The transition from first year to second year optometry: What to expect

Second year student at City, Brooke Hutchins, advises that if you are a first year optometry student, this blog may definitely come in particularly useful for you to read!

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The journey through the second year of my optometry degree has been dramatically different from the first. This time around, I have felt much better equipped with the understanding of key concepts, which has enabled me to improve my clinical techniques and skills. As I approach the end of my second year, it is satisfying to reflect on how much I have learnt since I began the course. Not only the knowledge I’ve gained, but also the confidence I’ve developed putting this into practice in my clinical routines. It really is a year that you will enjoy and where you will make huge leaps of progress in your training, and I hope I can explain why…

The good news is that, from second year onwards, the content covered becomes a lot more interesting. That’s why I’ve found the past two terms have gone by so fast. First year provides its own challenges to overcome. There are a lot of theoretical and mathematical concepts to get to grips with, including visual and geometrical optics, subjects that, unsurprisingly, divide opinion between students. However, having an intrinsic understanding of them does provide a valuable foundation for successfully completing the programme. 

Students at any stage on the course would agree that optometry is a highly practical subject, and this is cemented in the first year where the basic techniques used in practice such as retinoscopy, subjective refraction, and ophthalmoscopy are learned and implemented, alongside the slit lamp routine. These techniques are incredibly important, but once second year begins, the clinical skills taught become significantly more advanced. Those that I found particularly challenging at first were indirect ophthalmoscopy using a Volk lens, Goldmann Applanation contact tonometry, and visual field testing. The use of diagnostic drugs is also introduced, which you soon realise can be a really valuable element to an eye examination. Getting to dilate the pupils within the lab session was also pretty fun! Putting together the full routine incorporating all these techniques used in first and second year, alongside taking history and symptoms and carrying out binocular vision assessments is a challenge, but really improves your routine and makes it a whole lot more polished and professional. 

Valuable advice would be to take one assessment at a time, as if you try to think of accomplishing everything at once, it will be much harder to concentrate on the task in hand.

The steep learning curve of the first year sets you up for the continuation of your studies, and I have found the modules covered in the second year to be much more enjoyable. The depth of knowledge required for these new modules and topics really complement your progression from the first to second year. At City University, one of the new modules that I have found particularly engaging is Contact Lenses. Learning about the fitting of lenses and the convenience they can provide to some individuals as opposed to glasses has really heightened my enthusiasm for this branch of optometry - and hopefully I can transfer my enthusiasm to the patients I will see in the future! 

A huge task undertaken during the second year, that is clearly worth mentioning, is finding a pre-registration placement. For some students, the decision on where to carry out their pre-reg is a simple one but, for others, the choice is not so straightforward. There are many options, mainly in high-street multiples, independent practices, and hospitals and the College’s pre-reg jobs board is a particularly useful tool for finding out what is available. A number of practices, mainly multiples, will visit your university in the second year, and there are opportunities to visit and apply to hospitals. My best advice would be to keep your options open if you are not initially sure which placement would suit you, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice at university if you are unsure about anything to do with the process. There’s also lots of information on the College website.

It is undeniable that the workload during second year is considerably more compared with the first year. A personal struggle of mine has been finding the balance between study and leisure, since unsurprisingly a lot of time needs to be devoted to your studies. It is however really important to take time to rest and engage in hobbies outside of the course, otherwise it can quickly become overwhelming - especially during assessment periods and in the run-up to practical exams. Valuable advice would be to take one assessment at a time, as if you try to think of accomplishing everything at once, it will be much harder to concentrate on the task in hand. In terms of preparing for practical based exams such as dispensing, clinical OSCE’s, and the full routine eye examination, it is best to practice these techniques little and often rather than multiple hours at one time as this can cause fatigue. I do believe that you are much more likely to improve a skill when you are feeling refreshed and you always have something to build on in each practice session.

Second year marks the midway point of the degree course and should be a year to cherish and enjoy. Despite the increased workload, the subjects and topics taught during the year are incredibly interesting and hugely relevant to your future career. You may also start to become inspired by a particular area of optometry that has caught your interest and may be interested in developing this further, post-qualification. Whether you are a prospective optometry student, or a first year, what is certain is that the transition from first to second year is a big step but an exciting one. It is a year that you will learn a great deal, and no doubt grow in confidence as a future optometrist. 

Brooke Hutchins
Student rep, City, University of London

Brooke’s favourite thing about studying optometry is the fact that there is no limit to how much you can learn and progress. There are so many different areas of study within optometry, and this variety makes the course really enjoyable and rewarding. Her least favourite thing about studying optometry is probably the amount of equipment needed for the course! Brooke’s hobbies include exercise and keeping fit, reading, and travelling.  And, if she wasn't an optom student, Brooke would have probably have studied and pursued a career in psychology.


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