5 true pieces of advice first-years hate hearing


Advice can come in many forms and from many sources. Shelby May, offers a third-year student's perspective on what it is like receiving advice as a first-year.


The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.


Shelby MayBeing a third-year optometry student means being an upperclassman who gets asked for advice-and has gotten me thinking about advice.

As a greenhorn to any field, few things are emptier and more infuriating than the advice we receive from more experienced friends. During my first year of optometry school, plenty of well-meaning third-years stroked their grey beards of experience and prattled out enigmatic phrases that meant nothing to wide-eyed me. I lacked the perspective that comes with experience. I could not stand it and swore I would not give advice that could not be used.

Yet here I am, with all the perspective, admitting these not-so-helpful hints were totally right.

Check out Shelby's 5 true pieces of advice first-years hate hearing here


1. “Find a hobby outside of optometry, you will need it.”

My initial reaction: Oh, really? A hobby? Cool. I will get right to it.

I got an email saying my first semester is 26 class hours a week, excluding practice and homework. My entire life has been a carefully choreographed dance of science classes and appropriate volunteer/extracurricular work to get into this school, but yeah, I am sure I could pick up cross-stitch, competitive cup-stacking, or something.

Related: Making New Year’s resolutions, optometry style

Why it is still true

This was the first piece of advice I simply balked at, and I wish more than anything I had not ignored it. It is ridiculous when you’re standing on the firehose end of school to imagine taking on a single extra task-much less need it.

What I didn’t understand was the hobby was not for my resume but for my mental health. I didn’t do very well at self-care in my first semester, and my grades showed it.

In the second semester, I debated locking myself in my room to improve my grades. My friends and family pointed out how unhealthy that sounded. Instead, I restructured my study schedule to include short coloring breaks and chats with well-adjusted humans who were not optometry students. My grades came up significantly, I felt less miserable overall, and I remembered I liked eyeballs.

Side note: Mental health is a dangerously underemphasized need for medical students and workers everywhere. An OD wanting to single-handedly save the world’s vision is great, but there needs to be a healthy OD in the cape before any of that can happen. Take care of yourself, and seek out support when you can’t do it on your own.


2. “Never stop studying.”

My initial reaction: Now wait one second. Are you people using time machines?

My original plan was study until I understand or pass out, whichever comes first. I am supposed to find a hobby while simultaneously studying 24/7. How am I supposed to do both?

Related: Students can make a difference with advocacy

Why it is still true

This is a context misunderstanding. I think what most people mean is, “Don’t binge and purge your studies. That is not learning, that is being a parrot.”

Undergraduate study tactics take on a binge-and-purge layout because it is not necessarily vital to remember music theory when you are a biology major. Compared to optometry school where everything matters, the source material is constantly changing, and there is no way to fully understand one subject without understanding the last. That was a shock to me, fresh out of a liberal arts school.


3. “You will be practicing, and it will suddenly just happen.”

My initial reaction: Look, this is science, and science is not magic, so tell me how to do this. Practice is a slow improvement type process, and there simply are not enough hours in my day to trial-and-error this skill into existence. I get it, you have to study for boards and I am a whiny first-year, but how about just telling me you won’t help me instead of making up a terrible excuse?

Related: 3 steps to success in clinical practice

Why it is still true

Oh boy, this phrase got me fired up more than once. Retinoscopy, gonioscopy, binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy (BIO) fall under the umbrella of, “I don’t know what happened, but I am not terrible at this skill anymore.”

You’re sitting with your partner in the labs following every instruction to a T, but there is nothing to see because you’re new to the concept. No one can help you with mental multitasking. At some point, usually halfway through a very frustrating session in which you stare blankly at a reflex for 10 minutes; push the three-mirror gonioscopy lens on so hard the patient passes out; or hold your patient’s eye open way too long, everything clears up and you can suddenly complete the task.

I say this phrase all the time now to my friends in classes behind mine. They hate it. No one wants to hear the answer is practice, but it is the only thing that helps.


4. “Oh, I never do (insert skill). There are more efficient ways to do that.”

My initial reaction: So, you are telling me I practiced binocular balance like it was dogma, but you don’t even use it on the elderly? You don’t do fused cross-cylinder (FCC) on everyone? Where were these shortcuts in the lab manual?!

Related: 5 tips to effective, efficient staff meetings

Why it is still true

Okay, giggles aside, looking back at this reaction makes me feel like I was such a brat. No, clueless first-year Shelby, you do not have to do an FCC all the time, but you must know how to perform it, what normal is, and be able to know when it is needed.

First-year me wanted a script detailing how to conduct an eye exam. It took lots more frustration and careful shadowing of different types of exams to realize how wrong I was.


5. “You will be fine.”

My initial reaction: Thank you, oh wise predecessor. I was concerned about my capabilities and how I am going to make all this happen, but your lukewarm assurance has entirely cured me of my worry.

Why it is still true

There is no real clarification here. You will be fine. No matter what happens. That is a truth that always applies but always falls flat for those who need to hear it.

You don’t want to hear how it will be fine when you are panicked or feeling inadequate. You will probably land on your feet and pass the test, class, semester, or year. Some may not, and they will be fine, too. Today’s failure may change the direction you are headed, but it doesn’t hinder the possibility of tomorrow’s success.

Now, isn’t that uplifting?

Read more from Shelby May here

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