Why Optometrist

My classmates and I undertook a project last semester on the public’s knowledge of the term “Optometry” or “Optometrist”. I already know, by firsthand experience, what kind of answers we will be getting even without documenting it. Nevertheless, it was a great experiment because it opened my classmates’ eyes on how the public sees optometrists, and it allowed us to educate those whom we were able to interview.

Now, I don’t exactly know if being made aware of the perception and knowledge of the public on optometry made my classmates feel good about our profession. Sure, we got a good laugh on their incredulous answers, and we probably made a mental note to do our best to educate the public. But it got me thinking, what are we really doing, intentionally, to educate the public on what is optometry and what is an optometrist? More importantly, if we really want to educate the public, then why are we so scrimpy on referring to ourselves as optometrists? How can we make the term popular (in the Philippines, that is) if even amongst ourselves (not me, I can tell you that!) we’d rather use “eye doctor” than optometrist?

Think about it. Dentists are “teeth doctors”. They wear the “dentist” proud and don’t trifle with terms like “teeth doctor”. Optometrists are eye doctors, yet we don’t use it as if there is something to be ashamed of. Is there?

Perhaps the reason why most optometry students prefer eye doctor is because of the perception of optometrists, in general. But how will we change the perception of optometrists if we don’t use the term and practice clinically, as doctors?

We have observed that the general public equates optometrists (generally) to those who only sell glasses or measure eye power. They don’t see that refraction (and selling glasses), which optometrists are known for, constitute such a small part of primary eye care and clinical optometry.

This public perception on optometry is almost unique in the Philippines. In other countries, optometrists are well-respected doctors. They are equal with ophthalmologists. So why isn’t it so here? I think (and I could be wrong) optometrists have settled for selling and just doing refraction, “labo-linaw” – the very thing the public knows about us. Only a small percentage of optometrists practice clinically. And so, when we tackle the issue of public perception, is it accurate to conclude that it is how it is because it is what most of us have been portraying all along?

What’s my point? We’re still optometry students, and hopefully in a year, we will graduate and become licensed optometrists. Do we want to change the perception of the public and educate them? Then I advocate using the term Optometrist. Make it popular. Wear it proud. More importantly, I advocate practicing clinically, because it is in this area where we truly fulfill being eye doctors. Otherwise, if we stop at selling glasses and refracting under a strict chair time, we perpetuate the perception that optometrists are more salesmen than doctors.

The onus is on us, future optometrists, to elevate the standard and practice of optometry in the Philippines. It is so much easier to just sit back and be indifferent or apathetic towards this reality. This is the curse of the “millennials” – wanting change but not acting on it. My appeal is not so that we will feel better once we’ve educated the public. No, it is so that optometry will survive in the future. If we do not take ownership of our would-be profession, somebody else will. And yes, it starts with the simple act of calling ourselves Optometrists, proudly. That is why.

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To my classmates, on our sembreak

Going home from school today was an interesting learning experience. (It never stops!!) Today was the second to the last day of a school semester that has been, in many ways, painfully educational, humbling and satisfying. We think of school as a place of learning, and rightly so. We do not merely learn skills. If we’re attentive enough, we learn life lessons. How to respond when we make mistakes, or when we fail, get disappointed or find ourselves in unfavorable circumstances, however, is something that is only learned through experience. School schools us, basically, when we fail a quiz or bungle a presentation, because at the root of such tasks it presumes whether due diligence was done. In school, the verse “you reap what you sow” perfectly applies. Generally speaking.

I was listening to music on my phone on my way home, distracting myself from feeling down because I did not do well on our exam. I quickly pulled myself out of that tempting ditch of negativity. I suppose that was maturity doing its work. My thoughts shifted to my classmates, naturally. I wondered how they are handling their situation. At this point in the semester, we all would fall into either one of these categories:

1. Quite pleased with our performance
2. Wish we could have done better
3. Feeling down because of bad grades and basically, failure in any way shape or form
4. We don’t care

I’m now addressing my classmates. As your ate, I hope you won’t mind me giving some unsolicited but hopefully considered grains of wisdom I learned through school – the school of experience.

I’m about 10 years older than most of you. This is my second go at college. I’m perhaps in the enviable position of having already finished college and knowing already what to expect, so I respond to stress and take failures and disappointment less harder than some of you probably do. (This is not to say I’m not disappointed whenever I don’t do well in my academics. The frustration has less to do with doubts on my capability; on the contrary, it’s because I know what I am capable of that makes not meeting my personal expectations and standards disappointing. People who set attainable standards – and not meet them – can probably relate with me.)

You are quite pleased with your performance

A lot of you can confidently say you are quite pleased with your performance this semester. Congratulations! Nothing is more satisfying than finishing well. (I wish I could say the same thing but I fall into the second category.) You are on the right track. Keep it up! Pursue excellence, and by this I mean go beyond what is expected. Use the sem break to expand your knowledge. Do advance and supplementary readings. Set higher goals. Think of the big picture.

A couple of days ago I was having a conversation with somebody about the state of optometry in the Philippines. In a lot of provinces, the practice of optometry is still crude. Equipment is lacking (understandable maybe) professionalism is wanting (hmmm), but perhaps the most dire reality is that the learning has stopped for many optometrists.

For example, some optometrists offer contact lenses that are not safe to use but sell them because they are cheap. Others have clinics that shout “I need a makeover!!” (I’m not saying it has to be an expensive clinic but, for goodness sake, we are professional doctors AND businessmen). Others, still, have altogether stopped learning, not mindful that the practice of optometry (and in general, medicine and health) is constantly evolving such that there may be long-held teachings that are no longer acceptable today, there are newer technology and better ways of treating patients, and that learning should never stop!

What I’m saying is that, this is the reality. I believe Optometry is one of the best, viable courses to take and it presents a world of opportunities that will make a lot of people’s lives better. Ours included. Do not think for a second that you are still too young or it is too early to think of this. Look at the big picture. School presents an opportunity to learn and you must already be preparing for that time when you have your own clinic or start practicing. The need is great. I once heard somebody say what will make us doctors is basically because we write prescriptions. I have never begged to differ more. What will make us doctors is our ability to treat our patients, enabling them to have clear, comfortable vision. How can we do this? Constant learning, in and out of school.

You wish you could have done better

I fall into this category. Well, what can I say? We have good days, we have bad days. But let’s be honest. Most of the grades we got – we deserved. Why? We slacked off. We were complacent. We settled. So we are left wishing we could have done better.

The good news is that we can.

How? Same as above. Pursue excellence. Keep distractions at a minimum. Expand your knowledge. Read, read, read. Don’t beat yourself up over what’s done and what’s in the past. I have learned that there are two circles of concern in our life: a small circle that is within our control and a bigger circle that is outside our control.

concern

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you respond to it.” We cannot control our grades at this point. What is within our control now is how we respond. Shall I go about drinking because my grades are bad? You’d say it will make you feel better, or just help you unwind. But the question is, is it solving the problem? Because you want to address the problem and not excuse it with nights of drunken stupor. Or whatever excuse you have.

Too often the default response of people to stress, failure, anxiety or problems is to escape it. I was feeling down but I had to choose to take the high road of improvement – of resolving to do better. I highly recommend you take this route as well.

You feel down because of bad grades and basically, failure in any way shape or form

You are not a failure. You just failed in one area. Those are two different things. Do not let failure define you. I know of some people who have allowed failure to set the course of their life. Instead of resolving to improve, they’ve given in to their circumstance. Therefore, they have lost respect for academics and the value of doing what is right.

There are far too many corny cliches regarding failure but one thing I know – it doesn’t have the be the end point. Sometimes, failure can even a springboard for change, given the right attitude.

You don’t care

Of course you do.


I said the trip home was a learning experience. Indeed, it was. It took me back to when I was younger and how I used to deal with my circumstances, and now that I’m older and how I deal with my circumstances. When I was younger, I dealt with stress in probably a similar way like some of you – escape it or wallow in misery or depression, which did not solve my problem. Or if I did well, I would reward myself – which is what you should do as well.

Now that we are older (and perhaps, wiser) we need to step into maturity in all things we do – whether in academics, how we treat each other, and how we respond to our circumstances. This sembreak, let’s take that badly needed rest and relaxation. Hopefully the short time off will get us ready and excited for the next semester again!

Freshman again

It’s been a while since I blogged here. I’ve been preoccupied with school. Yep, no typo there. I went back to college to pursue a second degree – Optometry. I have all sorts of new experiences and funny stories to share from my ‘second college life’ and hopefully I can do (I WILL!) that regularly. For now, just a quick post:

When my classmates ask me my age, I ask them to make a guess. They answer, quite apologetically, “18“? :D