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White Coats and Ophthalmoscopes

group of students on scavenger hunt

September has arrived and with it (slightly) cooler weather. More importantly, September has brought about a major change in the NECO experience: the introduction of weekly clinic assignments which involve interacting with, testing, and helping to diagnose real life patients. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get this early clinical experience. It really brings together all the elements of patient care and optometric techniques we have learned and more importantly, teaches us to think beyond what we’ve learned in the classroom. Each patient is unique and developing practical skills is more than just “going through the motions.” We must be able to modify our techniques and problem solve in order to provide the best care possible.

My clinical placement is currently at Codman Square out in Dorchester. The clinic is unique because it has a variety of health services in one place (dental, eye care, medical, etc.) and has a very large Creole speaking patient population. Even though I’m Canadian, my French is more than a little rusty.  I had my first experience using a translator, which was something that I had learned about in class, but didn’t really appreciate until experiencing it in a clinical setting.
Despite the heavy workload, September has been a month filled to the brim with fun activities and new opportunities. The new OD1s are everywhere and I’ve been actively sharing my knowledge and advice to these students (GO TO CLASS!). NECO student clubs are getting into full swing and there have been almost weekly events to help the new students get to know each other and to give us OD2s something to do other than study.  
A definite highlight of September was the NECO Amazing Race, a fun scavenger hunt designed to get OD1s and OD2s to meet and explore their city. My team Eye Eye Capt’n didn’t win the event; that honor went to V “Eye” P, Chips and Glauc, and Specs and the City. My team even rented bikes under the clever logic that biking is faster than running. Look out NECO Amazing Race 2016; we’re coming for you! One of the coolest things to happen during our mad dash around the city was meeting the “Dancing Doctor”, an anesthesiologist who street dances to raise money for charity in order to help out those that can’t afford care. This “celebrity sighting” also got our team 50 points. It was all around a very fun event that I can’t wait to participate in next year.
This past weekend also brought about a NECO milestone: the awarding of our clinical white coats. NECO differs from other optometry schools in that clinical white coats are awarded to OD2s, rather than at the start of the first optometric year.  The reason why NECO presents coats this way is because it is more meaningful getting a white clinical coat when I have already made it through year 1 of school and am starting to gain clinical experience. Parents and loved ones flew from all over the United States and Canada to attend the ceremony, and everyone, students and loved ones alike, were grinning from ear to ear over the exceptional accomplishments of the class of 2018. My father, an optometrist, also got to coat me at the ceremony, which made it even more special. 
October is just around the corner and I am looking forward to attending the American Academy of Optometry Meeting in New Orleans to present a poster with two of my peers.  I am excited to see New Orleans and I’m sure this opportunity will give me a lot to talk about in next month’s blog. 
Maria is a Canadian student in her final year of the four year OD/MS dual degree program. For her MS project, she is working with Dr. Vera-Diaz and Dr. Panorgias examining color vision and early age-related macular degeneration.