US optometry student, Keyla Gammarano, shares her experiences of combining her career with her passion for travel
03 April 2019
Where are you based now and where have you travelled to?
I am a fourth-year optometry student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During my academic and optometric career, I have tried to take advantage of as many conferences around the US as possible. I have travelled domestically all throughout the US. I have been to 32 out of the 50 states. During my spare time, I try to see as much as the world as possible and have travelled internationally to the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Italy, Spain, France, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England. My next trip is to Bali and Thailand in June.
What inspired you to travel and how did it come about?
I grew up in a military family, so we moved every two to four years. I loved experiencing different cultures and meeting new people everywhere I went. I experienced the country side of Texas, arctic winters in Alaska, suburban New England and city life in New York. Moving around so much in my adolescence really inspired me to want to continue travelling.
I try to see as much as the world as possible and have travelled internationally to the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Italy, Spain, France, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England. My next trip is to Bali and Thailand in June
How do you prepare for a trip?
As an optometry student, finding time to study and enjoy my time away during trips is always a challenge. I always plan my studies strategically. For example, if I am travelling with friends or family, and I have examinations when I return, I plan my trip accordingly. I make sure to wake up hours before anyone else so I can complete my studies and assignments. This way, I can enjoy the rest of the day exploring.
What is a typical day like for you at university and in the practice?
Each morning I wake up at 6am to get ready for clinicals, then from 8am–9am I have journal review with fellow students on cases and recent articles. I see patients from 9am–12pm. I usually grab a quick bite to eat between 12pm–1pm, and finish patient charts from the morning. From 1pm–4pm afternoon clinic begins and I see anywhere between two to four patients depending on complexity of the case or schedule. From 4pm–5pm I finish afternoon charts and then drive home. I then attend the gym or have an evening class followed by two hours of study for boards or classes. By 10pm I’m getting ready for bed in order to do it all again tomorrow.
What is your first impression on arriving in the new destination?
I am always anxiously excited for what is to come. I love exploring museums, parks, different restaurants, shopping and learning about every unique feature of the particular place I visit. I find the best experiences are when you meet local people who are able to guide you.
What inspired you to go in to optometry?
My whole family works in the healthcare field and my father suggested I shadow his friend who is an optometrist and solo private practice owner. After spending a week with him, and seeing his day-to-day interactions with his patients, I immediately fell in love with the profession. I took the Optometry Admission Test, applied for optometry school, got accepted and began my academic career at Nova Southeastern University. I love this profession because it goes beyond medicine. There is a business aspect in running your own solo private practice and there is an opportunity to teach others. I’ve recently started posting an educational series with interesting cases on my Instagram account.
How do you successfully balance studying and work with travelling and experiencing the world?
I was fortunate enough to involve myself in student leadership organisations which allowed me the opportunity to use travel grants and scholarships to attend professional conferences. This is one of the benefits of being involved with organisations at your school. Many people are not aware that you can travel with little to no expense just for doing something you already love. It has also allowed for great networking opportunities in different parts of the country. I attended Southeastern Council of Optometry in Atlanta, Georgia last year; The American Optometric Association meeting in Washington DC; The American Academy of Optometry in Chicago, Illinois; the Florida Optometric Association Convention in West Palm Beach, Florida; and the Student Optometric Leadership Network in Dallas, Texas. I love being able to learn and explore new places.
How does optometry differ in the different places that you have worked or travelled to?
I have worked on placements in many settings including a hospital-based clinic, an MD/OD private practice, government run and free-standing clinics. My experience differs at every site, depending on what is expected of the optometrist, as well as the regulations involved. Every site had a different scope of practice. In addition, each state has a different scope of practice which governing bodies allow. For example, in some states optometrists are able to use YAG lasers to perform iridotomies, while in some states these procedures are reserved for ophthalmologists.
Little do people know that you can travel with little to no expense just for doing something you already love doing
What is the lifestyle like outside of practice in the places that you have travelled to and how does it differ to the one back home?
The lifestyle outside of practice in South Florida involves heavy traffic, the sun, the beach, and the occasional hurricane. I’ve travelled to many places that are different to Florida and have had a different experience in each. For example, I enjoyed travelling to Ireland because it has a colder climate than what I am used to.
What is the most rewarding aspect of optometry where you are based now?
I am currently on my paediatrics rotation serving children in need of contact lenses; this has been the most rewarding although challenging experience in school. This is especially rewarding because I feel like I am impacting children’s mental health, success in school, and the overall quality of their life.
What is the most challenging aspect of optometry where you are based now?
The most challenging aspect that I’ve come across is educating patients on the role of online eye examinations. Technology has propelled medical specialities; however, it should be seen as an augmentation of the physical examination, which cannot be replaced. This is especially important with patients who have systemic health conditions and whose vision could become compromised. Conversely, an eye exam can reveal early systemic disease, all leading to better outcomes.
What have you learnt from moving or travelling and how has it helped you with your approach to optometry?
Travelling has taught me to be more open minded in general. It has also taught me how to improve my communication skills with patients. As a physician, it is important to take patient’s educational, socio-economical, and cultural differences into consideration when communicating with them. Most of all, after travelling to many places outside the US I am very grateful to have trained in a place where we have almost unlimited resources to diagnose and treat.
What inspired you to share your experience on social media?
A patient of mine inspired me to share my experience on social media. She was a 14-year-old who had 20/20 OD and 20/200 OS. She came in for her first eye exam and I found a prescription of plano OD and +9.00D OS. Her diagnosis was refractive amblyopia. This was a sad case because her prognosis would have been more promising had she come in at an earlier age for an eye examination. This is a perfect example about how educating people can prevent lifelong disease. This inspired me to become more vocal about eye exams in general using social media. American physician and researcher, Dean Ornish, said it best, “Awareness is the first step in healing.” Currently, most people aren’t aware that eye examinations are recommended on an annual basis. It is part of my job as a provider to spread awareness about eye health and vision to my patients and those beyond my immediate reach with social media.
What’s been your most memorable experience from travelling?
The first thing that comes to mind was my trip to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. My mother’s family is of Dominican descent and I speak Spanish, so I worked with an ophthalmologist and his team on translating to the patients who were having cataract surgery. It was an amazing experience in which I utilised another language to change the lives of people much less fortunate than most Americans.
American physician and researcher, Dean Ornish, said it best, “Awareness is the first step in healing.” Currently, most people aren’t aware that eye examinations are recommended on a regular basis
What advice would you give to someone thinking about relocating or travelling?
My advice is go for it. Never pass up an opportunity. Most people are comfortable in their environment and miss out or pass up opportunities because of this. Most of my greatest experiences have been stepping outside of my comfort zone. Do your homework, accept a challenge and don’t look back. These can all be life changing.
I would highly recommend going on mission trips and professional conferences. Exploring new places and taking a break from studies are an important work life balance. At the same time, these travels can be relevant to your overall professional development. Not to mention, the best time to travel is while you are in school because you get great discounts on conference attendance and accommodation.
What’s the best thing about where you have travelled to and your favourite places to visit or activities to do in these destinations?
Seeing how differently people live in each destination and learning about people’s perspectives on life. We tend to think of our little world as global. However, once you have travelled you quickly realise this is not so. I make it a point to be outdoors as much as possible whether that be exploring, hiking, being in the ocean or shopping.
Sum up the experience in a sentence?
Heraclitus said it best in three short words, “Character is destiny.”
What are the top three places to travel to or things that anyone visiting these destinations should experience?
- London, England — Sketch restaurant and tea room
- County Antrim, Northern Ireland — Carrick-a-Rede Bridge
- Cassis, France — Plage de la Grand Mer, Cassis Beach.