Best in Class 2012: Overcoming and Overachieving

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Students across all disciplines face obstacles today that perhaps were not as daunting 10 or even 20 years ago. Today’s graduates are bombarded with loans, debt and unsure feelings about the future in addition to the challenges of their curricula. As they seek gainful employment in their chosen industry, optometry school graduates in particular are confronted with uncertainty about what lies ahead.

In an exclusive interview with AOA president Dori Carlson, OD, Vision Monday learned that nearly 2,000 students graduate each year in the U.S. from optometry schools alone, and many fear there won’t be room for them in their profession after graduating. During her 2011 “20/20 Tour,” in which she set out to connect with students from 20 optometry schools in 20 months, Carlson learned firsthand what distresses even the best candidates. “Many expressed concern about finding a place to work after graduation, debt repayment and how to be involved in a profession they’ve chosen,” she said. In addition, opening up a private practice is not only difficult for recent graduates with no business experience; for some, it is impossible due to the financial strain. According to Carlson, optometry students are leaving school with an average of $200,000 debt. However, even as they faced these challenges, many students made it a priority to give back to their communities. Honored with scholarships, grants, and awards, they found time to volunteer at elementary schools, Veterans Association hospitals and overseas missions, donating their knowledge and skills.

So, how do the students feel? Matt Geller, creator of OptometryStudents.com, generated a space for students to voice their concerns and connect in a positive way. He believes that the challenges optometry students are facing today can be broken down into three categories: Passing school, paying back loans and going into practice. “[ OptometryStudents.com] provides a resource for everyone from pre op to new grads. We provide students with the unique resources and guides to excel.” An OD candidate himself, Geller believes that optometry students should be confident about their chosen profession, and should be acknowledged for their hard work in such a challenging field. “We can make the profession better by allowing students to be recognized,” Geller said.

As the class of 2012 forges the path to their futures as ODs, schools around the country have selected their star pupils to be spotlighted for their success and dedication to eye health. This special section, underwritten by an unrestricted grant from Essilor USA, brings you an impressive and determined group of individuals entering the field of optometry—the Best in Class 2012. 

–Catherine Wolinski, Assistant Editor