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Issue: November 2007 School Ties

School Ties

Your optometry school is a lifelong community. Here are the top 10 reasons to stay connected.

By Jenny L. Smythe, O.D.,M.S., F.A.A.O.

STAY IN TOUCH. Sometimes, it's easier said than done. But with your school or college of optometry, it's as simple as shooting an e-mail message to the alumni department, whether you're just leaving school or you graduated years ago. As an alumna and a professor, I can tell you that you'll be rewarded for the effort, and so will your school. And if you need more convincing, check out the top 10 reasons to maintain a lifelong connection with your alma mater.

1 We love to hear from you.

When we teachers decide to teach, we don't just commit to mentoring people for 4 years. We're your mentors for life.

We're proud of our students. We invest time and energy into giving you the tools and training you need to deliver top eye care to patients. Once you graduate, you become our colleagues, and you continue to be part of our family.

We want to know how you're doing. Don't hesitate to e-mail or pick up the phone. Your professors will be glad to hear from you. It's a privilege to help our former students develop after they've begun their careers.

2 Your feedback strengthens the program.

How is your optometry school serving you in practice? Which instruction helped you the most? What things do you wish you'd learned in school?

Alumni can help us better plan our future curriculum. After all, you're in the best position to know how well our training prepared you for this profession. Whether your feedback reinforces what we're doing right or shines a light on what we're doing wrong, we always appreciate any and all feedback from our graduates.

3 You can access all types of career opportunities, years after graduation.

The student services department at your school is a fantastic resource for career opportunities — and not just for first jobs. This department typically has information about open positions, graduates who are selling or looking to buy existing practices, or even guidance and assistance for graduates who are seeking associates to join their practices.

You also can contact someone in my position about career opportunities, even if you're looking for an out-of-state opportunity. Optometry schools are a very small group, and we all talk, so we usually can connect you with an opportunity or a contact elsewhere.

4 Schools offer a full range of CE programs, including some just for alumni.

Most schools and colleges of optometry provide continuing education (CE) to help practitioners stay current in technological advances and meet the changing scope of care after graduation. CE offerings typically are discounted for alumni, and many schools offer online courses, which are a great option for people with limited free time or who live far away from their schools.

Like many schools, Pacific University sponsors alumni CE events. Ours are twice a year, in Hawaii and Victoria, British Columbia. Alumni visit these beautiful places, get the education they need, touch base with faculty and classmates and meet new people. And by getting themselves on the school's alumni mailing lists, grads are notified about early, discounted registration, deals for repeat attendees and other CE promotions through the school.

As our profession expands, the administration also can help guide your continued training. This may not be a consideration right away, but after you've been in practice for years, you may find that advancement of the profession means further training needs for you. Many colleges can train you or direct you to the right classes to fulfill your needs.

Dr. Smythe is associate dean for academic programs at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore. She is also an associate at Murrayhill Eye Care in Beaverton and vice president of Women of Vision, a mentorship group for current and future optometrists. Dr. Smythe is a Pacific graduate and can be reached at

5 Faculty and administrators help grads with legislative efforts.

When states are considering bills that will affect our privileges or scope of care, optometry schools weigh in with their opinions. Many of our alumni are involved in state legislative efforts when they arise. Our faculty and administration are available for consultation, at no charge, and we're also happy to testify to legislators on behalf of our profession. If you need support in your state, we'll be there.

6 We consult on your tough cases for free.

My former students call me for consultation about cases all the time. Often, they'll say, "You probably don't remember me, but I have this case …" My answer is always, "Of course I remember you! How can I help?" They usually need a second opinion for a patient's treatment and management plan, and we discuss it together.

Don't be shy about calling for your instructor's opinion. I'm happy to get calls like this, and I'm certain that your professors are, too.

7 We're the experts.

I've already covered legislation and second opinions, but you also might take a minute to take an objective look at your faculty and administrators. There are many specialists. Many are members of national committees and journal review boards. They're involved in research, and they have colleagues who are researchers, too.

These are great people to know, and you already know them! Let them help you shape the career you want or branch out in new and exciting ways.

"In the academic community, my relationships with other faculty members at all schools and colleges are invaluable. Colleagues are always willing to help out and answer questions. And I do enjoy hearing from former classmates, as well as my past students (now colleagues!). E-mail really helps us all keep in touch."
— Kelly K. Nichols, O.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry. She's an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, Columbus, and can be reached at

Meet Us at a Meeting
Don't keep your head bowed in study when you're at a meeting (well, not too much). Some representatives of your faculty, administrators and student services staff are there. Say hello!
School-run meetings: Attending a CE conference sponsored by your school? Introduce yourself to the CE director, who's probably also the meeting host. The first thing he'll do is get your card and ask, "What can we do for you?"
The big meetings: Major meetings for the American Academy of Optometry and the American Optometric Association have alumni receptions. They're joint events in big rooms, and each college usually has its own table. You'll meet fellow alumni and classmates and find out what's new from a college representative.

8 The school needs your support.

There's just one altruistic reason in this top 10, and this is it. Schools and colleges of optometry depend on alumni contributions, especially private schools, which are funded solely by tuition and contributions. The amount isn't all that important; it's your continued involvement and support that schools need most.

Where does the money go? Contributions support innovative programs and scholarships, and they help continue and expand optometry programs.

And, altruism aside, when people contribute to their alumni associations, they strengthen their school and build their own pride in their alma mater at the same time. It's your school, after all, the one you'll have on your degree and your CV forever. You can get as involved as you like as an alumnus by helping to build a strong alumni association.

9 It's the best way to access teaching opportunities.

Do you think you might want to teach someday? A good way to keep your options open is to stay connected with your school. You can discuss teaching opportunities with the faculty and staff and stay on top of any new openings.

Because a big part of clinical education is accomplished through externship programs, you also can work with your school to become an externship site. You'll gain an excellent teaching opportunity while staying in your practice setting.

If you'd like to stay connected to students by volunteering, some schools ask alumni to return and discuss their first years of practice with students. Others have mentoring opportunities that pair students and alumni to help them get a taste of the real world in a less formal situation than their externship.

10 You'll know the alumni buzz and get the privileges.

Once you're on the alumni mailing list, you'll get newsletters that tell you about changes at the school, like new facilities or faculty, and events like homecoming.

You'll also find out what your classmates and other alumni are doing. Most newsletters have feature articles about the accomplishments of notable grads, as well as news items to keep you in the loop. Alumni associations often give awards to distinguished grads, and they call for nominations and report the results in alumni newsletters. Local alumni club newsletters are terrific for graduates who live and work far from school, but want to connect with each other. Local and national newsletters list various reunions and get-togethers, too.

Some schools offer grads a permanent e-mail address at their domain, which provides a perfect way to connect with classmates.

Alumni often have access to the school's library, too, which can be essential for research. You don't even need to visit the school to use the library, in some cases, because you can search databases and retrieve articles online. Finally, alumni typically get discounted stuff, like patient education materials, software and other needs, based on their association with the school.

Back to school
"When you're in school, you don't always appreciate your professors' credentials. The feeling is more like, 'When I'm done with school, I won't see these people again.'
"Once you're out in the real world, you realize that many of those same professors are experts in their fields and often are good sources of information for a quick question or informal patient consult."
— Deepak Gupta, O.D., F.A.A.O., is a graduate of New England College of Optometry, Boston. He practices at Stamford Ophthalmology in Stamford, Conn. He can be reached at
"The alumni association has been a good pipeline of information on classmates. Hearing of my colleagues and how they've progressed professionally through the years — a point of pride by association — is a great reason to stay in touch. Keeping this connection has also kept me in contact with the faculty and administration of my alma mater, and this is a very good connection for professional conventions and meetings. It's good to belong."
— Frank D. Fontana, O.D., is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry, Chicago. He's in private practice in St. Louis and can be reached at
"I had excellent mentors and colleagues at Ohio State. Even though I'm no longer at the College, I still contact my OSU 'family' for advice and collaboration. I call and e-mail classmates and friends, and the alumni association has been a fantastic resource for staying in touch."
— Marjorie Rah, O.D., Ph.D., is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, Columbus. She's an associate professor at the New England College of Optometry in Boston, where she specializes in contact lens practice, research and teaching. She can be reached at

Stay Connected

So, these are the top 10 reasons why you should stay connected with your alma mater, but there are certainly more. So stay in touch! You should take great pride in your education and your school, because we take great pride in you, long after you exit our doors. nOD

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