Clinical Experience Shapes the Educational Experience

An optometry student relates how her exposure to clinical care is preparing her for future practice.

By Jessica Capri, BS

When I was applying to optometry schools, I had one overarching goal in mind: find the school that will shape me into the best possible eye doctor I can be. When I interviewed at the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), I felt like I had found the school that would allow me to attain this goal. ICO’s clinical education program was what blew me away. What better way to become the best doctor you can be than by seeing as many patients as possible while you are in school?

ICO’s program is set up so that students begin working with patients during their first year. Not every school offers this, and I feel that it has been a crucial part of my education thus far. Each year brings something different, and, as I continue through the program, the complexity of the patient base increases.

During the first year, ICO students are eased into the clinic by shadowing a third-year student and helping the third-year perform aspects of the eye examination. In the second year, two second-year students are paired together: One acts as scribe and the other performs the exam. Each week the students alternate these roles. During the third year, students perform the entire comprehensive exam alone. By this time, students are also beginning to learn more about the specialties within optometry by shadowing in areas of the clinic such as pediatrics. The fourth year is when students begin externship rotations. ICO students complete four rotations, one at the Illinois Eye Institute and the other three off campus. Students are required to complete a certain number of hours in each specialty in order to learn more about each and determine their interests for potential residencies.

Throughout each step of the clinical experience, students are assigned to an attending doctor who can answer their questions and make sure they are performing procedures correctly. The attendings change each quarter, so students can learn from a variety of practicing doctors.

Because ICO is located within the city of Chicago, we have a very diverse patient base with a wide range of difficult cases. This is another aspect of the clinical education that I love because not every city or school offers this atmosphere. As a student, I have had cases so complex that there is a chance I may never see them again outside of the city. However, if I do, I will be prepared, thanks to ICO.

I am now a third-year student, and only 2 years away from walking across the stage at graduation. Although I know I will continue to learn throughout my career in optometry, I will leave ICO feeling confident in my ability to treat patients in both a full and specialized scope of practice. I have learned through my time at ICO that my interests lie in ocular disease and low vision rehabilitation. I am excited to pursue these interests, complete my clinical education, and see where the coming years take me.

Jessica Capri, BS
• Illinois College of Optometry class of 2019