Most optometry programs run on a pretty tight schedule that tends to leave little room for negotiation. Unfortunately, most students do experience some sort of unexpected circumstances during their studies. Last year, my school, the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry, was hit by Hurricane Maria, which caused serious damage in terms of the school’s physical structure and our school schedule. It was a tough year, but I did learn a few things to hopefully, help others cope with unexpected situations. 

Most optometry programs run on a pretty tight schedule that tends to leave little room for negotiation. Unfortunately, most students do experience some sort of unexpected circumstances during their studies. Last year, my school, the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry, was hit by Hurricane Maria, which caused serious damage in terms of the school’s physical structure and our school schedule. It was a tough year, but I did learn a few things to hopefully, help others cope with unexpected situations. 

Be Prepared

Whether it’s stocking up on batteries, backing up your notes or setting a little extra money aside to pay for damages, having a plan for emergencies can save your life both academically and literally. I am very grateful to the AOA and the American Academy of Optometry who had generously provided relief funds and travel grants so that students were able to cover some of the damage to their belongings.

Don’t Procrastinate

Many students tend to leave important assignments off until the last minute. Sometimes it’s just laziness but sometimes we are just too busy. If you are operating under less than ideal conditions, however, being timely becomes key to success. For instance, because Maria destroyed the power grid, we suffered from regular power outages. No power meant no internet, which also meant that if you didn’t have an assignment done or hadn’t studied for that exam were pretty much out of luck.

Be Compassionate

The aftermath of Maria affected the entire student body and the faculty, but even without a major catastrophe, everyone has their own struggles. Before getting frustrated with a given situation, try an approach that is focused on patience and compassion.

Ask For Help

Most people don’t like asking for help. But when you are struggling, it is best to approach professors, tutors, and counselors early. The worst anyone can do is say ‘no’.

Don’t Be Afraid To Step Up

If you have time to help other students in a stressful situation, go ahead and try. Taking on a leadership role or becoming a tutor can have unexpected benefits later – just don’t do more than you feel comfortable.

Take Care Of Your Physical and Mental Health

Staying healthy in optometry school is hard under the ideal circumstances. Worse, there are some students and even professors who are all too happy to share their experience of sleepless nights, multiple jobs, and ramen-based diets. While we are fueled by a ‘go hard or go home’ mentality, we should also take a minute to see what that mentality is really going to cost us in the future. A lot of us are overachievers, but it is also important to slow down and find a balance in order to avoid injuries and mental burnout.

While my situation was rather specific, these tips can apply to a variety of personal and environmental situations. Surviving Maria taught me many lessons, including the importance of community and planning. Above all, it taught me that most of us are tougher than we think. I plan to carry these lessons into my future optometric practice by establishing an emergency plan, maintaining a work-life balance and staying involved in my community both in Puerto Rico and at home in California.