The right way to study

I was super frustrated when I was taking my biochem class in undergrad. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to memorize these metabolic pathways, I just couldn’t get it down. I was in a study group with two of my friends and classmates and although they were trying their best to break it down for me, it still wasn’t making any sense.

A few days before my that biochem final, it finally hit me. My way of studying for my classes needed to change. Memorizing for the sake of memorizing rather than understanding was not going to work anymore. I was already on course to fail the class and I was getting disheartened.

As I sat in my room, studying on my own, I found myself staring and staring at my notes trying to make sense until finally, it clicked. It was a subtle shift for me but one that impacted the way I studied after that – I realized that if I made a story out of the Krebs cycle and whatever else we were covering that quarter, it suddenly made sense. Compounds could be modified only in a specific chain reaction in order to achieve the desired end result. There was a ‘story’ of sorts in the biochemical reaction where things had to follow in a step by step fashion in order to work. For some reason, translating this cycle into a ‘story’ made it make sense to me for the first time all quarter and I was able to pass the class easily after excelling on the final exam.

In high school and early college classes, it was really a lot easier to just memorize a bunch of things and let it all back out for exams and move on. However, optometry school has courses and concepts that continue to build upon previously learned material. Straight memorization will not cut it and you’re going to be required to put anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, behavioral health, psychology, and more all together in order to help the patient in your chair. The sooner you can solidify your foundation in basic concepts, the easier it will be to integrate it all later when you’re faced with increasingly complex patients in front of you.

But does that mean I recommend you should make a story out of your material when you try to study? If it works for you, great. If not, try something else. I had classmates who re-wrote their notes, color-coded, and organized their thoughts in a more pattern like way. Other classmates thrived in study groups and being able to bounce off their learning points with others. I personally needed a quiet, clear space to concentrate most of the time, but found study groups or office hours to be helpful when I needed extra clarification.

The point is to recognize early on what doesn’t work and figure out what does. You don’t want to go through your whole optometric education, come to boards, and realize that the fundamentals aren’t solid and you were just repeating facts this entire time rather than understanding why. You’ll get much more out of your education this way.

Happy studying!

Dreading Clinic?

I knew heading into the last 10 weeks before graduation that I would be working with one of the most difficult attendings on campus. I had heard of classmates going home crying after clinic because of how they stupid they felt, like they weren’t enough, like they shouldn’t be there.


After one day working with him, I felt the same. I didn’t cry, but I did feel grossly inadequate in my skills, in my thinking, in everything I did with regards to clinic. And that sense of low self-worth was affecting my other clinic days. Where I had gone in confident in my skills and thought processes, I was now second guessing every single thing I was doing.


Looking back, I can see why that doctor did what he did. In his own way, he was pushing us to stand up for why we were doing what we were doing. He wasn’t questioning us just to make us feel stupid. He was questioning us to make sure we had the right foundation and mentality to approach clinical care, to point out where our gaps were and make sure we recognized them too.


At the time though, it certainly didn’t feel like that, and I dreaded that one day a week working with him. Each week, I mentally kept track of how many more times I’d have to endure the mental humiliation and discouraging comments. I suffered through it and just sucked it up until the session passed, knowing after graduation, I’d no longer have to work with him.


I wish that I had a better coping mechanism then. This was before the importance of mental health was more globally recognized. This was also before I knew how to better stand up for myself and vocalize my needs, before I knew how to articulate that this was not a conducive way to my learning, especially with just weeks left before graduation.


So when one of my recent students came to me saying her next rotation was at a clinic she was not looking forward to, I had to stop her and ask her why – because I did not want her to follow in my footsteps of just sucking it in, going to clinic to do what she needed to do, and not get the most of her learning and education.


We both knew she’d be getting a lot out of the clinic she was going to. It was another community clinic where the population would challenge her understanding of systemic health and its connection to the eyes and vision. We knew she’d be challenged by the language barriers of that population, with the increased difficulty of being able to get the information she needed to do her exam and convey the results and appropriate management in a way the patient could understand. And like me, she’d be ending her spring before graduation with an attending whose energy she knew she didn’t match well with.


So I gave her these tips as a way to center and refocus. I suggested that she get a bottle of essential oils that calmed and soothed her and smell that each day before she left her car to go into clinic as a way to ground her and calm her down before the craziness of clinic started. If she didn’t want to do that, I suggested she write down her why for what got her motivated in pursuing optometry in the first place – to help other people – and keep that reference close and handy whenever she started losing her motivation and confidence in clinic. If she didn’t want to do, I suggested she find some other inspirational quote or prayer to put on repeat in her head and focus on that when she was feeling low. I don’t know what, if any, of these methods she chose to do, but in the end, she graduated and is now working in the real world.


The point of this though was to find out what way or ways are best for you to keep you going when the days are rough. If you’re facing waves of exams or boards coming up, or attendings or clinics that are outside your comfort level, or patients or colleagues who push your buttons, it’s good to have some tools ready to get you centered and focused.


Put together that playlist of feel good, upbeat music. Have that list of inspirational quotes ready for motivation. Keep that essential oil or crystal or touchstone close at hand.


Start building that toolbox now so that when you need it later on, you don’t get lost in the overwhelm and start heading down a downward spiral that’s really hard to get out of.