My optometry school career is coming to a bittersweet end. I am finally in my fourth year at UIWRSO which means a number of things: going on externships, taking part 2 and 3 of NBEO Boards, and saying goodbye to a lot of friends! You guys have been a part of most of my journey, and I will continue writing this year, so you can see what a fourth year extern experiences!
At UIWRSO, students in their fourth year go on to their externship sites to gain more knowledge in optometry, their skills, and network with many other doctors around the country. At the beginning of third year, you get to “choose” your sites based on your rank in the class. You write down your top choices for sites based on your preferences in site (VA hospitals, contact lens/private practice sites, etc.) and the location around the country. I wanted to go to a VA hospital to gain experience in posterior segment, as well as get a taste for private practice, so I chose both as my top choices, and luckily, I got them! You also get to spend a semester at UIWRSO as a fourth year, continuing your education from your third year clinic rotation.
I was very nervous to start the first rotation. Going from third year clinic, where you get almost 2 hours for an exam, to a VA hospital where you get about 35-40 minutes for a complete exam, was very intimidating at first. I chose a site where I was the only extern there so I could become more independent. Some sites have room for only 1 extern, while others have the capability of having several (sometimes 7 or 8 depending on other schools’ participation). Clinic started around 9:45am at the third year clinic, now I had to be ready to go by 7:30am for my first patient at my new site!
I’m not going to lie; the first few weeks at my rotation were hectic to say the least. I was very intimidated by the amount of patients I saw, my new preceptors, and all the new things I needed to learn at the site. The electronic medical record (EMR) system was very different from RSO’s, but I picked it up quickly. I also had to learn how to cut down on my exam time, which the preceptors helped me with. I also had access to a lot of technology, including OCT and Visual Field testing (which I had in the school clinic), but also new equipment like an anterior segment camera, B-scan, and fundus autofluorescence! It was very exciting to learn about these machines and be able to interpret their scans.
During the externship, you also have other responsibilities as a student. You are required to write about 2 cases that you personally saw at the site. You also have a chance to provide feedback to the externship director about your preceptors at the site. It gives you a chance to let them know what more they could do to enhance your learning experience at the site. Your preceptors also do an evaluation of you, indicating what you are strong in and also some areas of weakness and how to improve. It’s a great learning experience. Even though I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to criticism, everything they wrote was true and I took it to heart. By the end of the semester, I’m glad to say, my preceptors thought I improved 100%. It is a good feeling to know your preceptors want you to do well.
Although I am only finished with my first rotation through my fourth year, I can tell you that I have learned so much more than I thought I ever could. Being in class and learning from a book is one thing, but actually experiencing it and seeing it in a patient, as well as managing it, is another. I have grown leaps and bounds from this first experience, and know I will continue to grow through my next two sites. Stay tuned to hear about those in the near future!