Inspired to study from time spent in practice
Second year optometry student at Aston University, Georgia Richardson, on finding inspiration from her colleagues, and receiving the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers bursary
16 September 2020
When did you first become aware of the profession?I first became aware of the profession during a mock interview activity day in my last year of secondary school. The aim of this was to prepare the year eleven students for the future. I knew optometrists existed prior to this, but I didn’t know very much about it. A practice manager and director interviewed me, and consequently offered me part-time work when I began my A-levels in the summer. I worked for this practice for just over two years as a result. It was through working as an optical assistant whilst completing my A-levels over the following three years that I became very familiar with the profession.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist? Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?
Working as an optical assistant alongside my colleagues gave me insight into what being an optometrist involves. Over the years, I became more intrigued by the occupation and my interest in studying optometry grew. Learning various skills on the job and pursuing different areas of the role, I became more interested before I knew that this was what I wanted to pursue as a career. My colleagues would praise me for my professionalism and encourage me that being an optometrist would be an ideal role for me. My current employers have given me a lot of inspiration since I began working with them in 2018. From the moment I started working with them they have supported and encouraged me to aim high and keep going. I owe a lot to them.
What were the main challenges of the university course pre COVID-19, and what challenges has the outbreak added?
For me, the challenges of university before COVID-19 were around getting motivated. With the different setting, lifestyle and environment that university brings, I found it hard to get started with revision and deadlines. Not having my parents there to tell me to ‘get working’ was different, and I sometimes found it hard to refuse a night with friends. But like anything, it all comes in time, and when the deadlines began to creep closer, the stress came into play and motivated me to get going.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I spent time in the library revising, where I found it best to work with minimal distractions. I also enjoyed working in places like Costa, but this obviously has not been possible in the current situation. I work best under pressure, and with the alternate format of examinations, like most people I found it very hard to revise. I enjoy a busy life, having always had a part-time job alongside studying, and perhaps contrarily, I find it best to prepare for exams when I have a busy lifestyle. Being in lockdown and not having other tasks to complete made it more difficult for me to concentrate.
My current employers have given me a lot of inspiration since I began working with them in 2018. From the moment I started working with them they have supported and encouraged me to aim high and keep going. I owe a lot to them
What placements have you carried out, and what have you learned from them?
I have worked as an optical assistant for the last four years. I began working in this role when I was sixteen and I have worked at four practices now. In this role, I have taken on board a lot, learning on the job and working alongside optometrists from all walks of life. I’m proud to say that my desire to study optometry stemmed directly from my work in practice. I have learnt about all stages of a customer journey, from the minute they walk through the door, to when they leave after their sight test. I’ve learnt to dispense spectacles, operate important equipment and reassure customers with their ocular conditions. I’ve seen what is necessary to be a helpful and successful optometrist – which I hope to become myself.
Could you tell us about the process of applying for and winning the bursary from the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, and what the bursary award means to you?
I found out about this bursary through my university. I spent a good amount of time accurately describing myself for the application – and I was ecstatic when I found out that I would be receiving it. The application form consisted of some basic details and then a handful of questions surrounding my work experience in optometry as well as my career goals and aspirations. The bursary is very helpful because it massively reduces the stress placed on me financially. This means I can concentrate on revision and working towards completing my degree as opposed to working more hours to fund the cost of my equipment, which is what I’ve decided to use the bursary for. Despite the financial benefit, I was very proud to be recognised as someone who deserves to receive this help towards my studies. I am really thankful to the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers for selecting me as someone to receive the bursary and I am looking to complete a report shortly on the benefit it has given me.
I want to encourage as many people as possible to attend regular eye examinations, and to ensure they are educated on the importance of them
What are your career goals?
My current career goal is to be a practice owner. Having worked in this environment for quite a while, working alongside directors of Specsavers and Boots Opticians practices, I’ve seen what it takes, and believe I have the attributes to be successful. I want to encourage as many people as possible to attend regular eye examinations, and to ensure they are educated on the importance of them. In my experience over the last few years, I have found that many people don’t appreciate the huge amount of underlying health conditions that can be identified from an appointment with an optometrist. This is something I want to promote throughout my career, to as many people in the community as I can. I want to also spend a portion of my career working abroad – but I’m keeping my options open for now and concentrating on finishing university and then getting through my pre-reg year.
Studying in lockdown
How has the coronavirus outbreak impacted your course and how have you had to adapt?
The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted the last few months of my first year of university drastically. With no face-to-face teaching in a practical, contact-based degree, things have had to be altered to continue our learning sufficiently. I enjoy formal examinations due to the pressure; it helps me to revise. However, my university made the decision to move examinations online, as it closed for face-to-face teaching. I found this a huge problem as I only tend to begin working sufficiently when I feel the pressure of formal examinations creeping up on me.
I struggle to revise at home or in my university accommodation, so like most people, self-isolation posed many problems surrounding motivation. I have had to adapt to the situation by learning to work from home. I have had to learn to manage my time and space in a household with other people working directly from home. With one kitchen table and a lot of people attempting to use the same internet connection at the same time, this is easier said than done.
I’ve only recently begun working again as an optical assistant, and with no furlough pay, stresses around funding my upcoming year at university also began to take their toll.
Working in practice, I have had to adapt to new ways of working. Wearing personal protective equipment and keeping the two-metre distance between yourself and patients was very strange at first. However, I think I have adapted as best I can in the current times.
Has the COVID-19 outbreak affected any plans regarding placements or experience over summer?I get the opportunity to shadow senior optometrists in the practice I currently work in, but this obviously has not been possible over the last few months. However, I have been working here as I usually would as an optical assistant and helping out where I can. Having that contact with optometrists and working in practice is very beneficial to me, I can still ask any questions and get help with anything university-related from my colleagues, which I am grateful for.
As practices return to a form of routine practice and with lockdown restrictions easing, how do you feel about the next few months and upcoming academic year?I feel excited and eager to return to university. Having worked in practice whilst COVID-19 has been affecting the community, I feel that I have benefitted from still having contact with the profession, and I can access help from my colleagues. I’m excited to get back to working part-time and absorbing as much information as I can alongside university work, which I find to be a huge aid in assisting my learning at university.
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