My Path to Residency with a COVID-19 Twist
Liandra Jung, OD
University of California, Berkeley
Picture this: You’ve just matched into a residency program that you’ve spent months thinking about and you breathe a sigh of relief – board exams are over, and you can finally enjoy the last few months of 4th year rotations and soak in the knowledge from the last bit of patient care you will have as a student. The next few days, the virus hits, externships are cancelled, and your school becomes Zoom academy and graduation is going to be virtual. Your summer break trips are cancelled, and instead you spend 4 months in quasi-retirement before residency starts. It’s a miracle that health protocols are in place so we can safely start residency, but I haven’t touched a slit-lamp in what seems to be ages, and now I am going to look through the oculars with two face shields and masks? Yikes. I get to campus and my new city looks more like Zombieland than I remember when I interviewed. I really had no idea what my year of residency was going to be like…
I think I can speak for many of us, new grads or not, that 2020 was a blur of stolen moments and uncertainty in our lives. I can also confidently say that my experience as a resident has still prevailed to be full of highlights, special patient cases that I will always remember, and clinical pearls that I will take with me for the rest of my career. I will remember a patient who I diagnosed with keratoconus, then gave her the clear 20/20 line for the first time with a scleral lens. I won’t forget Telehealth appointments and providing eyecare while trying to keep patients safe at home in isolation. I will look back on the countless chief complaints of eyestrain at near, from patients who use their digital devices for 14 hours per day during shelter-in-place. I will also remember answering many questions from parents who are concerned about their child’s myopia progressing with online classes and less opportunity to be outside. A big highlight was the exciting launch of MiSight® 1 day contact lenses. This year may not have been conventional or expected, but it really has been memorable and historical. After seeing how innovative, supportive, and adaptable my colleagues have been, the most important thing I will remember is that optometrists can achieve so much more than what we were taught from our textbooks.
In optometry school, I was not the student who always knew they wanted to pursue residency. I sat on the decision to apply for a long time, realizing that it was going to be a year of dedicated hard work, another re-location, and financially less lucrative. I had the fear of having another year of my mid-twenties prioritized to my education rather than my personal life. Sprinkle in a little bit of self-doubt of getting my hopes up about a residency program and not matching, and it was the perfect recipe for a mini quarter-life-crisis at the time. Let me tell you about how minor these concerns look to me on the other side, now that I have almost completed residency. It’s true that I don’t always get off at 5 o’clock, and there are still evenings I work late on presentations. But without residency, I would have never known how good it feels to push myself out of my comfort zone in public speaking, or how much I enjoy being involved in my optometric community. Getting off a bit later from clinic never feels like a chore when I had an interesting day full of specialty contact lens patients that fall into my schedule, and every patient was an opportunity to learn. The paycheck is smaller, but investing in myself and my skills, so when I finish residency I am confidently interviewing and negotiating for my first job will be worth it. About my personal life, I think residency actually cured me of my quarter-life crisis by giving me the opportunity to experience a different city, form new relationships and gain independence. It is possible to have fun, and sleep, too. I have residency to thank for a page-turning chapter of my mid-twenties.
I know from first-hand experience that eight years of higher education can make students function like robots at times, in order to get through pre-requisites and pass exams. The good news is that a lot of the hard part is over, but now it can be intimidating to have some freedom to make life decisions, like residency. I encourage students to embrace the instability and ask yourselves the big questions about your professional and personal needs and how residency can help accomplish them. Instead of being stressed out about it, I hope you feel excited about how much you have accomplished, and whatever happens, you have the opportunity to be part of a really great profession. My friend Ferris Bueller said, “Optometry school and residency moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Liandra Jung, OD is completing her Primary Care & Contact Lens Residency at University of California, Berkeley. She is originally from Victoria, B.C. and attended optometry school at Pacific University College of Optometry.