Melbourne Optometry student has his eye on the future
All of us at OzTREKK agree that it takes a certain kind of person to be an OzTREKK student: determined, ambitious, adventurous! Undoubtedly, one of the most challenging yet rewarding courses is the Doctor of Optometry at the University of Melbourne.
Aaron personifies determination, ambition, and adventure. Aaron began his Melbourne optometry studies in February 2011, and somehow found the time for healthy eating, exercise, student activities, and photography! Here, he offers advice to future students contemplating a career in optometry and a life in the beautiful city of Melbourne!
What pulled you toward optometry?
As a patient, I felt that my local optometrist ran a practice that offered quality eye care. As a student job shadowing local optometrists, I felt the profession made the kind of contributions to the local community that I could support.
When I widened my scope to look at the industry, health care was alluring because it combined the art of dealing with human nature with the science of Western medicine, both of which I firmly believed I had the predispositions to make significant contributions to.
As far as I could tell, optometry was on the frontlines of a collaborative health care system acting as primary eye care professionals. As with any other job, the negatives were going to reveal themselves as I learned more about the profession; however, protecting the sense of sight for individuals throughout their lives resonated strongly with what I found to be important from my own experiences. Projecting that a fulfilling career in optometry would outweigh any disadvantages that could become apparent was a gambit I was very willing to make. So I did—and I haven’t looked back since.
Why did you decide to study optometry in Australia?
The Melbourne Model’s push for transforming optometry from an undergraduate to postgraduate degree will encounter challenges that I felt would mirror the challenges in my own personal and professional development, so I expected immersion in this dynamic environment to be a valuable learning experience. In addition to earning a respected degree, I would have the freedom in my down time to explore a beautiful and vibrant city rich with diversity.
Mind. Body. Soul. Everything about this place screamed “Adventure!”—how could I resist?
How would you describe your experience in the Melbourne Optometry program?
In the early years, practicing your technical skills to the point where they’re second nature was very central to this program. It trains you to gather clinical data in a practical timeframe so you can focus your efforts on analyzing the information and developing a management plan appropriate for the particular patient in your care.
This program culminates in a fourth year that’s entirely based on clinical experience and requires a certain level of responsibility that I’m not sure I’ve ever had to explore in an academic setting. In a typical day, my colleagues and I are running from clinic to clinic, making sure we catch the right buses on time, eating lunch if we have time, trying to cook/eat healthy meals at home and sticking to a consistent exercise program… then getting the right amount of sleep so we can do it all again the next day!
In this final year, what I’m finding to be the most difficult part of the program is actually figuring out what to do after graduation. I have so many options open to me that, in combination with the lessons I’m learning in this program, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can take full advantage of any course of action I commit to. As sure as I am of the beat of my heart, I know that my time here has made me into a better person and a more reliable member of society.
What do you do outside of your study/classroom time in Australia?
I’ve been lucky enough to have opportunities to express and further develop my creative talents in photography and videography with Meld Magazine, a local magazine geared towards international students. I’m also actively engaged with the student body and University of Melbourne alumni community through numerous clubs and special initiatives. Other than that, staying healthy by following a balanced diet and consistent exercise regime of cardio and resistance training is something I’m always trying to force myself to make time for.
What do you hope to do following graduation? How do you plan to deal with the accreditation/bridging when (if) you return to Canada?
I’m currently applying for jobs at the moment and plan to work for one or two years in Australia before attempting the bridging program back in Canada, the reasoning being that I want to capitalize on the network I’ve built over the four years to support my real-world learning.
For example, if I need to refer to a specialist, I already have a working knowledge of ones I’ve found to be reliable in the past, as my third and fourth years exposed me to a pool of local specialists when executing management plans for patients. If life as a recent graduate is as intense as I’ve heard (work-life balance, increasing consultation efficiency, etc.), having this advantage will help take a little bit of the edge off during my first years of practice. With all this real-world experience consolidating my clinical skills, when I finally attempt the bridging program, I expect, at least the practical part, to be much easier. As it currently stands, the bridging program is going through some changes as well so this time will allow it to fine-tune its execution before I take part.
What advice would you give to a Canadian considering studying optometry in Australia?
I would recommend all prospective students to job shadow a couple of their local optometrists before arrival; in fact, I would actually recommend this for any student pursuing further education overseas. The benefit of this is twofold: first, you can satisfy entry requirements for any optometry school that requires shadowing experience on top of your written application; and second, you can compare and contrast Canadian and Australian optometry as you receive your education overseas. Knowing the different regulations and legislation in place to govern the way you practice will allow you a clearer understanding of how the law influences the type of optometrist you want to become.
Do you have any advice regarding finding accommodation/getting settled in Melbourne?
There’s a new Tune Hotel that opened up on Swanston Street that’s great for recent arrivals. I haven’t had the need to stay there myself but, as I understand it, the concept is a 5-star hotel experience for minimal pricing (i.e., they charge you a very low price per night but charge you on anything deemed extra such as towels, Wi-Fi, etc.). So at the end of the day you only pay for what you want. Otherwise, you can stay in hostels or try couch-surfing in the interim before you find more permanent housing.
I was actually lucky enough to have an aunt in the area so I researched shared housing options on Gumtree (similar to Craigslist) and connected the landlord with her. Having a liaison was beneficial because it allowed me to have trusted eyes check out the actual locations and relay back to me whether the pictures posted online matched the actual room. With this relationship worked out, I eventually had a place secured before I landed.
It’s not lost on me how wonderful it was of her to help me with this by setting aside time from her busy schedule. If you’re going to do it this way make sure your liaison knows how much you appreciate his or her help and make it easier by
1) only asking them to scout locations that you’re serious about;
2) streamlining the entire process by booking inspection times close together for shared-houses that are also located close together; and
3) doing all inspections in one day only.
About the University of Melbourne Doctor of Optometry (OD) Program
The Doctor of Optometry consists of a combination of on-campus teaching and clinical placements, with the clinical component commencing in Year 1 and gradually increasing to full time in the final year. Opportunities exist for clinical-related research to be conducted as a required component of the degree. Early clinical experience is a feature of the Melbourne program. Later years will focus on developing advanced clinical skills with a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice. Broad clinical experience will be achieved by providing an unparalleled range of rural and metropolitan placements and international externship opportunities.
Program: Doctor of Optometry (OD)
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Semester intake: Late February or early March
Duration: 4 years