Two students who have just finished up their first year and have taken the time to pause and reflect on the experience. Cynthia Palma completed her bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona and Michael Jitosho completed his at UC San Diego. Both have taken this time to write from their perspective after just completing a year in optometry school as part of the Class of 2018…
Our First Year of Optometry School
by Cynthia Palma and Michael Jitosho
After going through several months of studying for the OAT, writing my personal statement, working on applications and shadowing doctors, the joyous moment of being accepted to optometry school finally came. It was an exciting time deciding to attend SCCO. It was a great feeling to know that my hard work had finally paid off! After being accepted, all I needed to do was graduate and enjoy my summer off before starting at SCCO.
Before starting optometry school, I felt both excited but also anxious because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy road ahead but I was curious to know what exactly would be challenging for me. I knew I chose this career path because of my desire to help others, but I wasn’t sure how soon I would get to do so. I had previously talked with students in optometry schools and I had heard many different stories “It’s fun..it’s difficult…it goes by so fast.” I was ready to experience it for myself.
Having just completed my first year at SCCO I look back and can honestly say it was a great year. It DID go by very fast and I can only imagine how the next three years will go by. Looking back I wish I could have told myself not to feel nervous about the challenges lying ahead because I was able to make it through! Staying focused and taking it one day at a time really helped me to not get overwhelmed. Sure, there were quite a few nights when I had to stay up late
studying, or I had to come in on weekends to practice, but our class got along so well and we really helped each other make it through. Although I didn’t know what to expect, everyone at SCCO (professors, staff, and other students) really made my experience a memorable one.
My first quarter was the one when we had the most free time and this was when our class was able to attend the most events. We went to an Angels baseball game, Omega Delta events, and Vision Expo, just to name a few. The people I met during these times were the ones who became some of my closest friends. Another thing I was excited to learn was that even as first years we were able to take part in community vision screenings every quarter. On assigned days, a group of us would go to selected elementary schools to perform vision screenings on the students. It was an enjoyable time getting to work with the children while making sure they had their visual needs taken care of! Another memorable event for me was getting to participate in the LA Care Harbor community service event. In just a couple of hours, we helped at least 200 patients from underserved communities obtain free complete vision screenings and even free glasses. It was a very rewarding experience being able to be a part of this great cause. Last but not least, I’m very excited to be a part of an SVOSH mission trip to El Salvador this August. We will be traveling to different locations in the country providing our services to those most in need.
As the academic year progressed, our free time became more limited but that didn’t mean there was no time to have fun! In spring, MBKU holds an annual talent show and some of us first years got together to form an acapella group and performed “All About that Bass.” It was a fun experience (not to mention it was also a great de-stressor!)
A whole year later after being accepted into SCCO, I can confidently say that I’ve grown in several ways as a person aspiring to become a successful optometrist. I learned so much this past year and I have yet to learn so much more. It’s amazing to realize the potential we may have as optometrists in our patients’ daily lives, and as future O.D.s we will soon be a part of that experience.
And Now from Michael…
Prior to the first year of optometry school I had no real concept of what I was getting myself into. What were my classmates and professors going to be like? How many hours would I have to spend preparing for proficiencies and exams? Sure I talked to many upper classmates and past alums about the program but I still didn’t really know what to expect or what my life would be like once optometry school began.
All I knew for sure was that optometry school would not be an easy ride. It would be a journey and a challenging one at that. If there was one word to describe my feeling when I got accepted and started to count down to the first day of school, it would be “grateful.” I was grateful for all the people, friends, family, advisors, teachers and optometrists that got me to this point by arriving at the doorway of a life long career in optometry. I flashed back to the many nights in the library studying for exams and the OAT, along with spending weekends shadowing other optometrists and volunteering in the community. It was all worth it to have rightfully earned one of the few coveted seats that SCCO awards a select group of individuals.
Starting a new school and a new life as a graduate student, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to use the next four years as my opportunity to become a professional. I knew the next four years was my time to better myself as a person. I want to be someone others’ would call for help in time of need; I wanted to be someone that would be respected in the field among other professionals.
While my work is important to me, my family is even more important. When it comes to budgeting my time, striking the balance between the two can be difficult. Now and more than ever, I feel it is time to intentionally make strides to working towards a well-balanced life.
Becoming a health care professional is a lot like how a minor league prospect becomes successful in the big leagues by going through a steep learning curve and persevering. And just like a big league player, I will one day have the luxury of being recognized as a professional in my community. However, what is most important right now is the actual process I am undertaking—one that should get me into the big leagues. My goal is now to learn how to conduct myself in a professional manner, one that will suit my role as an optometrist in the profession.
Whenever required and until I master it, I will go the extra mile to practice my profession and improve until I can perform my duties on command with ease just like the pros in the major league do. No matter how much I prepare, just like I could never hit a 400 foot home run, I don’t expect to get a perfect score on every exam. That is not what is important to me because it is more about the process—the process of becoming someone worthy of the responsibility of taking care of my future patients.
The months leading up to the first day of optometry school, I had the normal anxious concerns, such as did I submit all the proper paperwork and did I meet every requirement on my checklist. I remember being so paranoid because I had done so much preparation to get into optometry school that I worried about overlooking even one minute detail that might keep me from my ultimate dream. I figured if I can get through just the first solid week of school, then somehow, I would be OK. Several months later, I did that and more—I got through my first year of optometry school and now I am moving on as a 2nd year student.
I have learned many things over the course of my first year. I knew I’d learn a lot about the eyes, but what surprised me was that I learned more about myself than I thought I would, and the biggest takeaway is that I could not have gotten through my first year without the support of my classmates, professors, and family. When things get tough, it is tempting to give up and stop trying. Human nature tempts us to take the easy road rather than to exert the extra energy for that extra mile. With my support system around me, I was able to stay encouraged and focused on the task at hand by reminding myself about my bigger dream: to one day open up my own practice in my late father’s footsteps and deliver the best possible eye care for my community as he once had. It was because of my cheering squad right behind me, pushing me, motivating me all along the way, that I was able to be successful this first year at SCCO. I had support who constantly reminded me of my mission and why I was here in the first place.That support helped get me through the seemingly endless long nights of studying. I know for a fact that I will need those same supporters for the remaining three years and beyond and even well into my career.
I am very grateful.