencies. I have also gotten a very well-rounded experience including the opportunity to work with kids in a hospital setting, vision therapy, low vision, and a community health center.
This concentration allows me to focus on particular skills as we learn a broad spectrum of clinical strategies in class.
I think that the biggest benefit is having a clinical experience while in school which aligns with your future goals. If you know that you want to work with kids, getting the practice and hands-on experience starting right away in second year means that you have tons of time to learn about pediatric optometry.
The greatest benefit of being part of the pediatric concentration is your access to great mentors in the pediatric community. You have the wonderful opportunity to work with giants in the pediatric field who expand your clinical thought process and increase your tool box on how to conduct a pediatric eye exam. I would also say, the learning experience from journal clubs was particularly enlightening as it teaches you how to become an advocate for your own learning. Learning doesn't stop when we finish school and we should always pursue learning for the benefit of our patients.
Any additional advice to those interested in pediatrics and/or the concentration?
It seems like a lot to handle sometimes at first when you progress throughout your education in optometry school, but the experiences and knowledge you gain are without a doubt invaluable. It's a investment towards becoming an optometrist you want to be :)
To be a great optometrist means you must be able to deal with any patient that walks through your door no matter the age. Joining this program will help you get the experience you might not get during your random clinic assignments. This knowledge is important to your future career whether or not you plan on doing residency in pediatrics or becoming a pediatric optometrist.
This is a wonderful program that NECO offers, so if you are interested in learning about pediatrics in many settings, I'd recommend applying. I encourage you to go shadow different mentors as they all have a different niche. Good Luck!
Make sure you are comfortable working with children in this environment. Although it is highly rewarding, it can also be quite challenging. If you love a good challenge and enjoy laughter then this is a great choice for you.
Don't be afraid to get silly in a pediatric eye exam! I have learned how to sing and do silly dances - even though I am technically inept at both of those things. Also, each child is unique - so be aware of how they are reacting to you. You may need to change the type of energy you bring into the exam room to match the child's. And lastly, don't be afraid to have fun. Kids are the brightest part of my day and I feel very blessed to be able to do a good service for them and to have fun while I do it! Good luck!
Sahithi is a first year student from Upland, California. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a B.S. in Bioengineering and a minor in South Asian Studies. During her free time, Sahithi likes to try out new recipes, explore Boston, and catch up with her friends.