NEW YORK, N.Y. (May 21, 2020) —Soon-to-be-alumna Nicole Mercho’s advice to the next class of SUNY Optometry students is something she clearly took to heart: when opportunity knocks, say yes! And so not surprisingly, she graduates as a class president who has served in a host of other community-focused positions. The recipient of the Dr. Stanley Eisenberg Memorial Award for Excellence in Practice Development and Administration, the NYSOA Auxiliary Award for Outstanding Service to the Class of 2020 and the Billie M. Lyons Memorial Award for Distinguished Service to the College Community, here Mercho reflects on the power of yes and the beauty of optometry.
Degree: Doctor of Optometry
Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana
Undergraduate Education: Washington University in St. Louis — Psychological and Brain Sciences (2016)
What draws you to optometry?
In my sophomore year of college, I reached a roadblock regarding what I really wanted to do in my life. I had already been on the pre-med track, but knowing how much longer I needed to prepare to become a practicing MD—and what I wanted in my life outside of work—I reconsidered this original track. After shadowing a local optometrist, I realized optometry could provide me so much of what I craved, including patient relationships, science and technology, and healthcare. Coincidentally, around the same time, I was learning about the human visual system in a course and was struck by how complex and beautiful it really was, and how each cell plays a role in creating the world that we live in. It hit me how important and precious vision was.
What is your fondest memory of your time at the College?
There are so many, but a really special moment was the white coat ceremony after our second year. I spent many hours working with Dr. McGovern to help create a nice day for my class, and having my parents come to SUNY—for the first time—to watch this monumental celebration of hard work, meet my friends and professors, and finally see their daughter in a white coat was so meaningful.
How did your classmates shape your experience?
I have made some of my best friends in my class, so I will always be thankful to SUNY for this. But in general, my class has proven to be extremely intelligent, driven, talented and generous. They have always motivated each other and helped anyone who was struggling.
What was your favorite course?
My favorite was Dr. Madonna’s Ocular Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology I. He always made the class relevant and engaging and somehow made something as dry as anatomy exciting! It was also the first time being introduced to something “ocular,” and as a first year that is super exciting—like our first tangible step in becoming an optometrist. Now as I am about to graduate, I know how important this knowledge is in diagnosing and treating our patients.
What leadership positions did you hold at the College?
I have served as Class of 2020 president for the last three years. I have made such meaningful relationships with my classmates and professors throughout the process. It has also allowed me to serve others in a way that can also develop my own leadership, communication and organizational skills, which undoubtedly will help me in my career. I was class representative for VisionWalk all my years here, which has been extremely rewarding. Fundraising and raising awareness for the Foundation Fighting Blindness allows me to work toward something meaningful outside of SUNY and optometry school.
What does it mean to you to win these three awards?
The awards are important to me because I feel as if they commemorate the work I have put into my class and the SUNY community. I always strived to not only serve my class as president, but the larger SUNY community—whether it be through VisionWalk, tutoring, helping the Student Affairs office revamp the school’s commitment to student mental health, or just participating in the many activities and events SUNY offers. The awards recognize the time and hard work put in for the last four years, and I am very grateful to have received them! I will always be thankful to SUNY, which has given me a platform to grow and learn through various avenues.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I am pursuing a primary care/ocular disease residency at the NY Harbor Healthcare VA System—Brooklyn and St. Albans Campuses. I am passionate about expanding my knowledge regarding complex ocular disease, as well as incorporating systemic conditions in the management of these diseases. Working in a hospital setting has been a dream of mine, as is one day teaching at an optometry school, and this program will help prepare me for both of these long-term goals.
What advice would you give new students at the College?
Buy a planner, and say yes! Finding a good balance between work and play is so important. First, time management is crucial and life here will be different than in college, so it’s best to structure your work however works best for you (I’d argue the more detailed, the better). At the same time, New York is new, fun and exciting, and you will need your classmates to blow off steam. So if you’re invited somewhere and can manage the time, say yes!