I will tell you, though, my residency year was the most fun I’ve had as an optometrist. I worked the hardest and most hours I’ve ever worked in my life, but man, did it fly by. And when it was all over, I didn’t recognize the same young punk who started the residency.
When I was a student intern at ICO in Chicago, I spent the first half of my third clinical year thinking I wasn’t interested in doing a residency because I thought, “I don’t want to teach,” and, “I’m tired of being in school and I don’t want to spend a year getting paid next to nothing for something I will be qualified for when I graduate anyway.” I think if many students are honest, they probably have had these same thoughts when considering a residency.
I will tell you, though, my residency year was the most fun I’ve had as an optometrist. I worked the hardest and most hours I’ve ever worked in my life, but man, did it fly by. And when it was all over, I didn’t recognize the same young punk who started the residency. My fellow residents and their family members became some of my closest friends and are still super dear to my heart to this day.
You see, I almost wrote myself off as not being good enough to do a residency as a student. As a third-year, as far as I knew, I was an average clinician who did well in school but wasn’t “residency material” because I honestly didn’t even know what residency material looked like. That changed when two of my clinic attendings each told me why they thought I’d be a great candidate for residency and that they were hoping that I would seriously consider doing one. It was a huge compliment and honor to see these doctors who I respected and looked up to reach out to me on a personal level. It was truly humbling and shattered the low-level plans I had for myself after graduation. I am so happy and grateful they reached out to me in the way they did, as I know I would not be here at SCO without their encouragement.
Residency provided me a safety net for a new graduate to see crazy clinical cases, but also allowed me to bounce ideas off of my attendings/colleagues who undoubtedly are some of the brightest optometrists in our profession today. It was the perfect learning atmosphere in which I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. In fact, I think my residency coordinators would agree that I may have pushed myself almost a little too hard, and that some days I even beat them to the office! You see, although I didn’t make very much money doing it, I loved the experiences I gained and the friendships I made. In my mind, everything about residency was totally worth it professionally and personally.
Next: Opening doors
Residency opened job interviews that would have never been open to me otherwise-which is how I got a private practice OD/OMD gig in central Iowa, where I was for about three years before joining academia again. My time in residency also exposed me to teaching third- and fourth-year students, which as it turns out, I absolutely loved working with them, sharing knowledge, and guiding them along their clinical experiences. I found a passion and talent in learning, teaching, sharing, and caring for patients that I never even knew I had. Talk about liberating and exciting at the same time-I was getting paid (although not very much) for doing something I loved.
After three years in private practice, my educational juices got fired up and I was offered a job here at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis as a full-time faculty member. I get up every day, excited to see what questions the students will ask me and what interesting cases will walk through the door that I can share and teach my students about. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Some people are made for corporate optometry, some for research, and others for private practice. But there are a few of us who are academics at heart and always will be. I’d like to publicly say thanks to Drs. Keith Tyler and Eric Baas. To pay them back (and to hopefully pay things forward), I have continued this practice of pulling aside students I work with every day who I think would be great candidates for residency and planting the idea of residency into their heads. Part of my job as a faculty member is pushing students to be future leaders of our profession. Who knows, perhaps one of my students will be one of the great future educators of our profession, who may not have been otherwise, had I not planted the seed early on.