Class of 2019

On May 19th, a beautiful Friday afternoon, 41 future optometrists formally received their white coat, significant by virtue of the fact that they now have clinical privileges allowing them the ability to provide direct patient care.  They worked very diligently during their second year of optometry school to receive the recognition bestowed upon them on this day.

Master of Ceremonies, Assistant Dean Dr. Ed Bennett welcomed the students who, based upon a very common personality trait, have been termed the “Class of Harmony”; “Harmony is defined as unity, agreement, friendship, and fellowship and this certainly defines the Class of 2019.  This is a class of exceptional leadership and maturity, and that has been very important this past year.  Some of you came to UMSL making a career change . . . thank you . . . we greatly benefitted from the talents you brought to our College as well as your engagement and leadership, and you will bring these qualities to our profession upon graduation in May 2019.”  It was also noted that, with the assistance of Director of Student Services Nick Palisch, the Class of 2019 had a large number of exceptional Student Ambassadors. They in turn had a very significant impact on the recruitment of exceptional students for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.  Likewise, eight female leaders within the Class of 2019 started a national organization, the “United Optometrists Association”(UOA).  The UOA has the mission to solve inequality within the profession of optometry, so that optometry remains an excellent profession for optometrists of every race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, and status as a protected veteran.

They were welcomed by Dean Larry Davis, followed by a thoughtful and humorous “Encouraging Words” presentation from Associate Clinical Professor, Dr. Ed Jarka.  Of course, the highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of the white coat.  Every member of the class was recognized individually and received their white coat in front of what could have been a record number of loved ones at the Millennium Student Center.  Each clinician was recognized for their accomplishments, which were often numerous due to the amount of professional engagement within and outside of the College of Optometry, and received their white coat from Assistant Clinical Professor, Dr. Tom Landgraf, and Associate Clinical Professor, Dr. Katie Boland.  Dr. Angel Simmons then led the newly honored class members in the reading of the “Optometric Oath”.  President-Elect of the Missouri Optometric Association, Dr. Tom Cullinane, provided some encouraging words to the honorees and also provided an MOA pin for the white coat.

A nice annual tradition is to have a member of the fourth-year class (i.e., the Class of 2018) provide some beneficial advice. Taylor Dahms (’18) was selected for this presentation and among the many pearls that she provided were the following recommendations from her class:

1)  “Clinic can be frustrating for quite a while. It is common for specific tasks to feel foreign and for time management to be difficult. Although it is easier said than done, you all should try to be patient with yourselves. Don’t freak out! Try your hardest to take a guess at what you think is going on BUT 3rd year clinic is basically training wheels! If you have no clue at all, but know it’s probably not normal just describe it. No preceptor has actually been scary to approach. They have all been helpful and nonjudgmental! They know we feel clueless sometimes!

2)  See every patient you can. Every patient encounter you pass up is a missed opportunity at becoming a better clinician.

3)  Don’t be afraid to challenge your preceptors with questions. Ask why they made the diagnosis they did, why they picked the follow-up schedule, why they didn’t run a certain test, etc. It will be really helpful to understand the thought process once you have to start making those decisions on your own.

4)  Every moment is a chance to learn something new. You should not be afraid to ask questions, request time with a preceptor or use your textbooks to get up to speed with things. There’s a first time for everything, and being up front about wanting to grasp more information will only help you learn more. Additionally, be sure to share your knowledge. If a fellow classmate is confused about something, you should speak up and contribute what you’ve learned so far.

5)  It is common for interns to experience their own individual struggles. What is important to remember is that every intern has felt the same feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed. Maintaining a positive attitude will rub off on your classmates and will turn you into experienced optometrists.

6)  My last piece of advice is both the simplest but also the most profound, at least for me. Focus on the patient. Every aspect of what we do and who we are should flow from them. If you focus on the needs of your patients you will get it right nearly every time. Your patients will love you and your colleagues will respect you. Most importantly, everything else will take care of itself.  This is the reason we all chose this profession.”

The afternoon ended with a reception, celebrating these 41 honored clinicians.  This was, of course, followed by the lights of what seemed to be hundreds of cameras, as loved ones wanted to preserve one of the most significant moments in one’s emerging optometric career.

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