The first two years of Optometry School are spent learning the basic science, optics and clinical skills necessary for your career as an optometrist. In first and second year, you’ll observe in clinic and go on screenings but many programs do not have you officially start seeing patients until your third year of optometry school. As a first or second year, you’ll attend a pre-clinical course that features a practice lab where you will learn the majority of your clinical skills. However, mastering clinical skills while logging hours of class time and study time can be exhausting. While many programs offer additional, optional practice lab hours, most students need all of the time that they can get to master skills that are more difficult such as retinoscopy or gonioscopy. Here are a few things to help you get the best out of your pre-clinic experience.

Be Nice to Your Lab Partners  

Building a good rapport with your classmates from the beginning of your career can help minimize the stress and build trust. Several of your critical skills such as direct ophthalmoscopy, tonometry, and gonioscopy will literally put you face-to-face with your partner and those typically require a lot of practice.

Variety is Key

Working with your friends is great, but it is important to branch out and work with the rest of your classmates. First, because you’ll be learning more – your classmates may have conditions that you won’t see in your friends. Second, because you never know who you’ll have as a clinical proficiency patient.

Vision Screenings Are Practice Gold

Many students who feel comfortable with clinical skills, attribute their confidence to the extra practice that they received doing vision screenings. While schools typically schedule vision screenings as part of a class, there are also clubs that provide screenings for local underprivileged populations. NOSA, VOSH and Lion’s Club are widespread and organize local, volunteer-based screenings. Attend the screenings and be vocal about the skills that you need to practice. For instance, if you have a retinoscopy practical ask to practice under the supervision of a second or third-year student.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Your clinical skills will not be perfect out of the gate. There are many skills that challenge you even after several attempts. Getting a skill down can be exhilarating and you may feel ready to move on. Stop and make sure that you can do that skill well again, then make sure you can do it several more times, then apply a time limit to really test your competence. When practicing a skill, always try to do it right. Doing something half way will not help you during a practical nor will it help in clinic.

Ask Friends to Check On You

It’s easy to gain bad habits when you practice and, sometimes, your clinic instructors will be too busy to watch you every step of the way. Of course, those same clinic instructors will see your errors in proficiencies and dock you accordingly. Instead of stressing yourself out, encourage your friends and lab partners to speak up if they see you doing something wrong; your friends can give you constructive criticism without costing you a grade.

Always Review the Basics

During second year you are introduced to a lot of new technical skills. However, it is important that you continue to review the basics such as VA’s and entrance tests to make sure that you don’t lose those skills come clinic time. Many schools hold a pre-clinic readiness practical that requires you to perform all, or most, of the skills that you have learned during your two years in school. Most of the time, students struggle with first-year skills simply because they’ve forgotten the basics.

Pre-clinic is definitely one of your most challenging courses during first and second year. However, it is also one of your most important courses. Perseverance and diligence in mastering clinical skills early on will help you succeed not only when you get into clinic, but also as a future optometrist.