Optometrist: What do they do?
There’s no better way to learn about the optometry field than to be in the presence of a successful optometrist. As a recent graduate and pre-optometry student, I had a lot of questions about the proper steps to applying to schools and about the profession. Not only is shadowing highly recommended in the application process but it is also a good opportunity to know if this is the right profession for you. Although I had never shadowed an optometrist, I was almost certain that I wanted to apply to optometry school. However, after my shadowing experience I became even more confident and excited for my future.
Like many college students, I did not know where to find the right doctor. So I simply googled “nearest optometrist” and I was fortunate to find one of the best doctors on Long Island. For those of you who are new to reading his page, he is a very successful doctor working at his own practice for many years in Plainview, New York. Not only does his professionalism rush patients through the door but the busy optical, the qualified associates, and the supportive staff also allow this office to be an excellent place for interns to get a glimpse of a successful optometric practice.
Shadowing hours are typically very flexible as long as you and your doctor set up a weekly or monthly schedule. Remember the doctor is allowing you to share their time so be polite, be prompt, and dress appropriately. I was able to shadow two doctors in the same practice, twice a week. This was a good experience because I was able to learn the unique skills of each doctor. Before the start of each exam, I always introduced myself to the patient and asked for their permission to sit in during the exam. This step is very important because the patient may or may not feel comfortable enough to share medical information or speak honestly with the doctor in the presence of a student. It is not only important but respectful to keep all personal information within the walls of the exam room. If you do have questions during the exam, make sure to write down the questions and ask the doctor during your free time. Once the patient gave verbal consent, I sat in during the entire exam to see how the doctors can fix the issue the patient came in for. When the office was busy, I would run small errands for the doctor; for example, to get a pair of contact lenses, write down a prescription, or pick up a patient’s chart. A couple of times, I was able to help the staff at the front handle patients picking up their glasses or contact lenses.
Through the numerous patients that walk in and out of the door, I have seen and learned so many things that I would have never been able to experience on my own. These are a few aspects of the field I have learned:
Many people think optometrists only prescribe glasses and contact lenses. Yes, this is what optometrists do but it is only one of the many responsibilities they carry. This is a very common misconception. If there’s anything I learned from shadowing one of the most established doctors on Long Island it is that optometrist are really the doctor of your eyes. They know exactly what and how to study the health, the well-being, and the vision quality of your precious eyes. They allow you to use your eyes to the fullest to complete your day to day activities. Optometrists meet many different types of patients; there are those who come in with an emergency corneal ulcer, gland dysfunction, papillary conjunctivitis, blepharitis, diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma,or just a routine check up. As you can see, there are so many ways an optometrist examines and takes care of the eyes. Therefore, as future optometrists it is our duty to clarify this misconception.
Where do you want to work?
This may also be a misconception about optometrists. But many people believe that optometrists can only work at opticals. While speaking with one of the optometrists I shadowed, I learned that once you graduate optometry school there are many options for your career. Unfortunately, most doctors end up working retail because it is a comfortable and secure position. However, hospitals and private practices are also good options. One of the benefits of working as an optometrist is the flexible working hours. A few optometrists work in more than one practice with an ophthalmologist or in a specialty practice. There are many options so think about what kind of optometrists you want to become!
This is an evolving field.
Ten to fifteen years ago when I was growing up, I was in and out of ophthalmologist offices. I was very familiar with all the eye exams and the technology used during the exams. Today, a few techniques that were done by hand have developed into a quick click of a button. One of the most surprising improvements I’ve noticed was the electronic phoropter. Yes, it is important to learn the basic skills and foundations of eye exams but with todays technology doctors can be more precise with their diagnosis. Not only is evolving technology beneficial for the doctors but also for the patients as well. How so? With the newest slit lamp, doctors can attach a camera by the eye piece and take photos of what the optometrist is looking at. This is a good way to visualize and explain to the patients the details of their exam. All health professions are evolving with technology so make sure you are not getting left behind!
As you have read, these are only a few of the many aspects of this field I have learned from shadowing an optometrist. One of the most eye opening experiences was getting a glimpse of how to run a successful practice. Yes, it does take a lot of time and effort to build your practice. However, seeing the day to day patients getting treated and taken care of with a smile on their faces make all of the hard work worth becoming a doctor. If you are a student interested in entering this field, I strongly suggest shadowing an optometrist. Hopefully, this opportunity will confirm your decision and expand your perspectives on optometry!
Joel Kestenbaum, OD
Optix Family Eyecare Center
431 S. Oyster Bay Rd
Plainview, NY 11803