After a highly anticipated and anxious wait over the summer, I was delighted to be able to pick up my retinoscope again, for the first time in six months, as I embarked on my pre-registration period at the start of September.
As I write this, I’m around one month into the role and even though we are still awaiting further information from the College of Optometrists on our assessments, it’s been a busy, insightful and enjoyable month.
Starting my pre-registration position in the middle of a pandemic hasn’t gone without its challenges, with the biggest difficulty being the gap in clinical experience. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities ceased face-to-face teaching and unfortunately, this led to the abrupt conclusion of my third-year clinics.
Like my peers, I am grateful to the academic team at my university for their work and support, and for the ability to continue the final stages of my degree online. However, this certainly wasn’t the way I envisaged finishing my time at university, and it created a somewhat large gap in practising my clinical skills. Adding COVID-19 practice procedures and PPE, this made starting my pre-registration period quite daunting and I was apprehensive to get back into the testing room.
Luckily, what awaited me at Merthyr Optical Centre, my pre-registration practice, is a highly-experienced and supportive team with a history of working with pre-registration and newly-qualified optometrists. Located in the South Wales Valleys, the practice is part of a small independent optometry group and has an excellent reputation locally, owing to its high-quality patient care and its involvement in shared care schemes.
I worked at an independent practice before starting university and I always enjoyed the personal approach and the practitioner-patient rapport
I feel particularly grateful to the Optical Centre Group and my pre-registration supervisors, as my pre-registration position there fell into place very last minute. In a matter of weeks after the initial discussion, I was welcomed to the practice, after my circumstances changed with the multiple practice where I had been working during my holidays (and where I had originally planned to do my pre-registration period).
I was particularly interested in exploring opportunities in independent practice, as I feel the values align with my personal objectives and professional ambitions. I worked at an independent practice before starting university and I always enjoyed the personal approach and the practitioner-patient rapport. Finding a new pre-registration practice so late and in the midst of a global pandemic was tricky, but, luckily, I knew a few connections in South Wales who were able to help, for which I’m very grateful.
From day one, I was back in the testing room and initially started by testing family and friends. While testing people I knew was a little awkward at first, this allowed me to build up my confidence and become familiar with the practice and within a couple of days, I felt my routine coming together.
Unfortunately, a local lockdown then struck and this affected the family and friends I had booked, as the practice moved to only being able to see patients from within one county. Nonetheless, I was able to test some staff members and even my pre-registration supervisors ahead of my first ‘real’ patients.
Now, a few weeks into seeing ‘real’ patients, I’m seeing around four per day, which gives me adequate time to perform an eye examination, record it in my logbook and debrief with my supervisor. Already, I’ve met a variety of interesting patients and seen a vast array of pathology. As an independent practice, our patient base is largely elderly and many of our patients have been coming to us for years. This means that I’ve been able to examine patients with long and interesting ocular and systemic histories. I’m particularly enjoying building a rapport with our patients and providing an individual with excellent, individualised care.
I’ve also enjoyed observing some of the acute issues that come through the practice, as part of the Wales Eye Care Services (WECS) scheme. One of my supervisors is one of the few independent prescribing optometrists in the area and this provides a great opportunity to see interesting cases and have an insight into therapeutic optometry, which I feel, is where the profession is headed, with COVID amplifying the need for out of hospital care.
Already, I’ve met a variety of interesting patients and seen a vast array of pathology
With each patient, I’m constantly reflecting on my techniques and communication, to ensure I am developing as a clinician. COVID-19 and social distancing has added to the need for reflection and in particular, reflection on the patient journey, i.e. critically thinking about how and why you perform certain clinical procedures and why they are relevant to the patient sat in front of you, so you perform an eye examination that is optimised and isn’t just a series of blanket clinical tests.
In addition to the support at the practice, I’ve also enrolled on the Johnson & Johnson STEP programme, which has given me access to a range of excellent resources and support from the STEP Mentors. Furthermore, I’m lucky to know several pre-registration and newly qualified optometrists who have given me some tips and guidance.
A busy year lies ahead, but I’m ready for the challenge and I’m determined to finish my pre-registration period and begin an exciting career as an optometrist.