When I was at RIT I didn’t want to believe the stories about
patient interaction and care. I refused to believe that I would ever have to
hold open lids or deal with media opacities or even help hold a patient up to
the machine for their tests. I was used to fresh, young, healthy eyes that were
used to dilation and bright lights. My ophthalmic instructor always told us
that our classmates would be the best patients we’d ever have and she was very
When I first started at the eye institute I thought I would
have it easy. I thought my patients would be nice and cooperative and that my
coworkers would marvel at my accuracy and speed. Reality hit me real fast. This
job would not be the walk in the park I believed it would be.
On my first day at the institute I figured I would be at a
slight disadvantage because it had been at least a year from finishing my
ophthalmic class to when I was hired to work in the ophthalmic field (Meaning
it had been quite some time since I had used a fundus camera). I figured I
could still keep up and be a great photographer. I quickly became depressed and
discouraged when I saw the speed at which my seasoned coworkers could sweep
through images on an unruly, uncooperative patient.
Although imaging my first patient didn’t take an hour to do,
I still needed to hurry it up. After some practice however, I did manage to
quicken my pace.
I also wasn’t anticipating the doctors and their needs. I
had no idea that each doctor has likes and dislikes and if you do something
they didn’t ask for (even if it’s helpful) you may hear about it. If you forget
to do something they ask for (because, again, they each like different things
and it’s hard to remember which things go to which doctors) you will most
definitely hear about it. Luckily I had great coworkers that taught me (very
quickly) what each doctor expected and how to speak to them about it.
When it’s sink or swim you learn to swim very, very fast. I
found that I had been thrown into a raging sea of patients, testing, doctors,
and high expectations and I thought, for a brief moment, that I might drown.
There were two reasons that I survived. I had the drive to stay ahead. I took
notes and tried to commit as many things to memory as I could. I also was lucky
enough to have supportive coworkers and team members guiding me and telling me
that I was doing just fine. Any time I got discouraged or made a mistake, they
were there to tell me how they did the same thing when they started and that
it’s not the end of the world.
When I went through the biomed program I was very similar to
my classmates. We took similar classes and did the same project on the same
subjects. When we left our program we all looked the same to employers. So… how
did I end up with this position over my classmates? What set me apart? I’d like
to think that, yet again, it was my drive. I wanted so badly to find a career
in this field, that I took the classes, did the projects, and reached out to my
teachers for help (for those of you who don’t know, your teachers are great
resources). My ophthalmic imaging teacher led me to a job at the University of
Rochester, imaging for a diabetic retinopathy clinical trials project. That job
opened the door and introduced me to people that helped me into the position
I’m in now.
If I could give advice to anyone currently taking the
ophthalmic courses, it would be to learn about OCTs. Also practice, practice,
practice taking fundus photos. OCTs are a very popular and in demand test and
if you apply for a job already knowing how to use one or at least know how they
work, you will be ahead of your classmates. As for the fundus photos, I know
almost all of us in the class took photos to meet the requirements of the
projects, and then we went home. I wish I had stayed and shot eyes with
differing degrees of dilation. It would have made me faster and better at
imaging (a healthy eye at least). I don’t think enough people take advantage of
their resources when they are in school and they don’t realize that they should
have until they graduate and can no longer utilize them.
My advice to the new people coming into this field (or any
field for that matter) would be to work hard and try your best. Your coworkers,
doctors, and patients will appreciate it. Also, if you make a mistake, own it.
Talk to the doctor about what happened. The fact that you can recognize that
there is a problem and fix it will make them respect you more.
My last piece of advice or word of caution is to treat
everyone you work with (whether it’s a classmate or coworker) with respect.
Don’t be lazy and push your work onto them or be rude and inconsiderate. You
never know who will have a say in hiring you down the road. Also, never forget
to thank people who have helped you along the way no matter how small the help
is. They will remember. Speaking of giving thanks, I would like to thank
everyone in the ophthalmic department at the University of Rochester. They have
helped me learn new things and made me comfortable in the workplace. They are
making me the strongest photographer I can possibly be. I’d also like to thank
my ophthalmic professor/student advisor at RIT, Christye Sisson. Without her I
would not be where I am today nor would I have the knowledge to get to where I
Taylor Pannell graduated
from the Biomedical photographic communications major at the Rochester
Institute of Technology in 2012. While there, she studied photomicroscopy,
ophthalmic photography and print design and publishing. In
October of 2012 she started working on the Tele-I-Care study that dealt with
imaging patients with diabetic retinopathy. While working on the Tele-I-Care
study she also worked part time in the Flaum Eye Institute at the
University of Rochester until she was brought on full time in May of 2013. She
is currently working towards obtaining her CRA and OCT-C.