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How I got here

Moving with the profession

OT ’s clinical multimedia editor and IP optometrist, Ceri Smith-Jaynes, discusses her journey into optometry and why she decided to gain her IP qualification

Ceri Smith-Jaynes

When the time came to explore degree courses at school, I was split between natural sciences and optometry.

Optometry won through because there was a tangible and stable job at the end of it all. After some work experience in a practice, with the exceptionally inspiring Professor Christine Purslow, I was hooked. I went to UMIST in 1996, arriving just after the IRA bombing had devastated the city centre. Manchester was far enough away from home to constitute an adventure, plus the city was the musical centre of the known universe at the time.

One day during my degree, I changed out of my lumberjack shirt and DMs and donned my tidiest clothes, wandered into Dollond & Aitchison (D&A) in Hereford and asked for a summer job.

The manager took me on, and she got me through the back door and onto the company’s pre-reg scheme. My pre-reg year was spent in Oldham, which turned out to be the ocular pathology capital of the North. I think every page of Kanski’s textbook turned up in my consulting room during that year. I had a weekly session at Stepping Hill hospital, where I got to observe cataract surgery and an enucleation. In 2000, the 10 professional qualifying exams were mostly viva voce with a few station-exams; I lived with two other pre-reg optometrists and we would fire questions at each other during the washing-up, to practise speaking our knowledge out loud.

Emotionally committed to the company that saw me through the horror of the exams, on qualification I stuck with D&A.

I suddenly found myself in St Helens, as the sole practitioner in a practice without a supervisor to ask questions of. I was grateful for my optometrist friends in those first few months; we were doing peer discussion long before it became a formal requirement.

Optometry won through because there was a tangible and stable job at the end of it all

 

Later a friend bought a practice from a retiring optometrist in Blackburn and asked me to work there.

It was state-of-the-art at the time ¬– a fundus camera was considered fancy. The trouble was, the older gentleman had decided to go quietly without telling any of his patients. I spent a couple of years trying to win round people who were shocked to see me and rather cross that I wasn’t him. At first, I was offended by the patients’ reaction to me, but I learned to see it as a challenge and I worked so much harder, trying to impress the socks off them.

After a while, I felt I needed to diversify my working week – I did some locuming and I worked for Newmedica in a hospital glaucoma clinic.

Now I work two days a week for OT and the AOP, and spend the rest in a lovely independent practice in St Annes-on-the-Sea.

I joined OT 10 years ago after seeing an advert in the back of the journal for a clinical multimedia editor.

I applied, sent in my written task that had been set and took a trip to London for an interview. I was not expecting to get the job as there were more prestigious names than mine on the signing-in book at reception. It’s been an incredible time, so far. The team are all so clever and inspiring, and I’ve been involved in countless projects I couldn’t have imagined. The work keeps evolving so I have to change with it, and it keeps me interested in my daily practice.

It was the AOP’s London Therapeutics Conference and the SECO conference in Atlanta that inspired me to study IP.

I regarded the American optometrists with envious eyes and drew my plans to do what they do. I felt that optometry would probably move towards the management of eye conditions in the community in the future and it was time to learn or get left behind. The owner of the practice I work at was supportive so, when Health Education England encouraged a cohort of optometrists from the North West to apply, I jumped at the chance.

I felt that optometry would probably move towards the management of eye conditions in the community in the future and it was time to learn or get left behind

 

When seeking a hospital placement to complete my IP qualification, I had to face the challenge of my faltering confidence.

I was now in my forties, with more responsibilities than in my carefree student days. Would I be able to learn as easily as I could then? Could I handle the workload while working full-time? It turns out, you just have to schedule the time and stick to it. I really enjoyed it in the end: the forced concentration, writing a proper essay, even the exam cramming.

My hospital placement was shamefully easy to obtain.

I wrote to the head of ophthalmology at my local hospital before starting the university course and he said ‘yes.’ Perhaps the fact it is a teaching hospital helped. I spread out the placement, doing half a day each week. This meant I got to see some of the patients with chronic pathology through to discharge. At the risk of admitting my Schadenfreude, the highlight of my IP placement was seeing a real Acanthamoeba keratitis and a case of papilloedema in the hospital clinic. I enjoyed seeing behind the curtain of the  clinic and the experience has improved the quality of my referrals.

As a result of the pandemic, we have had a COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service scheme installed in my area, which has presented me with many more opportunities to use my IP skills than before.

We’re getting referrals from the local eye clinic as well as GPs.

Being an IP optometrist makes me feel like I have levelled-up.

I understand so much more and I’m enjoying the revitalising effect of pushing my comfort zone again. There’s also just a little more respect from the patients when I manage their problem through to resolution, without having to send them to someone else.

In terms of the future for my career, I’ve stopped trying to make long term forecasts.

Life never goes where I expect. I think I’ll just keep trying new things and see where I end up.