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When You Are the Youngest of all the Optometrists in the Room

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What happens when you find yourself in a room surrounded by optometrists who have been practicing well before you even knew how to spell “retinoscopy?”

Whether it’s at the office or a professional meeting, it is inevitable that you will be one of the few representatives from your generation. The preconceived notions of what older optometrists think of the newer generation can either have you feeling like you have something to prove or have you wanting to fade into the background.

These situations aren’t completely foreign, given that most of our days as optometry students were filled with interactions with practicing optometrists. As new and young ODs, we want to be taken seriously and gain respect among our colleagues, but it can be difficult to navigate these waters from our new vantage point without being intimidated (or obnoxious).

Whether you are a few months out of school or five years into practice, here are some key points that will help you to effectively establish yourself in a setting where you find yourself to be (one of) the youngest in the room.

Proceed with Confidence

Now, it’s natural to feel like you should have to make up for your lack of experience by attempting to show how much you really do know.

However, that can often come off as being arrogant or insecure and could be off-putting to your older colleagues. Remove the pressure of being expected to have experienced or know everything when you are early in your career. Years of experience is not a thing that can be attained overnight. However, there seems to be an understanding amongst older optometrists that the younger ODs are likely more up to date with the latest developments and technology within our profession.

So, there’s really no need to approach these situations with the goal of “proving your competence.” You can imagine how uncomfortable it can be attempting to connect with a person that feels inadequate around you and feels the need to overcompensate.

Be your honest, true self and you will be able to build solid relationships and garner respect among your older colleagues.

Don’t Use Your Limited Experience as A Disclaimer

Don’t fall into the habit of making your limited experience a negative thing.

“Well I’m only -x- years out of school but…” or “well I just graduated but…” Statements such as these have the undertone of insecurity in your experience and negatively impact your audience’s reception of anything that follows that opening line.

It’s better to state “from my experience thus far” or “in my experiences as a young optometrist…” These leading statements are better suited for the insightful comment or perspective you aim to convey to your audience.

Your experience is still experience nonetheless, and only you know what you know when it comes to your professional experience. Meanwhile, acknowledge your inexperience with your willingness to learn.

Ask Questions. Learn Much.

One of the benefits of being a young OD is that there is so much more to learn from our older colleagues.

What better way to strengthen the foundation of our careers than by gleaning from the vast and various experiences shared amongst the older generation? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain in these interactions. By asking questions, you show that you are willing to learn and recognize there is more to learn. We have the benefit of being able to gain from the generation of optometrists that come before us and the advantage of being able to impact them with fresh perspectives.

Don’t be tempted to just be in the background and assume everyone else knows best. Questions are a good thing, whether they are out of curiosity or aim to challenge existing thought.

Be an Expert in Something

Explore some sort of specialty or at least a specific topic that you are curious or passionate about.

Take the time to become an expert in that area or topic. It becomes easy to engage with others when the topic arises. When you’ve taken the time to develop your area of expertise and passion, it shows in your interactions and leaves a lasting impression.

Talk about your ideas and share your insight and developments in those particular areas. Not only does this set you apart from your peers, it can also connect you with other individuals who either share the same interests or recognize the need for your skill.

Passion and ambition are contagious and desirable when it comes to connecting with others.

Own this Phase of Your Career

There will come a time where the roles have shifted and you are then looked to as the seasoned professional.

These early years do not last for long. Use these times to your advantage – older doctors are often willing to gain insight from younger professionals in certain areas.

You may encounter individuals who either:

  1. Expect very little from you, because of your age/experience
  2. Expect a lot from you because of your age/experience

Either way, use this time in your career to your advantage. Older optometrists are often willing to gain insight from the younger generation. Likewise, as previously stated, the young optometrist should be doubly willing to gain insight from the older optometrist. We knew this as students, but it can be easy to forget when we transition into practice. We fail when we attempt force ourselves into a place that only time and experience can take us.

The goal is to recognize the value we have in our young careers. Own this time. You only get to live through it once.
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About Feyi Aworunse

Feyi Aworunse
I am 2016 graduate of the Southern College of Optometry and current Resident in Family Practice at the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Optometry. My interest is in community based eye care on local and international levels in addition to optometry's role within an interdisciplinary health care model. When I'm not caring for my patients, I enjoy a good book, good food, good company and any opportunity to satisfy my wanderlust.

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