Come for the Course, Stay for the Castles

You did it! You survived first year!

Now what? You have the entire summer free to do whatever you want, so now is great time to cross seeing Germany off your bucket list. Every summer, The Rosenberg School of Optometry, in conjunction with the UIW study abroad program, hosts a 10-day trip to Heidelberg, Germany.

UIWRSO is the only optometry program that offers a study-abroad experience, and this trip is exclusively available to students who just completed their first year. In Germany, optometry students complete their Public Health course, normally taken in 3rd year. The course is instructed by Dr. Foutch, a UIWRSO professor. Taking this course, unlike taking other summer courses, does not cost extra- it is already covered by tuition as if you were taking it your third year. Your only out-of-pocket expenses are travel fees, and of course tours in Germany!

Even better, you don’t have any limitations on what you do before and after the 10-day trip. You can start saving money now and plan an extra trip before or after Germany. This past year, my friends and I spent two days in France before departing to Germany. After, we visited Italy, and Spain. With good planning, options are limitless!

The trip begins in Germany with a traditional German welcome dinner at one of the local restaurants. For those of you wondering, there are plenty of vegetarian options available. Then, you take the scenic route back to your housing. Housing is a brisk 15 minute walk from the main shopping plaza and is provided by the dorm-style rooms at the European Study Center (ESC) in Heidelberg. The building makes you feel like you are a local. It was once home to a German family and resembles typical German living conditions. There is a kitchen available on each floor that is available for use by the students as well as a laundry room. The first floor of the ESC is where you’ll report for your Public Health course. The class meets once a day, and classes range from 1-2 hours, depending on the tour scheduled for that day. Additionally, the evening always has free time scheduled.

Be prepared to walk! When I say you’ll be living like a local, I mean it. German streets are full of locals who either walk or bike to their destinations and you will too. At the beginning of the trip, you will be taken on a tour of the vicinity. On the tour you will be shown where to go to get groceries, shop, eat, send packages or take out money. Everything is primarily walking distance, however, you will also have access to the bus system. You will also be given a crash course in German culture and language to be better acclimated.

Tours are scheduled frequently and include trips to the Heidelberg castle, as well as other cities such as Ladenberg, Speyer, Schwetzingen, Neckarsteinach, Allen, and Frankfurt. Other tours include a visit to the Carl Zeiss Optics Museum, Schwetzingen gardens, as well as a boat tour.

On your free time you can explore the town (it is very safe at night), go shopping at the shopping strip, eat lots of gelato, listen to live music, try out new bakeries and restaurants, and even hike one of the tallest peaks of Heidelberg, which was my personal favorite.

The course concludes with a farewell dinner on a boat on the beautiful Neckar River.

The Germany Study Abroad program is a perfect way to wrap up your first year and the best way to take advantage of your last free summer. I guarantee if you ask anyone who went they will say it was the best decision they made- I know it was mine.

Vision First

“Vision First”, that was the theme for World Sight Day 2019. Taking place on the second Thursday of October, World Sight Day is a global event that shines a light on blindness and vision impairment. Every year, Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity (SVOSH) plans one of the largest events to raise funds for this foundation.

The event, titled “Dining in the Dark” takes the challenge of vision impairment and serves it on a dinner plate, literally. It is a unique sensory awareness experience that gives guests a first-hand glimpse into the lives of those with low vision. Guests are invited to attend a formal dinner where the entire culinary experience will be in the dark. As dinner is served, guests put on blindfolds and the lights are turned off in order to experience navigating a simple meal with no vision.

The event takes place in the top floor of the Rosenberg Sky Room located at the University of the Incarnate Word Broadway campus. Before putting their blindfold on, guests can enjoy the magnificent skyline view of Downtown San Antonio, listen to live music, and participate in a silent auction.

This opportunity is open to RSO students, faculty, family, and the public. The servers for the night consist of optometry students; this year, I was one of them. After I helped serve the dinner, which consisted of a side salad, lasagna, and garlic bread, I walked around the tables I was assigned to and assisted with anything the guests needed. Some requests included helping someone find their water, or their fork. My personal favorite task, however, was confirming to one guest that he did, in fact, finish all his food.

The event had live music, brought to you by “The Spectacles,” a band made up of RSO faculty and family, a silent auction, and a raffle. Over 150 tickets were sold with 100% of ticket proceeds being donated to Optometry Giving Sight (OGS).

This year, SVOSH raised over over $5,000 for OGS.

Carolyn Smith, 2019 SVOSH President, shares:

“With a mission designed to inspire the development of ’caring and compassionate health care providers’, I believe we here at RSO have a unique niche. Dining in the Dark is not just a fundraiser, but an opportunity to bring the RSO community together in recognition of World Sight Day- a day dedicated to raising awareness for the blind and visually impaired”.

There is no better example of community and service than Dining in the Dark and those who helped make it possible.

A huge congratulations goes to the SVOSH team for the impact they have made in many lives. We are so proud to play a part in the progress being made.

“Restoring sight can turn a life of poverty, into a life of opportunity. For many people, that’s vision for life.”

-Optometry Giving Sight

Students prepare to serve blindfolded guests

How Did We Get Here?

The application process for optometry school is a long and overwhelming endeavor. I began thinking about a career in optometry junior year in high school. I knew there was an entrance exam and an application, and that was the extent of my knowledge about the application process.

Recognizing that the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) was science-based, I chose to pursue a degree in biology entering college. I was involved in my school’s pre-health organization and one of my favorite events that was held was an annual preview day one of the local medical schools would host. It included application tips, a student panel, a tour of the facilities, and my favorite part: the mock interview. One of the most important opportunities for you to stand out as an applicant is your interview. Yes, your personal statement gets your foot in the door, but your interview is where you bust the door wide open.

TIP #1: Do as many mock interviews as you can

The amazing thing about mock interviews is it is a low-pressure interview. You can get the nerves out early and become familiar with the kinds of things you will get asked. In total I did about four mock interviews, and I learned so much through each one. Each interview was a completely different style; I have done mock individual, partners, and group interviews. The group interviews were the most interesting because you were able to listen in to what other people had to say about certain topics. I was asked personal questions, light-hearted questions, and even presented with ethical cases in which I had to state what action I would take.

Not to worry, I am here to assure you that the interview at UIWRSO is different, and even enjoyable. The interviewer wants to get to know you and answer any questions to help you determine if this program is a good fit for you. It is more of a conversation than a high pressure question and answer setting. Your visit to UIWRSO is more about you assessing the program for fit, and has been constructed to introduce you to the culture. The interview itself is one-on-one with a faculty member and is closed file.  The faculty  interviewing committee consists of current professors who you will encounter throughout your career at UIWRSO.

TIP #2: Make a timeline

Since elementary, I have always carried my trusty planner detailing my schedule, events, and to-do list. That being said, I know not everyone has to write down their day-to-day schedule; however, you should have a timeline outlining your plan of action for the years leading up to optometry school. There are many resources that share a detailed outline of what should be done and when. I had Pinterest boards full of helpful timelines to keep me on track towards optometry school.

Everyone’s journey to optometry school is different. Some take gap months, years, or graduate early. Modify your timeline to whichever way fits your path.

TIP #3: Shadow different optometrists

It’s great to shadow your local optometrist, whom you’ve been going to since elementary school, but I encourage you to span out and reach out to different optometrists and shadow as many as you can. Shadow optometrists in different settings: private practices, retail optometry, group practices, M.D./O.D. practice, etc. There is so much variability in each patient exam and each optometrist practices to his/her specific method; being able to take in as much expertise from each one of them will definitely give you more knowledge coming in. Also, let’s not forget you will be needing a letter of recommendation from an optometrist so it wouldn’t hurt to mingle with a couple and get their support. Even if you don’t ask for a letter from them, it is nice to have someone who has been through optometry school rooting for you.

Good luck and happy planning!

Class of 2022 beginning their journey to becoming O.Ds.

Hi, Nice To Meet Me

Second year students attend a school vision screening

“Hi, it was nice to meet me,” says my dad jokingly in his thick Spanish accent every time he is introduced to someone. My dad: the reason why I was surrounded by medicine growing up. My father studied medicine in Mexico and moved to the US as a newlywed to complete his residency. My mom did not know any English, and my father was barely conversant. Imagine the shock of getting married and moving to a new country to start a family while learning a new language! I am forever astonished by my parents and what they accomplished. I am the youngest of three; I was born and raised in Laredo, TX, a border town with a population of around 250,000. Some of my best memories are of racing my siblings down the long hospital hallways on roller chairs while we waited for my dad to get off work, here sparked my interest in medicine.

I had been to the optometrist several times but never thought twice about a career in optometry. Early on, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, I just did not know what kind.

Fast forward to high school. I attended a public high school that offered a Magnet program for health science, meaning we took extra health-related courses in order to jump-start our career in medicine. Junior year was the year everyone looked forward to; it was the year you had a clinical rotation class where you shadowed different clinics and practices in order to find the career that fit you.

After rotating through several clinics, I panicked when anyone asked me which one I liked the best. “To be honest, none,” I replied, as none of the options really appealed to me. Halfway through the year, and I still had not found the career for me. It was not until I rotated through my very last office which was the optometrist’s. Needless to say, something clicked that day.

I set out for college with my eyes on optometry and the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). I studied Biology at Oral Roberts University and midway through my senior year, accepted my seat in the University of the Incarnate Word Rosenberg School of Optometry (UIWRSO) class of 2022.

I am now a month into my second year at UIWRSO and look back with appreciation for my family and for all the guidance I have had in my life that resulted in me being here today.

If you were to ask me what the best decision I have made (thus far), choosing optometry and UIWRSO would arguably be my top answer. Why? Keep following this blog and as the weeks unfold the answer will become obvious. I am grateful for this opportunity to share my story on this blog and continue to share my experiences at UIWRSO.

As my dad says, “It was nice to meet me!”

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

As you may have heard, optometry school can be rather costly, especially at a private university. But as the age-old phrase goes, “you get what you pay for”. I believe the value of my education is priceless, and the graduates before me have proven that paying off student loan debt is feasible, given the starting salary of an optometrist. 

But, one way to combat the ever-growing financial debt of optometry is by working as a student. RSO provides many job opportunities to students, which include library desk staff, student affairs office, tutoring, laboratory teaching assistant (TA), and many more. 

I refrained from obtaining a student job until my second semester of optometry school, because I wanted to get a handle on course-load, and figure out the best method of studying for my success. As of the third-year fall semester, I proudly was offered the position of teaching assistant. 

Watching first year students practice Retinoscopy.

Every year, roughly 30% of the third year class is hired to work in after-hour labs, supervising underclassmen, and helping them master their skills before taking their final clinical proficiency. I really honor and respect this position, because I remember how helpful the TA’s were when I was just learning a new skill in the beginning of my optometry coursework. 

Watching second year students practice Goldmann Applanation Tonometry (GAT).

Since starting this position, the most rewarding experience is helping a first- or second-year student who is struggling with a technique and then finding out that they passed the checkout or proficiency for that skill. I believe a vast benefit of being a TA is being reminded of the skills learned years prior and serves as a reminder of the potential uses within the clinic setting.