A Letter to My First Year Self

So, it has successfully been nearly 10 months since my last Optometry school life update, and with the dawn of a new school year, I’ve found it to be the perfect time to sit back and reflect on the happenings of the past 2 years on this crazy journey toward my OD. Enjoy!

Dear First Year Hannah,

Holy cow – time has flown by since I was you. It seems like just yesterday that you moved to Columbus to start your new life, but somehow it’s already been two years. Right now, you’re excited, as well you should be. You’re about to embark on a crazy journey, where everything is new – the city, the people, even this career field that you’ve suddenly found yourself in. Every day is a new adventure, and it’s easy to fall in love with every new sight that you see. As the months and years go by, however, what was once brilliant and beautiful quickly can become commonplace and dull. Don’t lose sight of the mystery of life as you find yourself falling into the routines of graduate school. Remember, there is always beauty and wonder surrounding you, if only you slow down and open your eyes enough to see it.

You’re also a little bit scared, which is more than understandable in the face of so much change. You have no idea what to expect, and it’ll be easy for you to want to control everything in your life that you can. Resist the desire to control though, and remain yielded to the one who holds this world as surely as he holds your heart. He will never let you go.

During first year, you will begin a journey to find yourself in a new environment. You will become a blogger early on, relishing the opportunity to share your daily experiences with all those reading your words. You will attend countless meetings, primarily for the promise of free food, rather than the content of the speakers themselves. Try to listen to what they’re saying though, despite not understanding what a “Dk” is, or why it matters in contact for contact lens health – I promise it will all make sense one day.

You will grow tired of sitting in the basement day in and day out, and long for the days of patient care. Be studious during this time – the foundation that you’re building truly is important for the rest of your career. Don’t worry so much about grades though; you will survive your first A- and B+. Understanding the material is much more important than your ability to spit out random numbers on the right days.

You will eventually reach your one day of clinic every other week, and you will look up to the third years over you as optometry gods. While they have learned a lot, realize that they are humans too and really don’t have the world figured out. Trust me on this.

Finally, after one year of schooling, you will survive a second round of finals and a week of Keystone to receive your white coat. Be proud. You worked hard to get to this point, and once you’re past first year, you honestly won’t understand how you ever pushed yourself so hard for so long.

Summer will pass quickly. You will want to savor every moment of your “last summer ever”, which is wise indeed. Savor every moment. Don’t, however, resent returning to school so much though – there will be more chances to explore, if only you embrace them.

Second year, you will strive to push your body, just as you pushed your mind first year. You will bike your first century and run your first half marathon. As the time passes though, don’t forget to keep pushing yourself, mind and body. It truly is amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.

During this time, you will finally begin to learn the clinic skills that you’ve so longed for. Initially, it will be hard. With time though, running a slit lamp with your left hand and seeing a reflex on retinoscopy will become less of a concern, and you’ll finally begin to start actually seeing the structures that you’re supposed to appreciate.

As a second year, you will begin to skip classes, less out of the necessity to cram before tests, and more as a conscious decision to spend the hours of your day differently. While this may not be a wise decision, it reflects your improved ability to grasp your own study style. It’s hard, but learn to use your time wisely. It’ll pay off in the end.

After a quick Christmas break, you will return to school, eager to see your first “patients” in clinic. You will be ecstatic when you somehow finish your first exam in just under two hours, instead of the expected 3. Take your time during these moments though, rather than rushing to beat the clock. The knowledge that you could gain is far superior to being the first one out of clinic.

All too quickly, spring semester will draw to a close and you will find yourself a third year. You will go into your first official clinic rotation feeling confident in your abilities, only to have that confidence come crashing down around you in the face of real PVC patients that haven’t been pre-screened for problems. In these times, you will question your place in Optometry school, wondering if you will ever feel at ease in the exam room. Giving up and throwing in the towel will cross your mind frequently. But don’t do it – don’t quit, Hannah. You’ve come too far to give up now. It’s okay that you don’t know everything. In fact, you’re not expected to. Just do your best, and learn from all the mistakes that you desperately wish you wouldn’t make. You will make it through.

During your summer semester, you will long to be out of the classroom like you have always been before. Every spare moment, you will look for excuses to explore Columbus and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, this mindset will all too easily take a toll on your grades. It will be hard, but try to remain engaged in your studies, despite longing for adventure. The material you’re learning is important, even if you don’t always see the applications.

Thirteen weeks, six finals, 100 miles, a short vacation, and about 25 patients later, fall semester will begin. Your schedule will be crazy, and you will dread it initially, but as you take one day at a time, you will find yourself enjoying your increased patient encounters. At long last, you will start to feel comfortable giving exams and being honest about what you don’t know, though somehow your exams will take longer than they ever have before. Just accept that you will be in clinic until 6:00 every night, and life will run smoother.

And this is where you find me today. Just two weeks into fall semester of third year, the reality of becoming a doctor in a mere two years is starting to hit, especially upon registering for part one of boards today. These past two years have passed in the blink of an eye, and I have no doubt that the next two will do the same. Though I have no idea what the rest of our journey will entail, I can’t wait to continue this crazy adventure – it’s sure to be great!

Catch ya on the flippity,

Your Third Year Self