Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Florence, a wife, mom, and student on-track to fulfill her dream of becoming an optometrist.
Florence, thank you for sharing your story with us!
What inspired you to become an optometrist?
Florence: I have wanted to become an optometrist since I was about 11 years old. I came to Virginia from the Philippines and started 4th grade. In the first week of school, my 4th grade teacher sent me home with a letter telling my parents to take me to an eye doctor. I went to my very first eye exam that weekend and my vision was Count Fingers at 3 feet, which means I was very nearsighted and I couldn’t even see the big E on the chart. I got my first pair of glasses and everything changed. I remember telling my mom, “Mom, the trees have leaves.” I could see the words on the board, I could see the TV, I could see people’s faces when they talked to me. The optometrist (and yes, I still keep in touch with her) and a pair of glasses made such a huge difference in my life. Someday, I hope to be that for my patients.
Is this a second career for you?
Florence: Yes, this is a second career for me. As I said above, I’ve always wanted to be an optometrist. However, life happened after I got my bachelor’s degree in Health Science and Ophthalmic Medical Technology: I got very involved in a youth ministry, got married, had 2 kids, bought a house. In fact, I was a Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist (COMT) for 8 years before going to optometry school.
As a COMT, I worked for a practice in Virginia with 10 ophthalmologists and 5 optometrists. I performed the preliminary testing for their patients: visual acuity check, retinoscopy, manifest refraction, motility exam, lensometry, keratometry, A-scans, applanation tonometry, and many more.
I also assisted in LASIK surgeries by running the Allegretto Wave Eye-Q Laser and the WaveLight FS 2000 Laser, and helped in 5 clinical trials/studies.
What was your experience with the application process?
Florence: My experience with the application process was very smooth. I sent my application through OptomCAS with 3 recommendation letters, an official copy of my transcript and everything else that the program required. I was accepted the first time I applied. In fact, I received a call for an interview a week after I turned in my application and got accepted 6 days after.
How did you choose where to apply and where to attend? What do you love about the program you attend?
Florence: I chose Nova Southeastern University because of their 5-year Extended Optometry Program. Instead of the traditional 4 years, this program is spread out to 5 years, which means I am taking a class or two less than a normal optometry student during the first two years. With this program, I am able to spend time with my two little ones and still excel in my studies. Don’t get me wrong, it is still challenging but it is manageable. Also, NSU is in South Florida so the perfect weather is a plus!
What are your top tips for studying?
Florence: My top tips for studying are:
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Break the topics into smaller chunks or chapters so it is not overwhelming.
- Take breaks and reward yourself. For every 50 minutes you study, take a 10-minute break. Close your book and turn off your iPad/laptop. Drink water and eat some snacks. When you accomplish your study goals at the end of the week, don’t forget to reward yourself. It can be ice cream, coffee, going out with your friends, or finally watching that episode.
- Rewrite your notes or make a study guide. This will help you remember topics much better.
- Study in groups or have an accountability partner. Find classmates and friends who have the same goal as you, study with them and quiz each other.
- Learn to adapt and remember your why. You may have to study one way for one class and another way for another class. Be flexible. Lastly, always remember why you are pursuing what you are pursuing. You are studying for your future patients, so don’t give up. It will get hard but don’t give it less than your best.
You have some adorable pictures on your Instagram page of studying with your kids around. How do you juggle school and parenting?
Florence: Managing my time has been a challenging thing since I started optometry school. I never want my kids to feel like I am not there for them, so I try to make the most of my day. When I am on campus, I focus hard in class and study during breaks. When I am at home, I do what I need to do at home as a wife and mom. If I do need to study at home, I try to do it while the kids are napping during the afternoon or asleep at night. Also, I am not afraid to ask for help. My husband steps in every time, and I have some family members who help as well.
Where do you see yourself professionally in five years from now?
Florence: In five years, I see myself back in Virginia with my family and practicing full-scope optometry. A part of me wants to go back and work at the place where I used to work as a COMT for 8 years, so we will see what will happen.
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