I first came across optics when I was at school doing my A-Levels.My younger brother has keratoconus and my mum asked me to take him to an appointment at the hospital for his contact lens fitting. The optometrist who he saw was really friendly and asked me what I would like to do after college. While I wasn't 100% sure, I said that I thought it would be something sciencey or medical-related. She asked if I had considered optometry and I said, ‘no.’ I had to complete some work experience for college and, as a result of that conversation, arranged to do a placement in the eye department at that hospital. I really enjoyed it and that is how I got into optics.
I studied optometry at the University of Bradford.But after completing my pre-reg period at a multiple and continuing with the business for a few years thereafter, I found life in High Street practice very different to my expectations and the experience I had in the hospital setting as a teenager. I found optometry on the High Street to be a busy, pseudo-healthcare model for eye care and that didn't appeal to me.
A few years after qualification I took a role as an optometrist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.My appointment coincided with the hospital working on the photodynamic therapy for macular degeneration studies, so I initially helped with those clinics. I really enjoyed this period and it opened up opportunities to me that I didn’t know existed. I was able to do some general ophthalmology clinics and, being young and enthusiastic, I would occasionally join the on-call doctor on the wards or shadow them in A&E.
“When I was coming to the end of medical school, I fell in love with ophthalmology”
Back then, optometry could be considered not as interesting as it is now – there was no orthokeratology or therapeutics, for example.
Therefore, I applied to do a Master’s in Clinical Ophthalmology at City, University of London and also applied to study medicine. I had a few interviews and got a place to study medicine on a graduate scheme programme, returning to education in 2006.
It was an open plan when I began studying medicine. I wasn’t certain that I would specialise in ophthalmology.
I took it one step at a time and made sure that I didn’t rush into anything. I really enjoyed cardiology and thought I would be a cardiologist at one point.
I met a consultant in Leicester who, now retired, saw that I was an optometrist and asked if I had considered the Royal College of Ophthalmologist’s undergraduate Duke Elder prize. I came runner-up in the national MCQ exam and I completed a project with this consultant that investigated patients’ understanding of refractive options after cataract surgery. This time reinforced my passion for ophthalmology.
When I was coming to the end of medical school, I fell in love with ophthalmology.
There are lots of gadgets in ophthalmology; it is tactile and visual and on qualification in 2010 I felt that it was where I wanted to be long-term.
What I most like about being an ophthalmologist is that it is one of those rare specialities where you can make a positive impact to someone’s life really quickly. I still get out of bed and am happy to go to work. It’s been a long road, but I am really pleased that I made that decision.
“I believe that we have to move away from a model where spectacles or contact lens sales are the driver for businesses, and instead move towards a model of sustainability by providing enhanced eye care”
I am very passionate about the relationship between optometrists and ophthalmologists.I sit on the General Optical Council’s education committee because I want to use my experiences to give back. There is a growing need for optometrists to get involved with helping ophthalmologists; they have the clinical skills to do that as well as the knowledge, to an extent.
My background has opened my eyes to the changes and structure of optometry.I believe that we have to move away from a model where spectacles or contact lens sales are the driver for businesses and instead move towards a model of sustainability by providing enhanced eye care. I also think that we need to improve the structure of the workforce so that there is a hierarchy where seniority is not based on a practitioner’s time in practice, but on their clinical experience, exposure and development.
More than a decade on, I still enjoy my job.You can always point to moments when you really helped make a patient better or saved someone’s life working in the emergency department, but, for me personally, it is about being able to wake up every day and enjoy what I do. I worked really hard to get to this point and I really enjoy it.
Looking to the future, I am a year off becoming a consultant so I would like to achieve that.
I would like to become a paediatric ophthalmologist and continue my work in helping the development of optometry.
- As told to Emily McCormick.