On the road
Domiciliary optometrist and business owner, Jon Deegan, on finding variety and a healthy work/life balance in the Lake District
29 October 2018
I was first introduced to optics by my father, who was a practitioner in the ‘70s.
He was a contact lens specialist in the time when contact lenses were transitioning from corneal to rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses. Although, as a young child I went to work with him on occasion, my insight into optics was minimal.
During my late teenage years, I wanted to be a doctor and secured a place at medical school.
However, within the first term I realised that it was not for me and I wanted a bit more of a work/life balance. I dropped out of medical school and spent the rest of the year working and soul searching. I knew that I still wanted to do something medical related and a close friend, who was studying optometry at the time, suggested I look in to optics.
On graduating from UMIST, I completed my pre-reg year in private practice before qualifying and working full-time for Specsavers.
Unfortunately, I didn’t warm to corporate optics. It was very different to my experiences as a pre-reg and in practice with my father. After 18 months, I went back to private practice.
As a youngster I had always wanted to travel and was very attracted to the notion of what Australia and New Zealand could offer – I have always been into the outdoors life.
Therefore, when I saw a position advertised for an optometrist in Tasmania, I thought, ‘why not?’ I spent a year based in Tasmania before I applied for a position in New Zealand with the same company and moved to the South Island. The experience I gained there was amazing and I practised in some unusual and rewarding settings. I went into a prison to test the sight of its inmates and also flew to a small island off the coast of Tasmania to test the sight of some of the 2000 population.
There are times when you feel like the James Herriot of the optics world – it is the middle of the winter and you are driving down an icy farm track to get to your patient
Returning to the UK, I knew that I couldn’t hack the city anymore, having lived on the remote north coast of Tasmania in sparsely populated areas where population density was low and the sea was on my door step.
I was given the opportunity to locum in Kendal in the Lake District and made the move. After a year, I had become frustrated with locuming and wasn’t finding the role overly fulfilling – I was a little stale. I took some time out of the profession and got my outdoors instructor awards and went into outdoor instruction for a short time.
When I moved to Kendal, I was aware that it was a close-knit community, which was something that I had experienced abroad and loved about the area.
I wanted to be part of the community. Not wanting my passion for the outdoors to become my work permanently, and I knew it would be daft to turn my back on optics completely, which is when I decided to establish my own domiciliary business – Optical Health at Home.
I am a keen athlete and after moving to the Lake District I saw the potential to combine this with my profession.
I completed my Sports Vision diploma and became known in a family-owned house practice where I did a regular day each week. I’ve had some enjoyable times in optics but around 2008 when I got my Sports Vision diploma, was starting my company and working one regular day in practice is certainly a career highlight for me. It is exactly where I wanted to be at that time.
Since establishing Optical Health at Home in 2009 I have always maintained a day in practice. I find this variety key and I like keeping a hand in on what’s new and emerging in the profession.
I always want to improve my clinical skills in whatever way I can. Getting familiar with new technology, such as optical coherence tomography, is really important to me.
In domiciliary work, you meet some real characters and they show so much gratitude for what you are doing for them.
I won’t lie, there are times when you feel like the James Herriot of the optics world – it is the middle of the winter and you are driving down an icy farm track to get to your patient.
Plan BIt may well have been something very different. I love animal conservation and wildlife – I may have ended up being a marine biologist.
Image credit: Peter Hartley