Student Life

Life as Optometry Students: SCCO’s Tiffany Chen and Marie Braukmann

One of the most common questions  we get from pre-optometry students revolve around one central theme: What is it really like to be an optometry student? What will my day-to-day life be like? Will I ever have time for something fun? Well, good news! We found some students to answer those questions and more! Marie Braukmann, soon-to-be 2nd year, and Tiffany Chen, current 3rd year and SCCO Student Association President, give us  insight into their lives as OD students. But before you read their answers, let’s get a little background on them…

Tiffany Chen, Class of 2016

Tiffany Chen, Class of 2016

Tiffany, a true Southern California girl at heart, was born in Chino, raised in Diamond Bar, and then moved to UC San Diego for undergrad. Now back in Orange County, she says, “I never thought I’d stayed this close to home for so long, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else!” When deciding on a career, Tiffany explored all of the typical health professions and narrowed her sights on optometry: “Eventually I realized that no part of the body was suitable for me but the eyes. Learning about the eyes fascinated me and I always thought of vision as an amazing sense to have. “Optometry won me over when I talked to my optometrist and I saw the passion he had for the profession, even after 20 years of practicing. His love for what he does and strong bonds he forms with his patients was something I wanted. He encouraged me to take the same path and talked about how great of a profession it was for people—particularly females—who wanted a both raise a family and live comfortably. I was sold.”

Marie Braukmann, Class of 2017

Marie, on the other hand, is quite literally “not in Kansas anymore.” Having grown up in Overland Park, Kansas and attending the University of Kansas for undergrad, moving to California has been quite the journey! Marie discovered optometry in a very personal way, when a family member went to the eye doctor for a simple annual exam, and the optometrist saw something of concern that led to a diagnosis of an systemic illness that he didn’t even know that he had. All this was revealed from just from looking at the blood vessels in the back of his eyes! “This made me realize how important optometry is, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of this profession and help people in the same way.” Tiffany Chen, Class of 2016:

1) Describe your typical day in optometry school. Go to school around 8am. Usually classes are about 2-4 hours a day. Then about 2-3 days a week you have labs so after class, we get an hour for lunch then we might have to go to lab. Let’s say we’re done by 4pm. That’s when we head home, rest/relax a bit, go online, go on Facebook, and start studying around 7-8pm (assuming there is no exam the next day). This is usually light studying until midterms come. Usually the first 2-3 weeks we have more time to hang out with friends, go out, etc.

2) What has been your favorite course in optometry school? This one is really tough to answer. I am really interested in contact lenses and thinking about possibly specializing in that field (since it could involved prosthetic eyes too), so I have to say Cornea and Contact Lens I and II have been my favorite courses. A lot depends on who teaches your class too. It could be the worst topic but with the most entertaining professor, and that could be enough to make you love that class.

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Tiffany Chen at the White Coat Ceremony for Class of 2016

3) What type of academic support does your school provide? There are plenty of scholarships that students can receive from the school. Most are chosen by the dean, but some other ones are one you write essays or propose some sort of idea for. There’s also the health loans (not sure from the school or government). I’m probably not the best to ask about this because our financial adviser takes care of almost everything.

4) What are the most meaningful extracurricular activities/conferences you have attended, and what have you learned from them? I am the president pro-tem, aka the class mom, for the entering class. Basically my job is to help the first years transition into optometry school. One of the best things I’ve done while in school because it’s amazing getting to meet everyone, and being the primary go to person for the first years.

5) How do you balance optometry school with a social life? Time management is SUPER crucial in school. I personally just plan my week the weekend before. You have to plan when you want to go in and practice, when you need to study, etc. On top of that you don’t want to burn out so you have to let loose every once in awhile. I have a loose rule that I try to do something fun once or twice a week to keep me motivated to continue. Sometimes it gets really tough but it’s so great to have a great support system at school to get you through it. I usually set aside a few hours on friday or thursday night (or both) to just relax. It’s all about how you time manage. Some of my classmates go out 3-4 times a week…others never go out. It’s really up to the person but as long as you are focused on what you want to achieve that week, go ahead and have fun on the weekends!

6) Enough about school (for now), what do you do for fun?

Of course, we go to DISNEYLAND! It’s nice to have classmates who work at Disneyland and can take you in for free! 🙂

I break my “free time” into two categories. The first is my free time between exams and clinic, during the quarter. This consists of mostly the weekends and the first few weeks of school before exams and proficiencies start. These are the times I explore with some of my classmates. Although I grew up near school, I’ve never really explored the area as much as I should have so any chance we get, my classmates and I will go do something fun. In fact a few of my classmates and I have a bucket list of all the things we want to do and places we want to eat before we graduate. Some of the things we’ve already done include going to a murder mystery dinner, being part of the audience on The X Factor, going to a Cirque du Soleil show (FYI the show was Iris, which was very fitting), white water rafting, and taking a spontaneous trip to Joshua Tree to watch a meteor shower at 12am. Of course, we also do low- key activities like going hiking and watching movies. One of my favorite things to do, which is also a great stress relief after a hard week, is painting my nails! Many of my classmates and I will get together for nail parties and we’ll just do fun designs on each other.

One of my favorite cakes my sister and I made…it’s a BEAR CAKE!

The second type of free time for me is holidays and breaks, when I don’t have to worry about school. This is when I do most of my traveling because I love exploring new areas. My boyfriend and I actually have a pact to travel to 30 places by the time I’m 30. We’re only at 14 places right now so we have many more places to go! Even if I’m not going with him, I always try to find time to travel. Last November, I went to Taiwan, and last summer I went to Paraguay with some classmates for a medical mission. During the times I’m not off in a foreign land, I usually am home, taking a million pictures of my dog or baking with my sister.

7) What were the top reasons for choosing to attend your optometry school? I want to practice in SoCal, and very interested in private practice. SCCO is very private practice geared and also it’s great to be able to stay in the area and network with doctors that could potentially offer me a job or help me find a job. Also I am really interested in possibly specializing in prosthetic eyes, and I believe SCCO is one of the only programs to have this in clinic. Some factors I considered were where were my friends and family. I currently commute from home so I save a ton of money just by doing that. Plus I have the optometry school support system, but then I also have my friends nearby so they’re there for me too.

8) What has surprised you the most about being in optometry school? All the tests optometrists actually need to know how to do! I’ve gone to the optometrists since I was in 3rd grade and I want to say I’ve always had standard exams but I definitely entered school surprised at all the extra tests done in a basic exam that I never got. You’ll come to understand why optometry school is 4 years when you enter because there are so many procedures, diseases, drugs, etc. to learn.

9) What advice would you give to incoming optometry students in order to maximize their success? Plan ahead. Really start thinking about what you want to do. Do you want to specialize? Where do you want to practice? These things matter because if you want to specialize in something your school is really strong in, you want to start talking to the professors who specialize in that field and get a better understanding of everything. Also GET INVOLVED! Super important that you are well rounded, and I’ve always been the type to be involved so it’s just such a better experience in school. And lastly, and probably most importantly….enjoy school! Yes, grades matter, but only to a certain extent. That classmate of yours who gets straight C’s and pass all 3 parts of boards will still have the same degree as you. Ok yeah it matters for residencies, so I’m not telling you to be a straight C student but if you get a B here and there, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes you have to sacrifice that A for your own mental sake. Don’t burn yourself out…it’s really not worth it and you shouldn’t have to. I am doing really well in school but I don’t study nearly as much as many of my classmates who do just as well. Learn to relax! Lastly: GOOD LUCK! Be yourself during interviews, and really go with your gut instinct when choosing schools. One school isn’t perfect for everyone so make your own decisions, and don’t let others influence you.

Marie Braukmann, Class of 2017:

1) Describe your typical day in optometry school. Classes start in the morning and end after lunch, with an hour off for lunch. We are on the quarter system, and have around four labs a week.

2) What type of academic support does your school provide? Students who have excelled in specific courses are paid by the school to tutor other students. We can get tutored as much as we would like, and it is very helpful. Teachers also make themselves available for office hours frequently.

Marie (lower right) and classmates at the Omega Delta AirBand Night.

3) What are the most meaningful extracurricular activities/conferences you have attended, and what have you learned from them? I enjoy attending the private practice club meetings, the SVOSH meetings, and the OEP club meeting. The private practice club helps us learn how to better manage and run our own office one day through lectures by successful optometrists, the SVOSH club informs us of opportunities in which we can travel to help out people in need using our optometry skills, and the OEP club teaches us about behavioral optometry and vision therapy through guest lectures.

4) How do you balance optometry school with a social life? I am part of the fraternity, Omega Delta, and they organize many social outings during periods of time that are not as busy. I feel like all my classmates are good at balancing their school work with their social lives, and this makes it easy for me to do the same.

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Marie performing Bollywood dance at this year’s MBKU Talent Show

5) Enough about school (for now), what do you do for fun? My favorite thing in the world to do is dance. I have danced my whole life, and love exploring new forms of dance. I recently learned Bollywood dancing, and performed my routine for the MBKU talent show. I am also a master scuba diver, receiving my master scuba diving license during second-quarter of this year. There are some great dive trips that leave from Ventura if anybody is considering going diving! I also enjoy traveling! I’ll be spending my last summer off travelling through Europe with my father!

6) What were the top reasons for choosing to attend your optometry school? I hope to practice in California and having warm weather all the time while attending school is definitely a plus.


Marie and classmates on Purple Thursday, an SCCO spirit day.

7) What has surprised you the most about being in optometry school? How much I love my classmates. We are not graded against each other, and this is conducive to a more friendly learning environment.

8) What advice would you give to incoming optometry students in order to maximize their success? Find people that you like to study with or at least that you can connect with to ask questions. Get a tutor immediately if you feel like you possibly could use one, and don’t be afraid to ask the professors questions during their office hours.

Marie Braukman at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2017

Marie Braukman at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2017

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