While our students come from diverse backgrounds and are pursuing degrees in different fields, the one thing that they all have in common is that they end up here at Salus. We wanted to feature a few of our student ambassadors about their experience transitioning into graduate school because everyone’s got a unique Salus story.

This is the first chapter of a four-part series, featuring:


Renee ThiringerRenee Thiringer
  • Second-year Occupational Therapy student
  • From New Jersey
  • Undergrad at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ 

Umar MahmoodUmar Mahmood
  • Second-year Optometry student
  • From Maryland
  • Undergrad at Syracuse 

Jennifer BenoitJenn Benoit
  • Second-year Optometry student
  • From Connecticut
  • Undergrad in Florida at the University of West Florida in Pensacola

Q: Why did you choose Salus specifically?

Renee: I really liked the environment that Salus had. I felt very welcome from the moment I came to the interview and dealing with all the faculty, and that was a big draw for me personally. 

Umar: For me, it was a little bit different. Common for many other people, it really came down to the proximity from where I’m living in Maryland. Coming from Maryland, Salus was the closest optometry school in the US and is a reasonable driving distance as well. I enjoyed the interview process quite a bit here, I didn’t feel too tense when I came here. I felt a little bit more laid back and it might have been because I was very well-prepared but that comfort that I felt mixed in with the travel time that I had, knowing that if I wanted to go back home (even though I don’t have much time to anyway), knowing that that’s there is enough security for me to go ahead and dive 100% into school here.

Jenn: For me, it was a little bit different. For undergrad, I had to do a clinical experience as well in sports medicine. It was a good experience but it was shorter than what I wanted. When I looked for a school I looked primarily at their clinical experience and Salus has a great experience here for optometry students and for other programs as well. For optometry, you get to observe right away, which is really helpful, and then you get into clinic as a student seeing your own patients earlier as well, and I already have a previous career, and I found that when I got out there, I wished that I had a little bit more time in clinic, just to make me feel prepared when I graduated. I’m really looking forward to having that happen the second time around. So that worked out for me on paper, and when I came on campus as they said, everyone was so nice and welcoming and it just sealed the deal.

Q: Could I ask what you did before?

Jenn: Yes, I was an athlete trainer. For those that don’t know, when you’re watching TV and someone goes down and someone runs out onto the field and has to decide if they can play again, that’s what I did.

Q: So what made you choose optometry?

Jenn: So athlete training is probably one of the greatest jobs ever, it’s really fun, but it’s really hard to do as a mother or someone that is part of a big family, so I needed something that would be for later in my life, that is a little more family friendly and better hours. Actually, about the time I was looking to transition, the basketball team I was covering that year, had tons of eye injuries. So it made me kind of look into that more.

Q: Have you ever looked into our sports vision club?

Jenn: I have! They are really cool and nice people too. I like the events that they put on.

Q: What were your undergrad majors?

Renee: I was a dance major in undergrad, which is a little surprising to some people. I have always danced my whole life and working with my body and understanding it. I took a couple of dance kinesiology classes in undergrad, which fueled my desire to do occupational therapy. So you can get your bachelor’s in anything that you want, as long as you cover your prerequisite classes to apply to OT school. So I thought, you know what, I already have something that I love, why don’t I just continue to do that and bring that knowledge into OT when I get to grad school.

Q: Have you used any of that knowledge yet?

Renee: I hope to when I’m on fieldwork. We have only had a limited experience so far, but definitely a lot of the kinesiology knowledge and activity analysis, understanding movement and where that comes from, has been really helpful with having my background.

Q: Have you met anyone else in your program who hasn’t really had a traditional bachelor’s degree like that?

Renee: A lot of people are the typical exercise science, kinesiology, things that you would expect. We have a couple of social work people which brings kind of an interesting perspective. We have one girl who worked as a social worker for a while, so she already has a master’s degree and now she is coming back for a whole another career which is awesome. So I think I maybe have one of the most out there types of majors, but there’s a whole variety. There’s somebody who was a business major and is coming back for a second career.

Q: So there are definitely a lot of interprofessional different ways, not just through the programs at Salus. What was your major?

Umar: Mine was traditional, biology major. My experiences were a little different in regards to…I mean healthcare was always on my mind but I spent a lot of time shadowing many different specialties, MDs, ODs, DOs, all different kinds of doctors and trying to find where I was comfortable with the work-life balance. That really came with my time shadowing. So the major, didn’t sway me too much toward choosing what career I wanted to be in, but it did cover the bases. I don’t know many people that didn’t have one of the traditional majors in our program, but it is the same for us, as long as you have the pre-reqs filled out you could be a science major if you wanted. If I could go back, I probably would do that, I would be a cooking science major or a food science major.

Q: That would be probably way more fun that bio. 

Umar: It would help me a little bit more in my life now, too!

Jenn: Actually that’s a good point, if I could go back to freshman year, I would tell myself that it doesn’t have to be science related. I ended up doing that, but it could be anything. You could have a minor in science and complete the same process.

Q: You all had different majors coming into grad school. Did you feel prepared at all for a health science graduate program?

Renee: I feel like the application process for grad school was actually really helpful for preparing yourself for the experience. You do all of your observation hours and you look at all these schools and you see how the various programs run. I think that is actually helpful. You get used to sending professional emails and being in the professional healthcare field. You do your interviews. I feel that that was very helpful.

Umar: I definitely think the most prep I got for grad school didn’t come from undergrad. I took about 1.5-2 years off. I was working with an optometrist and ophthalmologist as a tech most times and sort of on the business side as well. During the 2 year gap, I didn’t find myself studying that much, catching up on my undergrad sciences, other than studying for the OATs, which also I don’t feel like helped me in grad school either, but when we got into the clinic, which is almost the most stressful part, in the clinical skills lab. Which is almost the most stressful part for us here, I felt way more comfortable and it was a huge relief for me because I’ve been doing it for so long, the hands-on stuff. I didn’t really know the meaning behind everything I was doing, which is what I learned here. But being comfortable with a lot of the equipment and techniques before getting here was something that I am extremely grateful for. If I didn’t have that, I would probably be even more stressed. It’s a little different than just bookwork and keeping up with that, because when you get here, they kind of make it an even playing field.

You may get a little more of an advantage if you are studying a lot more in undergrad or if you come straight from undergrad, but I think you can always make that up, because studying is studying. You just have to find out what you’re comfortable with, whereas being in lab and doing things with your hands and conversating with patients and doing all that, I feel like that’s a little bit more difficult for most people. So I would say the work experience was much more beneficial than undergrad.

Jenn: I can definitely attest to that, although I had a different experience with undergrad, so I had clinicals and I had practicals, so that kind of prepared me for what was coming, but also tech-ed as well before I came here and just the experience with the tools just having some familiarity definitely helped, but I did not feel prepared coming into grad school, because it’s the unknown and everybody told me it was going to be the hardest thing that I’ve ever done academically. But I think just approaching it with a positive ‘I’m gonna do this’ attitude is kind of what propelled me for the first few weeks and then you start to figure out your rhythm and then you start figuring it all out.