My name is Chad Said, and I’m a fourth-year student at UHCO. I wanted to share with everyone my experience with networking.
My educational background is a little different because I got my Master’s in Public Health back in 2017 and worked briefly as an epidemiologist before deciding to start my optometric journey. I remember with my job search, post-graduation, how it was much easier for some of my classmates who took the time to network and make connections in the field - to find great jobs. This wasn’t the case for me because I was so focused on my academics and honestly didn’t want to step out of my comfort zone much, and I lost track of the big picture. As a result, I was determined when I started my optometry journey to pay close attention not only to my academics but to the connections I make along the way.
I have witnessed firsthand how networking can open so many doors for you. Leaving a good impression on a Doctor will really help you in the job search process down the road. It’s not like the first doctor you’ll reach out to will offer you a job upon graduation, but they might know someone else who will. You’ll soon realize that one of the perks of our field is that ‘optometry is such a small circle’ and everyone is about 2 degrees of separation away from each other. Once you graduate and start looking for work, referrals can get you much further. We will all find jobs as ODs once we graduate but knowing the right person, and leaving a great impression on them, can help you negotiate a better salary, better working environment & accommodation, and better opportunities down the road.
One other thing to consider is the fact that as you network with other doctors you might learn about new things within the field that you have not considered before. Talking to the right person can open your eyes to avenues within optometry that can influence the decisions you make and classes you take right now. Talking to the right person might change your opinion on a residency in Specialty CLs, for instance, or might change your views on owning a practice because you were told it’s not as daunting as it may seem.
Also, don’t forget that while in school, especially at the beginning before we start seeing patients, we get this tunnel vision around our short-term stressors like exams such that we forget the end goal of all this studying. We’re truly "doctors in training" and not students anymore. Connecting with doctors and listening to the things they deal with daily can reinvigorate the passion within you that you had for this field when you first applied. It can break through the monotony of studying and leave you more motivated to excel academically and clinically.
Going to optometry events is the first step for successful networking. I understand that it can be time-consuming and financially cumbersome to attend these events but they’re truly a valuable investment in your future! There are many events to choose from, whether OM or Academy or your local state/regional meeting – any of those will provide a great outlook into what your future could look like! Plus, many of these meetings offer grants to ease the financial burden of attending them. Many of us may overestimate the stress of reaching out to doctors at events but from my experience most, if not all, ODs are always approachable and agreeable and happy to help. Mainly because they remember how they felt when they were in our shoes. As long as you are respectful in your approach, no OD will turn you away for a simple conversation.
Three important questions to ask any doctor you meet, after you introduce yourself, are:
- Ask where they work – the location and setting.
- Ask what they like about their work.
- Ask if they have any advice for someone at your age, what advice would they give themselves at that stage in their life?
Trust me, from experience as someone who used to dread starting conversations for fear of embarrassing myself, I soon realized that everyone loves to talk. Even the shyest of us, you just have to know the right questions to ask each person. With practice you’ll start figuring out great conversation starters and questions that can get a natural conversation going. As you practice more, this skill will develop further and you’ll soon be a great conversationalist which is not only great for networking but will also make you a great and effective doctor with your patients!
The key points that I learned are:
- Actively listen!
- Avoid controversial topics – especially, when you’re first working on honing these conversation skills and you don’t know yet how to recover from saying something unpleasant.
- Show empathy towards the person talking to you and appreciate what they’re telling you.
Finally, if you look at networking in a negative light, if you think of it as a cheap, transactional interaction then you’ll feel bad about the whole process and will not develop necessary interactive skills and valuable connections. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to meet new people, potentially make friends and learn from their experience. There were so many valuable lessons and facts I learned from random conversations from doctors at these events. And I started bringing up these facts in my future conversations with other doctors, enriching our conversations.
Networking can introduce you to people that inspire you and open valuable doors for you in the future that relieve the stress of job hunting when you get to that point. You do not have to be a social butterfly to connect with others, just step out of your comfort zone and you’ll start to grow!