‘I’m in my third year of optometry school…now what?’

  “After my patient left, a wonderful feeling of joy overtook me. I realized that all the hard work had paid off and I am doing something I truly love to do.”

—Bryan Mirone
Nova Southeastern University
Enduring the countless hours of lectures, the late nights of coffee runs and all-night study sessions, and the hard work preparing in the lab have all lead to this moment.

My first patient was anxiously sitting in the waiting room for her comprehensive eye exam. Sure, I had practiced my procedures and techniques for countless hours on my classmates but this time seemed different. I did not know what to expect.

What I did know is the challenges I overcame to get to this point. Moving across the country from Southern California to South Florida to go to optometry school was a huge decision that has brought many exciting, new challenges. From deciding which school to attend, where to live, adjusting to the strenuous school scheduling, and how to manage the financing of this career move have all been overwhelming to say the least.

People from all over the country and different parts of the world are combined into a melting pot that is optometry school. One pleasant experience of optometry school has been building relationships with my classmates and faculty who all have different backgrounds, cultures, religions and personalities. As a new optometry family, we all work together to help each other succeed in becoming exceptional eyecare providers.

Optometry school brings with it many unique challenges that vary depending on what student you speak to. Many students are initially shocked by intense curriculum and the amount of classes that are taken each semester. Many students were used to having four classes as an undergraduate student, and when they realize that workload doubles in optometric school it can come as an unpleasant surprise. For others, moving away from their friends and family to pursue a career they love causes a feeling of being homesick.

For me, the huge financial burden that comes with student loans was very unsettling. It was shocking to hear during orientation, that many students graduate with around $200,000 in student loan debt! I personally addressed this by applying for the Health Profession Scholarship Program. While this program is not for everyone, the Armed Forces pay for optometry school and only require a few years of optometric service. There are numerous other scholarship opportunities that are available to students. Personally, I found that many students neglect this opportunity. In addition, there are many resources available to students to reduce student loan debt as well as information to manage student loan debt. This information can be obtained by talking to your particular school’s administration and faculty.

Another fear many students have is the reality of running a small business and all the work that it entails. As students, we spend numerous hours learning about the complexity of the visual process and the signs and symptoms of various ocular diseases. However, much of what is required to be a successful practice owner comes from countless hours of research and personal experience. How can I learn all this information? How can I finance my optometric career? Will I be successful? Many of these questions can only be answered in time. Until then, I just need to continue learning and using resources that can help me make educated business decisions.

When looking into the various resources available it takes knowledge, research and word of mouth. Websites and social media have made this information readily accessible to the public. It is imperative that we as students utilize this information to our benefit. There are many sites that are extremely useful such as Vision Monday, Review of Optometric Business, and Management and Business Academy for Eye Care Professionals.

There are even Facebook groups such as ‘ODs on Facebook’ that connect current ODs through social media. These resources can provide students with ample information that is rarely addressed during a traditional optometric education, but is paramount to becoming a successful practitioner. Issues ranging from staffing, marketing, merchandising, and numerous other topics are addressed in these outlets and are instrumental to becoming a competent eyecare provider.

As I brushed off the butterflies I lead my patient back to the exam lane where I proceeded to do what I had learned in my first two years of school. During my dilated examination I noted asymmetric optic nerves, high pressures, and nerve fiber layer defects consistent with chronic open angle glaucoma. My patient was then referred to our advanced care clinic for follow-up testing. Before leaving, my patient expressed her gratitude for the services I provided her.

After she left, a wonderful feeling of joy overtook me. I realized that all the hard work had paid off and I am doing something I truly love to do. While there is so much more to learn in my next two years in school, it makes it much easier when I know this is what I was meant to do. As primary eyecare physicians we provide our communities with a wide range of vision and health services. So, while I may not know what is in store for me in the next two years, I know that it will prepare me for the rest of my life.

While my future is not set in stone, I see myself opening a private medical optometric practice where I can address the visual needs in my community. In addition, I would like to become involved in legislative issues in my state where I can lobby to expand the scope of our profession, as well as use my expertise to participate in speaking engagements to help inform current and future ODs on where the profession is at and where it is going. I think it is important for current optometrists to take an interest in today’s students for they are the future of the industry.

Often, the time spent building one’s practice and having a family can consume a lot of money, time and energy. However, it is important to help others as well as educate the future of our profession on the proper way to conduct a successful practice. Also, I feel it is important for companies involved in the industry (frame distributors, lens manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies) to take a larger role on educating current and future eyecare providers with information they can use to provide more cost efficient, practical eyecare.

On a final note, I believe patient education and disease prevention is the most underutilized aspect of health care in general. During a time of drastic health care reform and an aging population, more resources must be tapped to educate the communities of our country to reduce preventable, costly, long-term chronic illnesses. This can only become a reality if health care providers, as a whole, utilize more time and money addressing these issues. 

—Bryan Mirone

Bryan Mirone is a third-year student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is a member of the United States Army, and will work as an optometric physician in the Army upon graduating. To see how his story continues to unfold, you can follow him on twitter #bryanmironeod and post comments at bryanmironeod.com.