Is an Optometry Residency Worth It? | Pros and Cons of Optometric Residency
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
Is an optometry residency worth it? Honestly, every optometry student eventually asks themselves this very question.
Optometry residency adds an extra year to your clinical training, is intense, and does not pay well. So why even do one?
In this video, I provide you with the pros and cons of doing an optometric residency as well as share with you a secret every optometry student needs to know!
Optometry residency is a wonderful opportunity for new graduate optometrists to excel right out of the gate.
Personally, I ended up doing the primary care and ocular disease residency through the Illinois College of Optometry. It was an incredible experience, one that I’ll never forget.
Here are the pros and cons of doing an optometry residency.
Pro 1 - Experience
Doing a residency provides you with three to five years of experience through a year of intense clinical training.
Of course, if you look at it from the opposite end of the spectrum, every optometrist eventually gets more and more experience over time.
Those who do a residency are that much more comfortable in the niche that they specialize in with that experience.
Pro 2 - Specialization
An optometry residency provides you with the opportunity to become an expert in one of the many optometry subspecialties.
These subspecialties include ocular disease, cornea and contact lenses, pediatrics, low vision, neuro-optometry, and more.
Through a residency, you have the opportunity to build up a specialized skill set and hit the ground running in clinical practice. This is something you can really leverage in conversations with employers or within your community as you grow your patient base.
Pro 3 - Mentors
Personally, I'm all about people. I love working with others, I love connecting with others, and I'm always happy to connect, learn, and be a mentor.
I have had a lot of awesome mentors in my life. A number of them I met during residency or throughout my experience as a new graduate optometrist.
If you do an optometry residency, your mentor could be your residency director, an OD you work within the clinic, an ophthalmologist that you co-manage with, or one of your co-residents.
Pro 4 - Connections
Mentors are one thing but actually building up your pipeline of connections is another. This could be as simple as just connecting with co-residents or residents that are also doing a residency in your particular subspecialty but in another residency program.
Also, when you do a residency at the VAMC or at an optometry school, you become part of a small group of ODs with that specific experience. You’re essentially “in the club.”
For example, I did a residency at the largest optometry school in the country and so now I have the ability to connect with other ICO students, residents, and faculty members through that experience.
Connections are key in our profession. You'll find out very quickly optometry is a small profession. Having the ability to connect with others during your residency gives you an extra year to do so with some very influential ODs.
Pro 5 - Access
Speaking of the VAMC or academia, doing a residency is strongly recommended if you want to work in either.
It helps you gain valuable experience and get your foot in the door. This also goes for industry and prestigious OD/MD practices.
Pro 6 - Confidence
I’ve worked with a lot of new graduate optometrists. Those who do residencies tend to be a lot more confident coming out than those who don't.
This is not to say that you can't come straight out of optometry school and do fantastic. You absolutely can and I see a lot of people that do.
However, the initial confidence and ability to provide patient care clinical patient care is significantly higher in those who do residencies.
Con 1 - Lost income
Optometry residents know the salary that you make during residency is low. On average, optometry residents make between 30-50K for the year.
On the flip side, your optometry school peers are making six figures in clinical practice. For a lot of people, this is a tough pill to swallow because it is a substantial amount of money to lose out on.
However, if you think about your entire professional career, those who elect to do a residency look past this and understand that it's going to help them over time.
In particular, it provides the ability to make up for lost income in the way they manage patients and build their professional brand.
Con 2 - Postpones paying off student loans
A delay in earning a professional income impacts your ability to pay down debt like student loans as quickly as possible. Most residents defer their loans or pay the very minimum.
Personally, I'm a huge advocate of paying down and paying off student loan debt. It takes a huge weight off your shoulders and allows you to entertain higher-risk opportunities.
Con 3 - Delays taking a full-time opportunity
If you have an opportunity that is competitive, aligns with what you want, and you have to accept it or it’ll be gone, a residency may not be in your best interest.
This also goes for those who have a family they have to support and can’t afford the income lost from doing a residency.
Con 4 - Wrong specialization?
Before you do a residency and select an area of focus, make sure you have a strong interest in that subspecialty.
For example, what if you decide to do a pediatric residency and early in the residency you determine you don’t like kids? You’ll have a long year ahead of you and resent your decision to do a residency. Plus, you’ll have a year of experience that you don’t want to use in clinical practice.
Con 5 - Sacrifice
You've already put in four years of undergrad and four years of optometry school. Residency is another year of hard work and sacrifice that won’t be easy.
You’ll work long hours, have a demanding schedule, and for less than minimum wage.
A secret about optometry residency
So, is an optometry residency really worth it? In my opinion, yes!
However, I know doctors that are extremely successful that didn't do a residency and I know doctors that are extremely successful that did do a residency. Doing one is not for everyone and won’t determine your success and happiness long-term.
What questions do you have about optometry residency? Let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for my next video where we can reflect and grow stronger together.
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