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Beyond BMSc - interviewing Waterloo's Optometry

Hey everyone! Welcome back to Beyond BMSC. Today, we'll be hearing from Wendy, a Waterloo Optometry student who graduated from BMSc herself not too long ago! So let's skip the chitchat and hear from Wendy herself!

To hear the audio version of the following conversation, please visit us on Spotify:

Waterloo Optometry

Interviewer: Lynda Wo

Interviewee: Wendy Zhai

Lynda: Hello and welcome to Beyond BMSc, where we interview past medical science students who are pursuing graduate programs to answer your questions for post-BMSc pathways. My name is Lynda and today we're joined by Wendy. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Wendy: Hi everyone! I'm Wendy and I'm currently an optometry student at University of Waterloo. So, I did three years of undergrad at Western and I was in medical science back then. My module in third year was IMS specialization in physiology.

Lynda: Okay, so besides academics at Western, was there something that you did outside of school that was really important?

Wendy: Yeah, I was involved in a couple of extracurriculars that I'm pretty interested in and passionate about. During my time in undergrad, I was really involved in residences. So that started in my first year when I was a part of the academic committee at Elgin, and that led me to pursue the position of a don in my second year and third year at Medway-Sydenham Hall and Ontario Hall. For me, I really enjoyed living in residence and being a part of the residence community gave me a sense of belonging. Also as a don, I get to support incoming students and foster a friendly environment for my students. I think I learned a lot through living in residence and being a student leader. The sites where I worked in two research labs, one at Western and one in Sick Kids Hospital during the summers in my undergrad.

Lynda: Oh, okay. So that means there was a lot more from Western that you've taken in, besides just the school that I'm sure you know, applied into your graduate program. As an optometry student, can you tell me a little bit more about your own program at Waterloo?

Wendy: Yeah, for sure! So, well, my current program at Waterloo, it's called Doctor of Optometry. It's a four year program with three years of study, and one year of clinical rotations after the first three years. So clinical rotations will be the fourth year. I'm really enjoying my program right now and a lot of it is because unlike the undergrad program, our class has only 90 people, so you really have a chance to get to know everyone. Obviously, with COVID, and online school things are a little bit different. But really, I still like the atmosphere where everyone's helping each other and classes are smaller, so everyone gets to interact with each other more, and during midterms and finals you can see the group chats popping up and everyone's trying to share their solutions or share their notes to try to help each other pull through. I find that the workload is still quite heavy, but everyone feels less stressed, generally speaking, because we're no longer having to strive for 90s or high 80s for every single course. So I guess that’s the overall feeling of this program so far. For my first semester, like I said before, everything's online because of COVID except for a few labs that are in person. So I was still staying in Waterloo since September. For the first semester we took seven courses.

Lynda: Wow, seven courses?

Wendy: Yeah, seven courses. Well, I got exempted one, because I took that back in undergrad. I think that was a histology course (you're supposed to be taking it but because I took it in undergrad, they allowed me to, you know, exempt it). So even though it was just six courses, I still felt like it was pretty heavy and also, a lot of it is review from undergrad, but they kind of teach it in a different way that you feel like there's still a lot of information to absorb. So some courses I'm taking are optics, neuro anatomy, anatomy, physiology courses, immunology courses, so it kind of feels like undergrad all over again but at the same time, you know they're just trying to build a foundation for you to continue your studies.

Lynda: That's actually really cool especially the bit you talked about how workload can increase but you feel the support from your colleagues, basically. So prior to being admitted to the program, I'm sure there was a lot of confusion on your part about what to choose. So what was it about optometry as a program that made you choose it?

Wendy: Well back in high school, I really liked biology and chemistry, I just always knew I was a sciency person. And so, I decided to do some kind of science degree. With a science degree, I learned in first year you can do a Masters, you can do a PhD, you can do professional programs, there's a lot of potential pathways that you can take, but I knew I wanted to do healthcare. I've always been interested in eye care specifically, probably because my uncle worked as an ophthalmologist. Also, as a child, I frequently visited my optometrist for just vision checkups and glasses and everything. So yeah, I've always been interested in eye care and I also liked the idea of one day having my own clinic and running my own clinic. So, compared to pursuing medical school and specializing in ophthalmology, optometry has less years of schooling and more of a work life balance, which is something I personally value. Because after three or four years of undergrad, you do have to do at least four years of professional school. But with medical school, you need to do more years of specialization and for me, I think four years of school would be enough.

Lynda: I like that point because not a lot of students (at least not students in undergrad) are in their teens, they don't really think about the long term consequences of schooling that they have to take. As an applicant in third year, or any year that our listeners might be in, what do you wish you knew before applying – this can be applied to the prereqs, or the tests that you have to take, or the motivation behind choosing and following through with optometry?

Wendy: So like I said, I've always had optometry in mind. So in my first and second year, I was going to Waterloo’s Optometry website to check for all the prerequisites and all the requirements that I need to fulfill in order to apply for the program and be admitted. So that's like one advice I think I would give to the students in medsci right now is to really check for all the admission requirements early on, so you can plan out what courses to take. So for optometry specifically, besides all the general medical science courses that you need to take, optometry school also requires you to take one philosophy course called healthcare ethics or some kind of philosophy course involving healthcare. Another course would be immunology or bacteriology and for that I took 2500 In my second year. For the philosophy course, I took 2715 which is healthcare ethics, also in my second year. You can also take it in your third year or fourth year but I just decided to just take it and get it over with.

So about the application process, you do need to take a standardized test called the OAT and you can book that test, I think anytime throughout the year. It's not like the MCAT where the majority of people would take it during the summer, you can actually take it whenever you want. But I would still recommend that you do it in the summer just because you would have time off to study for the test because it is a six hour long standardized test. Besides that, there's also Casper, and they recently also added the CASPER snapshot, which is like a mini interview. And the School of Optometry will also give out interviews, so you would come to optometry school, they give you a tour and then you also have your own individual interview session. With COVID though, they did cancel the interviews for my admission cycle and the current year admission cycle, and they just replaced that with the Casper snapshot.

Besides that, one thing I wish I got more of an experience was working at an optometry clinic. So either working as a receptionist or helping with testing or glasses sales. Only shadowing experience is required for admission to Waterloo. But obviously having work experience is beneficial. I say that because I've noticed a lot of my classmates had that sort of working experience and I can tell that they're more confident when it comes to lab courses or starting clinical labs.

Lynda: Okay, that's actually a lot of great advice for any of the applicants. I didn't know about, you know, shadowing requirements for optometry school, for example. So what final words would you have to say for any of the medsci students listening who may be going through the same confusion for either choosing optometry or just applying for optometry?

Wendy: Yeah, so I think some final takeaways is to really explore your options in undergrad. Now I think back to my first year as an undergrad student, I was at one point really confused about what path to take. Especially because I know a lot of medical science students are looking to go into medical school and at one point, I was also thinking about that path. But eventually, I just decided that it wasn't for me. So I would say really take your time to explore your options and think about what you want to pursue, don't do something just because other people are also pursuing that path. And I would say, go to research labs, get a volunteering position at a lab, or do a summer research to see whether you like doing a Masters or PhD doing pure science research. Or you can try to volunteer at a clinic and see if the healthcare side is what you enjoy more. But ultimately, I think whatever path you take, it's really good to try to maintain a good GPA because that is important for any grad school or professional program application. But also, at the same time, don't get too stressed if you fail one course or if you mess up one course, that's definitely not the end of the day.

Lynda: Exactly, definitely don't fail a class. Thank you for being here and for taking the time to tell these students your own takeaways from the process of application. This was BMSA’s podcast for the optometry program at Waterloo. Check back on our website and social media platforms for episodes for other programs with new students each week. Thank you for listening and we hope this has been helpful.

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