It never hurts to be a few steps ahead and looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known when I had first started.
Firstly, practical experience is a must! It’s extremely important to have work experience (paid or unpaid) in a practice for at least a few weeks, to shadow an optometrist, become familiar with the tests and equipment and to gain skills required to deal with patients. This could be a summer holiday job or even working evenings or weekends. This knowledge is very important in labs as well as lectures. Not to mention, the practical experience is great to talk about in your cv and pre-registration applications in second year.
Another thing I wish I’d known when I had first started the course, was which equipment I would need to buy and how to find it at the best price. This is because we were advised to purchase our equipment during Freshers week, which was when the manufacturers reps came in. Of course, they want you to buy their equipment and having never used a retinoscope or ophthalmoscope before, I was clueless! It’s expensive, on average costing around £1000 and therefore can be a difficult decision to make. My advice is to do your research, ask as many questions as you like and even be cheeky and ask for discount (they may throw in a few extra goodies if you ask nicely). This equipment should last you years (in some cases, the rest of your career), so try them out and get advice from your lecturers, qualified optometrists and students in other years before you buy anything. I personally picked Keeler, even though most of my friends bought Heine and I don’t regret it at all. If you’re worried about the cost, buy your equipment in packages from the same manufacturer to save money and shop around on the internet beforehand to find a good deal. If you don’t mind buying second hand equipment, why not have a look on ebay? The quicker you place the order, the sooner you can get practising with it!
Another thing I wish I’d known when I first started the course is how much my A-level books and notes were going to come in handy. For example, the first biology module contains several topics covered in Biology A-level, so don’t throw or sell your old books just yet! Also, if a lecturer advises you to use particular books for revision, check if they have it in the library first, before you end up spending all of your student loan on books in the first week, as they can be pretty pricey!