A year ago, on November 8th, 2019, I beamed into the camera as I stood in front of the doors to Salus University. I had just finished my first interview with the optometry program and it only took a few hours for me to realize that PCO was the one. The warm, welcoming environment of the admissions staff, the amazing Dean of PCO, and the fall colors made this Florida girl fall in love with the University and Pennsylvania. After careful consideration of my other options, PCO ultimately won my heart over as my next “home away from home.” I couldn’t wait for my next “eye-venture” to start.
Unfortunately, things did not happen as I had envisioned due to the pandemic.
The transition to professional school was rocky, at best, as opportunities to connect with my new peers were limited due to social distancing guidelines. I was worried that it would be a repeat of my first year of undergrad, where it took me an entire semester before I finally made my first close friend. Anxious about how my student experience would play out, I decided to make the most of any opportunity to make it memorable.
When my class found out our White Coat Ceremony would be held virtually (and only lasted ten minutes), I did not let my disappointment get the best of me. I turned to my art and I let my passion flow. Such an important milestone should be captured in my memory and if not a photograph, then why not a drawing? And so, I created a self- portrait with my virtual white coat to share that day. I shared it with my class and thus began my “Virtual White Coat Ceremony” series.
That wasn’t the only time art made an aspect of optometry school memorable. Classes were intense and the content difficult. It required creative solutions. I began using my art to test my understanding of the material. From little comics explaining various entrance exams to detailed illustrations showing the pathway of cranial nerves throughout the skull, art helped me feel more prepared for each exam. I happily shared such study resources with my peers, knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling with certain topics. Besides helping us in our personal studies, I hoped it would be a fun resource to teach others about optometry. I hope that there will be those who become inspired to become an eye doctor and that the community will appreciate the collaboration between the arts and the sciences.
Art created a platform for me to connect with others and share my own passions. Through the “Virtual White Coat Ceremony” series, I was given more opportunities to connect with classmates that I probably would not have met, since our class is divided into four sections. The study resources I share with my peers allowed us to engage with one another, to test each other’s knowledge, and just appreciate the sense of camaraderie we are able to form despite the circumstances. I personally feel like my art gave me a presence within my class, and I don’t feel like the wallflower I had been in undergrad. Art made the first semester of optometry school memorable and I cannot wait to see the next development of my student experience.
- Ariella is a first-year optometry student at Salus University