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Monday, January 2, 2012

Let Students Get Theirs the Way I Did

Let Students Get Theirs the Way I Did

When I was President of the Illinois College of OptometryAlumni Association, I received numerous correspondences from our membership. The vast majority of which was in support of the ICO Alumni Association’s efforts to improve the Illinois College of Optometry and the life of our students. Occasionally I would receive somewhat negative and/or misguided missives. This is one of those that I believe to be somewhat misguided:

Dear Dr. Maino;
To not reply, you would have thought I ignored your request for support of the scholarship fund. I haven’t.   ME: Maybe I should have been class of 57 or 58; or 59. No class of 60. While attended ICO, I supported a family of 7. No matter what they have to eat. I was the only part time student at ICO, working night. When the economy tanked, no evening-night jobs.  Stop ICO, work days. My time was extended to 1960. No loans, no grants, no scholarships, only those by the sweat of my brow.
So I feel you have a good purpose, but let the students get theirs the way I did…

Please note that I did not change a single word of this letter. You are reading it, the way it was sent to me.
I obviously do not know all the personal circumstances surrounding this doctor’s life. I can only wish him and his family well and that his choice of optometry as a profession was, is and will continue to be a good one for him.

I am deeply saddened that he has, because of his life experiences, chosen such an inappropriate response to a call for support of our students. Our students deserve support. 

ICO’s current curriculum is significantly different from that experienced by the writer of the missive above.  I am often in awe of how well our students do when placed under incredible pressures. They not only have all the stresses of a highly demanding academic program, but must diagnose and treat the most medically challenging patients. Our students also travel all over  the world when sent to various diverse externship programs. These venues are at numerous Veteran Affairs Hospitals and Medical centers, tertiary care centers, and private multi-doctor practices around the country. ICO students have seen patients in China, Australia, and Dubai, as well as several other countries and have experienced and have had to adapt to cultures very different from ours. Before they leave ICO, however, students experience 95,000 patient visits at ICO’s clinical teaching facility, the Illinois Eye Institute. In the Pediatrics/Binocular Vision Service, where I spend most of my time, they experience 10-12,000 patient contacts alone.

The Illinois Eye Institute’s patient population tends to be comprised of those in most urgent need of care. They often delay any health care needed because our patients lack the ability to afford high quality and easily accessible care. We examine, diagnose and treat a significant number of patients with previously undiagnosed diabetes, hypertension and other medical anomalies; as well as considerable refractive errors and quality of life affecting binocular vision anomalies and learning related vision problems.

Despite all we ask of our students they routinely score the highest of any of the optometry schools in the country on National Board Examinations, seek out post graduate residency programs at high rates, and in general, are successful personally, professionally and fiscally. (Recently, one of our students scored the highest out of all students taking the NBEO nationally.)

Before our students ultimate success, however; comes a great deal of sweat upon their brow as well.
Since ICO’s program is so challenging and geographically diverse, most of our students cannot work. If they do work, it is usually on campus in a work study position. There is no such thing as a “part time student” at ICO. When you realize that the student’s financial investment is significantly greater than when the writer when to ICO, you know that asking our alumni to provide support for students is not only necessary but essential.

We all have our stories to tell. If I ever meet the writer of that letter, I hope he reminds me to tell him about growing up in a trailer and literally packing up and moving our home every few months so my dad could find work. I hope he reminds me to tell him stories about being poor, but not realizing it. I hope he reminds me to tell him how because of my experiences, I know how vital it is to support optometry’s students.

Let Students Get Theirs the Way I Did? Not if I can help it.

If you feel the same way, give of your time, talent, and yes, your treasure to the Illinois College of Optometry or whatever school/college of optometry from which you graduated. 

It is the right thing to do. The act of giving is deeply ingrained in the American culture so that the next generation has it a bit easier and a bit better than we did.

Support our optometry students. Give. Do it. 

Dominick M. Maino, OD, MEd, FAAO, FCOVD-A, Immediate Past President, ICO Alumni Association

Please note that the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. Any organizations or institution with which I may be affiliated are not responsible nor can be held accountable for what has been written here.

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