Winner: Professor Martin Rubinstein
I had never heard of optometry until the age of 20,” specialist hospital optometrist at University Hospitals of Leicester and the recipient of the 2020 AOP Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, Professor Martin Rubinstein told OT.
Professor Rubinstein’s career into optometry began very much by chance. Having not achieved the A Level grades required that would take him down the path to medical school, his ophthalmologist father suggested he “consider ophthalmic optics (as optometry was referred to in those days),” the optometrist revealed.
“When my dad suggested this subject he called optics, it meant nothing to me. I had never had a sight test and didn’t have the faintest clue what would be involved,” Professor Rubinstein explained.
However, on his father’s advice, he took a walk down to his local university – Aston – located the optometry department and knocked on the door of the head of the school, Professor Geoffrey Ball.
“I simply explained my situation and asked about what the course involved,” he shared.
“While I didn’t get in that year as the course was full, I applied for the following year through UCAS and was offered a place,” he added.
Professor Rubinstein admitted that he found the first year really tough, but as the course progressed from basic science into the more clinical side of optometry, his passion for the subject grew.
“As a student, when we began focusing on the clinical aspects of optometry and getting involved in practical stuff, that’s when I began to really enjoy it,” he said.
Understanding that his interests and skills were based on the clinical aspects, he applied for and secured a pre-reg placement in the hospital setting. “I have the fondest memories of my pre-reg year. I absolutely loved it,” he said.
Completing his pre-reg placement at Cheltenham General Hospital, he describes the experience as somewhat unique. “It was under the supervision of two consultant ophthalmologists,” he shared, explaining: “I was their fourth pre-reg and it really suited me because I was given a lot of responsibility very quickly. The variety of work was also fantastic. My life-long interest in contact lenses and ocular surface disease started here and I had lots of very close interactions with a wide range of professionals.”
Unsure of the direction to take on qualification, Professor Rubinstein returned to Aston University as a qualified optometrist to undertake a PhD in visual electrodiagnosis under the supervision of psychologist Professor Graham Harding.
Embarking on his PhD also gave him the opportunity to indulge in some of his interests, which included teaching optometry students in primary care and contact lens clinics. These are interests that he still embraces today. “It helped to steer what has come thereafter and my work even today,” he said.
Having completed his PhD, Professor Rubinstein remained keen to pursue a medical career and secured a place at medical school at the University of Leeds. However, his medical career was short-lived. “It was the worst year of my life and was like starting all over again with A Levels,” he shared. Looking positively on the experience, he admits that if he had never trodden the path he would have always wondered, what if?
A hospital calling
Leaving medical school, Professor Rubinstein began to explore his options once more in optometry, feeling strongly that his experience and skills were best suited to the hospital setting. As a result, he took on the role of a full-time hospital optometrist at St Mary’s Hospital in Colchester.
“I spent four years at St Mary’s. It provided me with a good start and a strong grounding in hospital optometry,” Professor Rubinstein shared. However, as an ambitious optometrist and with the hospital being quite small, he described a secondment one day a week at Moorfields Eye Hospital as “the best thing that happened to me.”
“I learned a lot, made contacts and it put things into perspective,” he said.
From Colchester, he moved to Nottingham University Hospital where. It being a large teaching hospital, he had the opportunity to take part in more research and clinical aspects of optometry, as well as develop teaching and training courses for optometrists and ophthalmologists.
Reflecting on the role and the development of the department under his leadership, Professor Rubinstein shared: “The NHS changed a lot during my 25 years at Nottingham. The department itself, when I arrived, was quite archaic. The job of the optometrist was then regarded more that of a technician.
“I helped developed new services and advanced clinical practice, offering a range of diverse clinics that you wouldn’t have heard of being led by optometrists in the hospital setting 20 years ago”
Having seen so much change in the hospital setting during his career, when asked what changes he predicts are to come in the future, he admits that this is a constant topic of conversation with colleagues adding: “I don’t think anyone really knows the answer but I do think there is still more scope to be had – it is all a question of building bridges between the professions of optometry and ophthalmology and demonstrating very carefully what we can do together.”
Sharing highlights from a career that has spanned over 30 years, Professor Rubinstein said that being awarded an honorary professorship by Nottingham Medical School in 1998 was high on the list, as was being invited to present the inaugural Woodward Medal Lecture at the Hospital Optometrists’ Annual Conference in 2017.
Speaking about the professorship, which was the first of its kind to be awarded in the UK, he said: “It was astounding and I could not believe it really.”
In his Woodward Medal Lecture, Reflections from the Interface, he explored aspects and experiences of optometry and ophthalmology coming together. He was particularly honoured to be asked to give the talk, as the late Geoff Woodward was a very significant mentor. “He got me involved in a range of projects during my career and was a man that you couldn’t say no to,” he said.
Reflecting on his academic history, Professor Rubinstein said that receiving his PhD was “a very proud moment and a highlight also, particularly in light of my poor pre-university academic track record.”
In terms of next steps, he is showing no signs of slowing down. While he now works part-time as a specialist optometrist at University Hospitals of Leicester, he also works to support pre-regs, teaches third year students in Aston’s primary care clinic, and maintains involvement with various AOP and College activities.
“I have a continuing thirst for learning and teaching, and am very lucky to still enjoy my job. I really don’t look forward to retirement,” he said.
On being selected as the AOP Awards 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Professor Rubenstein said:
“It is a great honour; to be given an award by the AOP feels remarkable and delightful”
The AOP Awards 2020 was headline sponsored by CooperVision.