“The patient still comes first, even with racism. We need to urgently change that mentality”
Optometrist Hamza Mussa, aka @TheCrazyOptom, tells OT about campaigning against racism and discrimination via Instagram and his work as part of the Specsavers Professional Advancement Team
31 August 2020
I studied at Aston University, graduating in 2016.
After graduation, I did my pre-reg at Specsavers in Kendal. I completed the OSCEs in July 2017, and I've been in Kendal ever since. We have two stores, so we bounce between the two.
I do see a lot of pathology. Because we are quite rural, we get quite a good mix of patients. It's not as fast-paced as city work, but at the same time it allows you a bit more variety so that you can learn on the job.
I also do professional advancement work. I've been to Manchester and Bradford to speak to second years and do assessment centres for the summer placement scheme. I've been up and down the country – Manchester, Birmingham, London, Glasgow – to do pre-reg courses within Specsavers, which include pre-reg inductions, and contact lens and pathology courses. 2019 was my first proper year doing that, through the Specsavers Professional Advancement Team.
I think one reason I was approached for this is because I'm familiar to a lot of students and pre-regs. So, while they might not know me by face, they know of me through the Instagram platform. I really enjoy the teaching aspect. I enjoy engaging with the optical community as a whole, which is why I run the page in the first place.
I'm passionate about what I do. Often people see optometry as just the test room, but there's a lot more you can branch out into, and a lot more to explore.
I know how tough the pre-reg year is and how challenging the jump from university is. For me, it’s helping to develop courses that bridge the learning gap between final year and the pre-registration year, and helping as many people as I can.
I set up The Crazy Optom because I wanted to follow ophthalmology and optometry accounts that weren’t on my main page.
I made the page during my pre-reg year. With our profession, you can read textbooks all you want, but seeing real life cases and different presentations is often the best learning tool. Even in practice, you can learn the theory, but the first time you see an anterior chamber reaction, tobacco dust or Schafer’s sign in the vitreous, it clicks.
The optical community on social media community wasn't as big back then; there were only a few well-known names. Towards the end of my pre-reg I started sharing images. My colleague had quite dense white cataracts. I said to him, “Let me take a picture, let's see what we can see.” And then from there, you take a picture to show the patient, because it’s just as interesting, if not more, for them.
No amount of business should ever come before staff or patient welfare
Then account’s following just grew organically. The first year was only 1000 to 2000 followers, with posts here and there. Year two was a really big boom. It was growing, at one point, by 1000 followers a month. It hit 10,000 just before December that year. Even then I thought it’s got to calm down at some point, because there aren’t that many optometrists in the UK.
We're on just over 23,000 now. It’s been remarkable growth. For me it was never about followers or social media presence, it was just purely a hobby of mine, which was capturing images and sharing. Not so much to teach people, but more sharing interesting cases that I come across in my day-to-day. By doing this, we realise how varied the visual presentation of conditions can be. It’s not just reposting textbook pictures.
Imaging and photography have been a longstanding passion of mine.
I've always found capturing interesting. With optometry, it became more like, “Ok, this is a learning experience.”
Cells and flare in the anterior chamber is one thing that's very hard to explain to patients, and to teach colleagues to look for, without being able to show them. I was able to capture a really good video on that, so much so that recently it was used in a patient information video for Great Ormond Street Hospital. It’s used in the childhood uveitis patient information video, which is really cool and incredibly rewarding.
Due to the difficulty of capturing, a lot of colleagues and patients have never seen these signs before. Being able to openly share my captures with people is really helpful in terms of expanding their knowledge and interest.
Recently, a friend posted about her experience of racism within optometry.
It made me think, “Actually, I've experienced this too.” It branched out from there into the first poll, asking how many people had experienced racism in practice. Sadly, the stories were overwhelming.
The key issue is not necessarily the experience of racism. I think what is more shocking and heart-breaking is the way it’s handled. I think it’s that accepted norm, that the patient still comes first, even with racism. We need to urgently change that mentality.
With a platform like mine, you feel a sense of responsibility in terms of helping and trying to get people heard
Beyond sharing the polls on Instagram, I got in contact with Optometry Today, with the AOP, and all the big companies. We had a great response. The College has been really good about it. There's a lot of work to do behind the scenes, in terms of getting people to speak up more, getting more solid actions in the Practice Code of Conduct and getting businesses to have a renewed stance, especially when it comes to turning that patient away. No amount of business should ever come before staff or patient welfare.
I’m in a niche area of social media. With a platform like mine, you feel a sense of responsibility in terms of helping and trying to get people heard.
I am only four years into my career.
It’s funny when I hear it out loud because it feels like a lot longer. Sometimes optics can feel like dog years. At the minute I’m doing my professional certificate in medical retina, at City University. When I finish, I’m hoping to go on to do my professional certificate in glaucoma, and then after that my independent prescribing qualification.
At the minute I work for Specsavers. I’m going through the pathway process. Partnership was always something I was aspiring towards – it’s an aspiration of mine to have my own practice.
At the same time, I do definitely want to get involved with hospital work. My passion lies in the pathology side of the profession. I spent time shadowing on urgent eye care units, and the work always fascinated me.
The page for me is a hobby. It's become an excellent tool, which has enabled me to become involved in a variety of opportunities. Combining social media with my energy and passion has opened doors for me, earlier in my career than ever anticipated. The responsibility that comes with the page is rewarding and stimulating. I am grateful that my passion for both optometry and photography have allowed me to move forward in my profession more in these last four years than I could have ever imagined.