Transitioning from California back to the wintery east cost for my third rotation at White River Junction Veterans Affairs hospital in Vermont was easier than anticipated. As a born-and-raised Californian, I’ve had this really idealistic mindset that the mountains of the East Coast are an eternal blizzard ever since I moved out here first year.
Whether due to global warming or simply having unrealistic expectations, my arrival to Vermont was far less dramatic. I spent one night at the house of my old land lady from my first rotation in New Hampshire before moving to VA White River Junction the next day. It was great to reconnect with old friends (and house pets!) again.
As much as optometry is a small community, the states of Vermont and New Hampshire seem even smaller. Every optometrist seems to know each other and roam in similar social circles. After my first rotation in New Hampshire, I knew that not only was the optometric community tight-knit, the patient base was also very communal and Vermont was no different.
Being at White River Junction Veterans Affairs hospital for three months was like being with a small family for three months. I was able to retrieve some winter gear from my attending doctor from first rotation because he knew I’d be returning to the area during winter and was kind enough to allow me to take up a bit of his storage space. Even now that winter rotation is over, I find a great sense of comfort knowing I have all these friendly faces and connections through my rotations.
This rotation was different in that it provided dormitory housing for students along with 3 meals a day through the cafeteria. While the food wasn’t anything gourmet, it was definitely appreciated during a busy clinic day. Between not having to rent a car, not paying housing rent, electricity and heating, and minimal outside food expenses, I estimated that I easily saved a few thousand dollars!
While having the winter rotation meant limited outdoor activities, I had some of the best residents around this year who invited the externs to multiple social activities. One of the memorable ones was visiting ice castle sculptures in Lincoln, NH and Christmas lights hunting in Vermont.
The residents at the placement, Dr. Kimberly Ly, Dr. Eric Larios, and Dr. Craig Volpe, always welcomed externs to their homes where they always had a roaring wooden fire going and took us under their wings. The residents really made an effort to make what could’ve felt like an isolated rotation feel homey and welcome. They hosted football watching parties, baking sessions, and plenty of sleep-overs if there was ever only one extern there due to others being away. They made sure no one ever felt lonely or left out! The residents truly exemplified what it meant to embrace your colleagues and they were a huge part of why I loved this rotation so much!
On the academic side, I have to say that while I have been lucky in all of my rotations to have amazing preceptors and attending doctors who truly seem to enjoy working with student externs, the attending doctors at White River Junction really exemplified “clinical teaching” of optometry. Every single doctor there seemed to truly enjoy teaching and always went above and beyond to make students feel at ease to ask any question, optometry-related or otherwise. They had a laid back teaching style and always had a few “real life tips” that simply can’t be learned in a classroom. Since it was a Veterans Affairs hospital, they were not only able to practice full scope optometry, this particular site also had a very close working relationship with the ophthalmologists so students were able to shadow and have access to surgical questions and observational opportunities as well.
During my rotation, I encountered my first central retinal vein occlusion, handled my first patient education for malignant hypertension with high-risk diabetic retinopathy, and observed fluorescein angiography, skin lesion and cysts removals, as well as shadowed retinal ophthalmologists. The schedule was set up so that each extern worked with all four optometrists on a rotating schedule. Each of the four externs reported equally to the ODs, so that we were all exposed to different personalities and were able to learn something different from each attending doctor. Under their guidance, I learned how to think more critically in the treatment and management of diseases so that I’m not just going through the motions. I’m learning how to have the “tough conversations” with patients and how to stay calm and breathe through even the more perplexing cases so that we can provide the best patient experience. It was an extremely well-rounded rotation that definitely strengthened my ocular disease treatment and management skills. Even though each of these rotations has been just a 3-month windows of my life, they have become irreplaceable memories.
While it was definitely cold and I survived more than a few snow storms, this rotation’s sheer positivity by both attending doctors and residents breathed warmth into this chilly rotation. If I had to do it all over again, I would still pick VA White River Junction as one of the sites for my “star boxes.” In my opinion, its unparalleled personal education and friendliness of both doctors and staff and resident doctors made it one of the best rotation sites NECO offers, hands down. I almost cried on my last day, but I know that since optometry is a small family, I’ll definitely be seeing everyone again!
Angela originally hails from California. She is currently in her final year doing clinical rotations.