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From A to Optometry

Tailoring the sight test

The AOP Awards 2019 Newly-qualified Optometrist of the Year, Joseph Ong (pictured), on approaching the pre-reg year with an open mind and the invaluable clinical experience gained during his placements

11 Sep 2019 by Andrew McClean

What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?

It was an interest in science and healthcare that led to the decision to study optometry. Since then it has been the ability to play a part in improving my patients’ quality of life that has continued to stoke my interest in this field.

Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?

It is not so much ‘who’ but ‘what’ influenced my decision. Prior to university, I did a diploma in optometry in Singapore. During the course, I had the privilege of being part of the teams that conducted overseas vision screening outreaches in Indonesia and India. Those experiences opened my eyes to the disparity in eye care services and standards in other countries, as well as the important role that optometrists play in primary eye care. This inspired me to pursue optometry beyond the diploma.

How did it feel to be crowned the AOP’s Newly-qualified Optometrist of the Year 2019?

Absolutely amazing – after it had set in. I’ve always given my best in work and for my patients without expecting anything really. To have been recognised this way is really a bonus.

What does it take to win the award?

Passion and dedication, continuous improvement and working well in a team are all good qualities that I feel stem from the right motivation and attitude in our work – be it clinical, research or academic.

What are your career goals?

I would like to be able to keep a hand in community optometry, get involved in hospital work and also pass on what I’ve learnt to the next generation of optometrists in some capacity.

“Those experiences opened my eyes to the disparity in eye care services and standards in other countries”


What were the main challenges of the university course?

Time management. Becoming proficient with the range of clinical techniques we are exposed to throughout the course takes practice and practice takes time. Having to balance that with the academic rigours of the course and everything else that comes with student life wasn’t easy.

What placements did you carry out and what have you learned?

As part of the Master’s degree at the University of Manchester, I did a six-month placement at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital (MREH) as well as a six-month placement at Aaron Optometrists.

In the hospital setting I gained invaluable clinical experience in low vision assessments, complex refractions, complex contact lens fitting and paediatric eye examinations. The clinical skills honed have been really useful in practice. I don’t think I’d be as confident or proficient in retinoscopy or conducting low vision assessments today if not for the experience I gained in MREH. Sitting in with ophthalmologists in specialist clinics also gave me insight into the medical and surgical management options considered.

At Aaron Optometrists, I found clinical work to be more investigative. I learnt to consider the patient’s holistic needs, formulate clinical management plans and follow-up with patients when indicated.

What were your expectations of the pre-reg year and how did you prepare?

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect other than fast-paced and rather intense working environments in both the hospital and independent settings. Having to juggle a dissertation project and coursework alongside full-time working hours was always going to be onerous. That being said, the placement started straight after our final university exams so there wasn’t much time to prepare for it anyway. I just approached it with an open mind and keenness to learn.

“I didn’t quite know what to expect other than fast-paced and rather intense working environments”


What reflections can you make on your pre-reg year and what advice would you offer to other students?

The pre-reg year was challenging yet highly rewarding. On hindsight, a lot of learning was done on the job. This meant being thrown into the deep end, sometimes getting stuck and seeking guidance from colleagues. The continuous support and investment from my colleagues at both placements made all the difference and played a big part in shaping my pre-reg experience.

I would encourage other students who find themselves in situations where they are out of their depth to have a go at applying what they have learned, yet be aware of their limitations and do not be afraid to ask for guidance or second opinions.

Now that you are newly-qualified, how does working in practice live up to your expectations?

I’ve realised that ocular pathologies do not always present themselves textbook-style. When dealing with these grey cases, I have found medical sieving to be very useful. This involves broadly classifying conditions to guide management into one of: degeneration, inflammation, infection or trauma.

While some practices allow slightly longer testing times and others slightly less, the model is such that every patient is allocated the same amount of time. However, as with their eyes, everyone is different and will present varying levels of complexity and needs. The challenge is to tailor the sight test to address each patient’s needs. They say this comes with experience and I have found this to be true.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working towards an independent prescribing qualification and am looking forward to applying what I learn within the community setting that I'm based in.

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