This article is part of a continuing series featuring newly minted SCCO Alumni. For applicants, these stories should help you project yourself into your future in optometry and thus, help you develop tangible ways to talk about yourself and your goals in the interview. As you read this article, try to find elements of your own story within, which will help you find words and images to articulate and tell your story come interview-time.
Note: Dr. Karsting is the author of one of our most popular articles about OAT Prep! Maybe you’ve read it: Super Advice from an OAT Test Taker!
My name is now Dr. Darlene Karsting, Optometrist! I grew up in Stockton, CA and I knew I wanted to be a doctor since third grade when my teacher told me I could either practice my handwriting or become a doctor. My handwriting is still terrible. I went to University of the Pacific for undergraduate and two years of graduate school and was leaning towards dentistry until I visited my optometrist who I hadn’t seen in probably eight years. He is just the kind of person you can instantly tell is all around happy—he loves his work, loves his patients, and had a big smile during the entire exam, telling me stories of his recent travels as he worked. I asked him about optometry and he had nothing but good things to say. I immediately checked out the three optometry schools in California online as soon as I got home. SCCO still had a couple of months before their application was due. I visited the campus and Dr. Munroe was 99.9% of the reason why I chose SCCO. I think I might have been the last person to take the OAT and the last application to get in, but a couple months later I was starting school and now all of a sudden I’ve graduated!
Optometry vs. Dentistry
I chose optometry over dentistry because I realized that in general patients visiting the optometrist smile a lot more than patients visiting the dentist. I like being in a positive environment and around happy people. I shadowed my optometrist and a couple others and loved the diversity and how every patient was different. I liked the challenges and problem solving. I studied harder than I ever have for the OAT (Apparently the blog I wrote about my super cramming is still being read), got an amazing score, and was interviewing with SCCO the following week. Everything came together like it was meant to be and I didn’t even have time to second guess my choices. Not getting into dental school the year before, which at the time was heartbreaking and devastating, was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
Fourth-year rotations were an amazing experience for me. I had a great variety of experiences and learned a ton. My first site I consider my “General family optometry & anterior segment” site. I went up to Bethel, Alaska where patients literally came in via bush planes. I saw entire
families at the same time and lots of kids. Most of the villages didn’t have running water, so contact lens compliance was a major issue and I saw plenty of red eyes. My most exciting case from this site was a patient who didn’t know he had been wearing a soft contact lens in one eye for about a year. My second site was back to school but I also got the opportunity to work at the Boys and Girls Club of Garden Grove providing children from low income families with free or low cost eye care. I learned that kids, although they can be extremely entertaining, lie all the time and to rely on objective testing. My third site was a mix of specialty low vision at The Center for the Partially Sighted, school screenings, and the optometry school’s Los Angeles site where I saw some specialty contact lens patients. During this site I saw patient who’s prescription was -30.00 D, most of our equipment doesn’t even go that high. My last rotation was my posterior segment / disease heavy rotation at an Indian Health Service Site in New Mexico. The optometry clinic was integrated with the hospital and part of comprehensive diabetic care. I learned how to look over lab results to predict diabetic retinopathy. I also saw plenty of glaucoma and trauma. It was a perfect last rotation and great staffing doctor to really challenge me and also give me the confidence I needed.
After graduation I took the summer off. I traveled to Europe, spent time with friends and family, and relaxed. Now I am currently applying for jobs. I own a Townhouse in Fullerton so I want to stay local at least for a while to enjoy the weather and activities Southern California has to offer. I am mainly looking at private practices with a good mix of patients – general eye exams, diabetic eye exams, contact lenses, glaucoma, kids…I love seeing them all. I’m also looking into mobile clinics that provide care to retirement homes and other institutions. I’m excited to see patients again (I even dreamed about diabetic retinopathy a couple nights ago…) and I am excited to continue to learn. Each optometrist I have worked with has a unique history, perspective, and skill-set and their influences, shared knowledge, and advice have been priceless. I have found multiple job opportunities from SCCO classmates and have been blessed with wonderful mentors who I can discuss the pros and cons of different positions with.
A Little Advice…
Four years of optometry school flew by but there were definitely some days, nights, and weeks that seemed to drag on forever. The first best piece of advice I got was from my Dad when he said “Kid, when they give you that Diploma that hangs on your wall it’s not going to have your GPA on it. Just learn the stuff; don’t stress out over getting As.” The second great piece of advice was from an alumnus who warned me, “Third year you are going to feel like you are failing everything, but just keep going and somehow you’ll pass.” Looking back I don’t remember what my grades were on every single test, but I do remember the time I did really bad on some test and skipped the next class to go to Disneyland and ran into Halle Berry and got stuck in a mob of paparazzi. I’m not saying don’t study—you need to study, you’re going to study A LOT but you don’t need to stress about every little test because there are going to be a lot of
them. When you do bad on a test just look back over it, figure out what you did wrong, learn what you didn’t know, and move on. I am a big fan of studying efficiently, and when my brain said “no more” and I was reading the same line 5 times I would stop and do something fun or go to sleep. You need a good balance of work and play (and sleep and eating) or you’ll go crazy. I definitely learned the most during fourth-year—hands on with patients in different clinical settings. When I came across something I didn’t know or had forgotten I would look it up, ask the staffing doctors questions, and learn it. You are paying to practice and learn during fourth year rotations so don’t worry that you don’t already know everything—just always be ready to keep learning.
I love my life and have definitely been enjoying all my free time. I hike, SCUBA dive, surf, go on motorcycle rides (my husband drives, I just hold on), paint, spend plenty of time at the beach, and even more at the pool. My professional goal is to find a place where I can grow and thrive and enjoy every day. I want to find a place where I am able to continue to care for patients with diabetes and glaucoma. My future is wide open on whether to stay in the Southern California area or move somewhere else. I plan on staying at least for the next year, and if I don’t find a fulfilling place to practice I’ll look into opportunities up north or out of state. In the future I hope to find a balance of practicing optometry while still having free time to enjoy my many hobbies and do everything I can to avoid the infamous rat race. (Pay attention in Practice Management! Keep your expenses low!). I’m open to all different modes of practice and definitely plan on doing traveling optometry to underserved areas such as villages in Alaska and overseas.
Postscript: Dr. Karsting is now employed and continuing to enjoy the Southern California lifestyle as a real-life optometrist! Congratulations, Darlene! We’re so proud of you!