As students, it’s easy to get bogged down by the amount of studying, tests, and National Boards preparation that takes up the majority of our four years in optometry school. However, it’s important to realize how many great opportunities there are to advance your career and set yourself up for success even before you graduate. Some of these include the various optometric conferences held annually, many of which are free or very inexpensive for students to attend.
I recently had the opportunity to experience my first ever International Vision Expo, Vision Expo East in New York City. One thing that makes Vision Expo unique and sets it apart from other conferences is that it brings together fashion, industry, technology, and education. This means you can experiment with the latest and greatest technology, try on the most fashion-forward eyewear, and attend lectures about ocular disease or a leadership workshop all in one weekend. This year, VEE offered over 320 hours of continuing education and showcased over 550 exhibitors!
Whether it’s AOA’s Optometry’s Meeting or Congressional Advocacy Conference, Academy, or Vision Expo East or West, there are so many benefits to attending while you’re still a student. Having had the opportunity to attend many of these and since I just returned from VEE, I want to share some insider tips that can help you make the most of your conference experience as a student:
- Get involved! Find ways to get involved with other aspects of the eyecare community. Whether it’s volunteering or attending continuing education courses. This year I volunteered for Optometry Giving Sight and spent a few hours helping them spread the word about their new campaign Our Children’s Vision, which is aiming to help 50 million children by the year 2020. In doing so, I met tons of other expo attendees while helping a good cause also!
- Take business cards! It may seem like you’re just a small fish in a big pond, but the reality is that the eyecare community and industry partners want to get to know you. When you become a practicing doc, you will work with other docs and industry on a daily basis. Making these connections sooner rather than later will make it easier for you in the future and open up doors you never thought possible.
- Step out of your comfort zone! Some of my best memories from the conferences I’ve attended are the unexpected conversations I’ve had. You never know where you might find a future job opportunity or a new friendship at one of these events. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to other attendees and those working at booths. As students, we are the future of optometry – our voice matters.
- Meet other students! Every conference has luncheons, dinners, and social hours specifically designed for students to network. Not only are other students awesome and like-minded, but they’re your future colleagues! The friends you’ll meet at these events will be your friends for life.
- Explore! Every year, Vision Expo West is held in Las Vegas and Vision Expo East in New York City. As far as entertainment is concerned, it doesn’t get better than these two cities. Attending VEW or VEE is the perfect reason to also explore, try something new, and eat some epic food. One thing is for sure – no matter how many times you attend, you will do or try something new each time. And, don’t forget that registration for the Expo itself is FREE for students.
My favorite thing about optometry is that it has surrounded me with a community of passionate like-minded leaders, innovators, and friends. People say that you get out of a career what you put into it. Lucky for us, optometry gives back tenfold what we put in. Being involved allows us to learn new things, enforce change, and use our voice to make this awesome profession even better.
At first glance, attending a conference might seem overwhelming. I hope this helps those of you who have not attended a conference or Vision Expo in the past see how much there is to gain if you’re willing to immerse yourself in the experience! At the very least, I hope this article encourages you to attend a conference either for the first time, or for a second or third. And, I look forward to seeing you at the next one!
– Tiana Camarillo, OI Liaison
The New England College of Optometry