Reflecting On A Few Things: Optometry School Is Like... - Colleen Brynn Travels

Reflecting On A Few Things: Optometry School Is Like…

Nov 20, 2013 by


Reykjavik, Iceland


At the beginning of my first year in optometry school last September, one of the upper years told me, “Optometry is like jail. You have to do your time, but you will get out.”

It wasn’t until this year that I understood firsthand what he was telling me. Optometry at Waterloo is a four year program, and I am almost finished my first term of second year. At this point in the program, I feel like I am in the middle of a gymnastics foam pit, trying to climb through and over piles of mushy foam to get out. It’s not easy. I might have landed a perfect spinning, tumbling leap to get into the pit, but getting out is another consideration altogether.

I don’t write this to complain or speak negatively of the program or my chosen field. While I was struggling through first year, everyone told me over and over again that “it gets better” with each year that passes. So far, this has been true. In second year, I have learned some invaluable clinical skills that I will  be able to use to diagnose and recognize all kinds of conditions and diseases in order to help people with their vision and overall quality of life. As I said, I don’t write this to be a downer. I write this to shed light onto what it’s like to go through a professional program like optometry. It’s not meant to be easy; like most things in life, if it were easy, more people would do it.

As someone with an arts and business background, going through a program this regimented is particularly challenging. Just like when I play hockey and don’t want to be treated differently because I am a girl, I haven’t liked to use my background as an excuse as to why I’m finding some things challenging. However, when I look down and see myself trapped in a foam pit, I’m becoming increasingly accepting of the fact that this just isn’t going to be as easy for me as someone who has done nothing but science his whole life. My adult science career began at 24, when I went back to get high school chemistry and physics so that I could enrol into university-level science.

Soon, I will be able to see patients. Come third year, we get clinical exposure, and this is what I am really looking forward to, thanks to my great love of people. To be able to get there, a person like me has to persevere and remember what is waiting at the end of my sentence on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

There is freedom. On so many levels, there is freedom. There is the opportunity to give the gift of sight, to travel the world speaking the languages I love whilst helping people to see and to treat diseases when I can. I can carve out the future I want for myself and be content knowing that I deserve it; all I have to do is think back on these four years and recall how hard I worked.



Headingley, Manitoba, Canada


Segovia, Spain


Grand Case, St. Martin


Nizhny Novgorod, Russia


Madrid, Spain


Keflavik, Iceland


Madrid, Spain


Windwardside, Saba


Greenwich, England


Prague, Czech Republic




Buenos Aires, Argentina


St. Petersburg, Russia


Alcatraz – San Francisco, USA

People often say, “do what you love.”

But what if you have to do something really really really hard in order to do what you love and in order to live a life that you will love? I refuse to believe that I have to live a life of instant gratification in order to be happy. I refuse to believe that I have to sell all my belongings in order to find meaning in my life. I refuse to believe that the only life I can live in which I find happiness is one where happiness comes easily.

Guess what. It doesn’t. Happiness is a choice, and to be happy takes a lot of work. Sometimes, that work comes in the form of optometry school, and sometimes it can feel a whole lot like prison (…or a gymnastics foam pit).

At least in this prison, there is wine and rum, and when I am having an evening aperitif, I look down and see the cup holding my drink: the souvenir tin inmates’ cup I bought at Alcatraz in 2012. As I sip down the friendly liquid, I can’t help but smile a little and think, how fitting.


  1. Uncle Pete

    Good post Colleen. Study hard…it isn’t forever.

  2. Zhu

    I’m a big fan of self portraits and this series rocks! I had not idea this was your educational background. I have pretty shitty eyes (well, one pretty shitty eye) and thanks God for optometrists! My favourite healthcare pro ever 😉 That said, I’ve heard it was a very challenging program. You have the brains woman!

    • Colleen

      Yes, I have seen your self portraits! They are fun. I have been “collecting” these ones for several years now. I bet I could make a book of them soon.
      Thank you for your kind comment and taking the time to read, as always.
      I would love to have a look at your eyes to see what you call “shitty”!

  3. lol as long as the wine and rum keep flowing haha

    nah, life is great – and so is your blog 🙂

    thanks for the cool pics. the one in iceland, the first one
    reminds me of a horror movie.. lol maybe its just me haha

    Pura vida!

    • Colleen

      Wine and rum! One thing at my house that’s never out of stock! Haha!
      I totally see what you mean about the Iceland pic. I love that photo… I love the sky behind and how my hair is getting whipped in the wind.
      Thank you for such a kind comment. Por favor, visitenme otra vez super pronto! 😀

  4. Everything passes, faster than you imagine while you’re in the midst of it.

    love the selfies btw… and your creative use of reflective surfaces.

    Can’t wait till you’re seeing clients – then you can get a selfie in the reflection of their cornea. 😀

    • Colleen

      Thank you for your kind encouragement Maria. You are totally right. 🙂
      I will definitely try to get a cornea shot. That’s a great idea!

  5. Lauren

    Great insight Colleen…as per our conversation on the weekend, it will be worth it…


  6. cubiclethrowdown

    I love this!! I’m so glad university is over. I hated all 5 years of it 🙂 Also, girl, you rock a mean scarf. Well done.

    • Colleen

      Haha I never even really thought about the scarves in this post! I have so so many scarves…

  7. I agree that sometimes happiness doesn’t come easy, or at the very least, that sometimes (most times!) the things that we want don’t just fall into our laps and that if something is worth having then the work we put into getting it will be worth it too.

    I definitely understand how sometimes things we want really feel like torture or interminable prison sometimes; at least your program is only 4 years! When I worked on my PhD, it took me 7 years to complete, and I wound up finishing it being a COMPLETELY different person than the one I started. There were definitely times when I thought I wouldn’t make it, when I nearly quit ( and I pretty much never quit anything), but I pushed through and in the end I’ve got my degree. Now, what will I do with it? That’s an entirely different question! 😀

    • Colleen

      Oh god, I hear you. I think we are a lot alike.
      I can’t wait to see where your path takes you, with or without your PhD!

  8. Chinese Medicine School took 10 years off my life, but when I graduated I was never more proud of myself! Hang in there girl!!! LOVE the pics!

    • Colleen

      Thanks so much Andi. I knew you would understand my pain! I’m looking forward to the moment when I can feel that that sense of pride… without willing the time away of course. It’s such a delicate balance!

  9. I had something super thoughtful all planned out to say, but now I just can’t get over the fact that you actually bought one of those cups at Alcatraz. Oh, and anything with wine and rum can’t be *all* bad. Great attitude. Just like Andy Dufresne, you’ll make it out – and you’ll be SO much happier than if you hadn’t gone in!

    • Colleen

      Um, it’s currently my favourite booze holding cup. I hope that isn’t rainforest cafe style judgment in your italics. Hahaha… anyway thanks for taking the time to read and share some kind words with me.

  10. Emy

    Oh I understand you so much. I know where I want to eventually be, and I have so many reasons for wanting to get there. But the road is so long and oh … i didn’t know there would be deviations, traffic jam,some roadclosed and that driving could be so tiresome. Well you get the metaphor right. It honestly takes all my logic and focus to believe that it’s going to end one day. And then also comes the fear of failing (again). Will I get there? Will this diploma be enough? Will I be good ? Ah. I guess I’m not ready yet to stop seeing my therapist! Hang in there !! I’m sure you’ll do great and even greater once your studies are over and you start working!

    • Colleen

      Hey Emy, thanks for such an honest and open comment. It’s always nice to know I’m not alone and that other people understand… especially other students! Being a student is a lot harder than people give us credit for. I know so many people in the working world who keep saying how they miss being a student and would love to go back to those days. Well, I know for sure once this is done, that I am done with this level of schooling!!!

  11. Dale

    I felt like this before but. My motivation was different so I would never have expressed my feelings like I never had the language skills that you have.just saw my last patient in the pas .had people giving me hugs that I never would have expected…also several came in off the street to say thanks and give me a hug..when I started that practice that would never have it is worth all the school or in life…dad

    • Colleen

      Thanks dad. I’m touched that you took the time to typer-dad a response. xo

  12. What you said about happiness it’s so true Colleen. It doesn’t always come easy and maybe it’s one of the reason why it feels so good when we finally get there. No matter what your intentions and goals in life are, just go for it and eventually you’ll be repaid of all the sacrifices made to get there 🙂

    • Colleen

      Thank you Franca. I have faith that I will be rewarded at the end of this journey. 🙂

  13. As they say, nothing worth it is easy. Great pictures by the way.

  14. I LOVED this post. A life of instant gratification is both unfulfilling in the long run and… in my opinion, just selfish. There is so much we could work for that would give meaning to what we do as well as happiness, and benefits to other people. In two years you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor, it’ll be totally worth it! And your perspective makes it that much easier.

    • Colleen

      You just get me! I just feel like I’ve been too blessed in this life to not take advantage of the opportunities before me, and so much of that involves being able to use my mind (via school) in order to help people, and most importantly travel with purpose. Travel for travel’s sake is fine, but if I can do it with meaning and intention, then I know I will be happier for it.

  15. Gram

    This left me feeling happy for you Colleen. You’ll be free in a couple years and helping others in need. Very rewarding!!hugs!!

    • Colleen

      Thank you Gram. I’m so happy you commented! Love you and can’t wait to see you at Christmas!!! xoxox

  16. Great post. It is important I feel to do something that genuinely interests you and there are tough parts but it is good to be able to see the bigger picture and realize that your profession will tie in with travel and helping people 🙂

    • Colleen

      Hey thanks! After all… what would I do if I couldn’t tie in travel on some level?? Hope you are doing great! x

  17. I love your photos, Colleen, and how appropriate to the post! Keep pushing forward, our friend, you will get there and be an amazing success (at anything you do)! 🙂

    • Colleen

      Thank you so so much Mike. Your words (yours and Phoenix’s!) mean a lot to me! Nothing quite like having the support of a good pup behind you!

  18. I went through hell in Nursing school, practically lost half of my friends who couldn’t understand how challenging school was becoming, but I struggled to graduate, earn my license, work in the field I’ve always wanted to work. All those hard work paid off and has truly opened the doors for me to do so much more of the things I love – medical missions, traveling, spending time with family, etc. etc. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, but yes, it does get better 🙂 Great photos, btw!

    • Colleen

      Thank you Antoinette. I appreciate your words of encouragement and understanding!

  19. A very interesting article. Congrats Colleen. You may also want to visit this page There are a lot of reflections that you may be inspired of. Thanks!

  20. Steph M

    Hi Colleen!

    It’s awesome to be stumbling upon your blog on the internet,
    and finding out we’re both in the same class!

    Thanks for the inspiring article! 🙂

    • Colleen

      Hi Steph, I believe you were the one who wouldn’t let me get through gonio! 🙂 Hope you are enjoying 2nd year!

  21. Chloe

    Hello Colleen,
    What an inspiring beautiful post!!
    I have just finished my second year of Optometry in the UK. It’s a three year degree here, but with a ‘pre- registration’ year where I’ll be supervised and assessed in practice for one year after I qualify, so all in all, four years too! As a girl from a very artsy family (the only one not studying art at University!) I completely relate! It would have been easy and no doubt satisfying to do the same… sitting an drawing each day sounds much better than the delicate diagnosis of binocular vision problems, brain anatomy or lens calculation!! But… to live strictly within your comfort zone makes for a sedentary mind! It’s so exciting and humbling to know that we could be helping others immeasurably.. if we can just get through these horrible years!
    Your travel pictures are beautiful… the Iceland ones are my favorite!! I can’t wait to travel myself. So happy to have discovered your blog… luck and love for the future…
    Your fellow long- suffering Optom student, Chloe 🙂

    • Colleen

      Hi Chloe, congratulations on finishing 2nd year! I am actually taking a year off, and so far it has been exactly what I needed. Thank you for your kind words… I’m really glad when I can connect with people and they can relate to my writing. I hope I hear from you again. If we can provide any sort of overseas support to one another, that would be a good thing!

  22. Son

    I think with a free spirit and curiosity like yours, you will be bored with optometry after a few years…


  1. The Year That Was - Colleen Brynn Travels - […] happened to January, February, March, April? School, that’s what. I’ve written about how difficult school is and has been, and…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *