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Using Your Gap Year(s) to Experience Life & Enhance Your Application

J Alvarez cover photo

Before finishing my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to take a gap year to gain additional hands-on experience in the field of optometry, as well as prepare for the OAT, and check off other boxes that would make me confident in my application. Little did I know a single gap year would turn into 3 – big thanks to graduating right as COVID began in 2020. While at the time I felt I was “even more behind” in my journey to becoming an Optometrist, I soon realized as long as I continued working on my application (in all aspects, not purely optometry-related), then I wasn’t behind, and I wasn’t wasting time.

Immediately after graduating, I moved back home and worked jobs that involved minimal person-to-person interaction and were completely unrelated to optometry. Although these jobs weren’t in healthcare, I still learned transferable skills (customer service, patient interaction, professionalism, multi-tasking, etc.). While working, I studied for (and took) the OAT and spent the remainder of my time doing many activities that fulfilled me, including playing videogames, exploring nature, and especially rock climbing.

When I started climbing outdoors, I serendipitously met a fellow climber who happened to be an adventure photographer. Following our initial encounter, we worked together a few times capturing myself and other adventurers exploring various outdoor spaces. Thanks to this individual, I’ve had many cool experiences and opportunities for which I’m grateful (and even have some great photographs to show for it! See the arch-climbing photo.).

Ask COVID cases began declining and working in patient-interaction setting seemed more plausible, I started working as an Optometric Technician in a private practice. While at this office, I gained valuable knowledge and insight about the career as well as an abundance of hands-on experience (the last thing I needed to feel confident in my application).

Throughout my gaps years, I am very glad I spent time enjoying new experiences while remaining focused on optometry, allowing me to become a confident, competitive applicant.

Some major advice I have for prospective students: I believe ever life experience on your path (regardless of how “small” or “irrelevant” it seems) plays a role in your development as a competitive applicant. If something sounds cool, do it! Fun? Do it! (Especially if it’s an opportunity that may be difficult to find again.) If you truly want to become an Optometrist, if you take the necessary steps, then an Optometrist you will be! It may not be the quickest, most immediate route or direct path, but it will happen. Use me as an example! Part of being a great healthcare provider is being able to relate to people, so having varied experiences, and asking your patients about theirs will help you become a well-rounded and relatable doctor.

If you want to hear more about my story, advice on optometry school, applications, or anything else, feel free to reach out at Best of luck to you!

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