Published in Non-Clinical

Why Pursue Optometry Residency?

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7 min read

Discover what optometry residency programs offer to recent graduates and how to align your educational background with your career goals.

Why Pursue Optometry Residency?
Why do optometrists consider pursuing a residency? What are they seeking to gain? Why do some optometrists not pursue residency?
A residency can serve as a great entry point into specialty eyecare. It can also improve your management of ocular disease and expose you to conditions and opportunities you would not encounter otherwise.
As you navigate your pursuit of a residency, ensure that it is to elevate your learning in an area of optometric care that you are passionate about.

Overview of optometry residency programs

We all have fundamental competencies as we graduate from our respective educational institutions. What lies beyond and your decision to pursue a post-graduate residency allows you to elevate your core competencies beyond the learned fundamentals.
Often, the pursuit of residency is with a specific career goal in mind. The expanded skills learned in residency can elevate your critical thinking and level of patient care through practice-based medicine, mentorship, and collaborative care.

By committing to a residency, you are committing to continued learning. This commitment can serve as a benefit to yourself, your patients, the profession, and beyond.

5 benefits of an optometry residency

Pursuing an optometric residency was the most pivotable and important decision of my optometric career.
By completing a dual residency in cornea and contact lens and ocular disease, I was exposed to challenging patient encounters, working alongside ophthalmology and optometry colleagues in a tertiary care academic medical center. Throughout my residency year, I developed close relationships with like-minded professionals as I continued to navigate my career strengths under the direct mentorship of my residency director.

The mentorship I received and my daily clinical experiences taught me more than I could have imagined.

My residency exposed me to the world of elevated learning and exposed my passion for education. The sequence of events and expanded network of colleagues led me to where I am today, fulfilling my career passions by caring for patients with complex corneal diseases while continuing to serve the optometry community through education, writing, and research.
An optometry residency provides the following:

1. Confidence

Confidence is like a muscle—the more you work at it, the stronger it gets. During your time in residency, you will flex your confidence as you are met with various challenges—challenges in the form of diseases encountered as well as professional development.
As you navigate your residency journey, you will elevate your clinical and professional skills, elevating your confidence. Following residency, you will enter your professional career with an increased sense of preparedness.

2. Education

Use your time in residency to flex your intellectual and social muscles by engaging in opportunities to perhaps lecture, author manuscripts for publication, present posters at conferences, and conduct research. This may be especially supported in academia-driven residency sites.

If research is something you are passionate about, consider investigating residency opportunities that have established research programs.

3. Career opportunities

During residency, you will be exposed to opportunities and engagements with like-minded individuals who, like you, have committed to continued learning. While most optometry positions do not require completion of a residency, certain employers may seek residency-trained optometrists.
Completing a residency can help elevate your candidacy and allow you to stand out as a job candidate. If your residency site offers research, this can expose you to additional opportunities, exposure to the industry, and research career opportunities.

4. Patient experience

A survey study by Gay et al. concluded that those who choose residencies are exposed to more ocular conditions than first-year practicing optometrists.1 Tailor your residency choices to what you would like your clinical practice and career to focus on.

A critical aspect of patient care is proper communication and compassionate care.

If, for instance, your passion is in cornea and contact lens, then pursuing a cornea and contact lens residency would afford you exposure to challenging specialty cases. Navigating challenging patient encounters in residency will reinforce growth in communication and transform you to become a better practitioner to provide superior care to your patients.

5. Mentorship

No one can do it alone! A large part of learning during residency includes the direct mentorship and guidance received from your residency director.
Spending a year under direct supervision and guidance can greatly positively impact your career growth in aspects of clinical decision-making and communication. The relationships you form with your mentors during the residency will last a lifetime.

What kinds of optometry residencies are there?

The diverse types of residencies include primary care, pediatric optometry, vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, and cornea and contact lenses. There are 435 residency slots available across 200 accredited residency programs.2 About 26% of optometric graduates pursue a residency.2
Of the residencies available, ocular disease makes up the highest number with 133 programs, while cornea and contact lens has the lowest with only 19 programs.3 The average number of applications per program is the highest at 15.2 for cornea and contact lenses, making this program the most competitive.3
Table 1 outlines various specialties within optometry residences and how many spots were available in 2022.
SpecialtyAverage Available Spots in 2022
Ocular Disease266
Primary Care Optometry131
Pediatric Optometry47
Vision Rehabilitation36
Cornea and Contact Lenses20
Table 1: Courtesy of the American Optometric Association
For some, residency is a stepping stone in the path to a life-long commitment to education. For others, it is to reinforce core competencies, network, master skills in a sub-specialty, and so on. Whatever the goal, choosing a residency can redirect the course of your future, opening new opportunities and exposing you to parts of academia, industry, and clinical specialty.

The biggest limitation in pursuing residency is commonly the lower salary. This is a true limitation that must be considered with personal and family obligations in mind when considering residency. If it is not the time to pursue residency, remember that it can be reconsidered in the future.

In conclusion

This article is not intended to persuade optometry students to choose a particular career path or ascertain one path as superior to another; instead, it is with the intent to expose the true benefits of a residency to allow you to make an informed and appropriate decision for your career path and goals.
Deciding to complete a post-graduate optometry residency can change the course of your professional career. Consider your goals, determine your professional needs and curiosities, assess your personal and financial commitments, and allow yourself the opportunity to consider residency.
Bita Asghari OD, FAAO, FSLS
About Bita Asghari OD, FAAO, FSLS

Dr. Asghari is the Associate Director of Clinical Education for BostonSight. Her clinical practice is patient-centric, collaborative and focuses on caring for those with complex ocular surface and corneal diseases with the aid of advanced customizations of scleral lenses.

As the Associate Director of Clinical Education, she also serves as adjunct clinical faculty for MCPHS school of Optometry and New England College of Optometry (NECO), working with students and contact lens residents. Dr. Asghari completed her Doctorate in Optometry from Southern California College of Optometry, graduating summa cum laude. Prior to joining BostonSight, she completed her PROSE clinical fellowship, as well as her post-doctoral residency in Cornea & Contact Lens and Ocular Disease from The Ohio State University Havener Eye Institute.

Dr. Asghari is equally passionate about education as she is about patient care. She enjoys working with students, lecturing, and writing for publications with her professional goal of expanding the understanding and scope of treatment for ocular surface diseases. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry (FAAO), was awarded the VSP/AOF Practice Excellence Scholarship and was elected as a Top Doctor by the National Keratoconus Foundation (NKCF) in 2018 and again in 2021.

Bita Asghari OD, FAAO, FSLS
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