The perfect career option
Optometry undergraduate at the University of Plymouth, Chloe McGregor, shares her aspirations as she nears the end of her third year of studying
When did you first become aware of optometry?
I first became aware of optometry when I was exploring courses that I could go on to study at university. I remember searching through courses in biology and business, but nothing really sparked my interest until a friend mentioned optometry. I spent that evening at home researching the course and career options, then the day after, I called up my local opticians and asked if it would be possible to do work experience. I went in to have a chat to them about my interest in optometry and left with a Saturday job.
None of my family work in healthcare and it wasn’t an option that I had ever considered or even thought about before, but as soon as it came to my attention, I knew that optometry could be the perfect career for me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the grades that I needed at first, but after two years working at the practice, I wasn’t prepared to give up on my goals and returned to college where I got the grades and headed off to university. If anything, I think that the extra time I spent working in the opticians before going to university made me even more passionate about optometry and it really reinforced to me that this was the path I wanted to take.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?
One of the main reasons that I became so interested in optometry was being fascinated by the way that the eyes and the brain work together to create vision. Still, after two and a half years studying this, I am just as fascinated as I was in the first place. I also love meeting new people of all different ages and backgrounds – people that I may have never had a reason to meet otherwise.
Meeting customers over the years and really getting to understand their individual needs and visual difficulties made me even more eager to be able to make a difference for them, not just at the dispensing desk but eventually in the test room also.
Most of all, it was of huge importance to me that whatever career I ended up doing, that I am able to make a positive influence on the world in some way, no matter how small. I personally feel that optometry is an incredibly rewarding career and it’s amazing to see the impact that we can make on patients’ vision.
Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?
My main inspirations are my directors and fellow colleagues at work. They are like a second family to me and have been incredibly supportive the whole way. Becoming very close friends with some of our pre-reg students and watching them progress to qualification has hugely inspired me to follow in their footsteps. I am often called into the test room to see some interesting pathology or invited to practice with them before exams, and I cannot express how lucky I have been to work with such a wonderful team. My other inspiration would of course be our patients. Seeing real patients come in and the difference that just a pair of spectacles can make to their lives is amazing.
The extra time I spent working in the opticians before going to university made me even more passionate about optometry
What are your career goals?
At the moment, my main focus is to get through my exams and the pre-reg year, then settling in a career at my home store. After a few years, I’d love to complete the independent prescribing qualification in order to broaden my knowledge even further and eventually become a director of my own store.
What are the main challenges of your university course?
One of the main challenges that I have faced so far was the transition from second year into third year. As the first two years are mostly theory based, it was a huge change moving on to real clinics with real patients every day, but it is a change that I have embraced and thoroughly enjoyed.
I have also been faced with some incredible opportunities, including becoming an AOP student representative and travelling to Spain for my dissertation project. Being an AOP representative has challenged me to be involved in public speaking and organising events, which have really raised my confidence and helped me grow as a person and as a professional.
For my dissertation project, I travelled to the University of Valladolid in Spain and spent five weeks interviewing Spanish students about their practice placements and overall optometry experience. Although it was scary at first being in a completely new environment, it was a fantastic experience and has been very exciting to potentially have an influence in practice placements in the future.
What are your expectations of the pre-reg year and how are you preparing?
My expectations of the pre-reg year are that it’s going to be a difficult final hurdle and will take a while to adapt to, but it’s going to be great to be testing so many more patients and putting all my skills together. Our final year of university has been designed in a similar way to how I expect the pre-reg will be, with us preparing and achieving competencies and sitting Objective Structured Clinical Examinations. Nothing can really prepare you more than experience and practice, so starting to see more patients with interesting pathology will really help to reinforce what I have learned already. I am so excited to enter the ‘real world’ of optometry and properly start my future career.