Building an international optometry career
Aston University’s Raquel Gil-Cazorla on her beginnings in Madrid, being inspired by international optometry, and achieving childhood ambitions in the UK
26 September 2021
When I was very little my dad and brother both wore glasses.My brother is a year younger than me, and I was surprised that he needed glasses to see clearly at distance. So, I went with my dad and my brother to see how an eye examination worked and how they could get the prescription. I was really impressed. I also wanted to wear glasses, because I thought it was really cool. I was curious, and thought: ‘wow, that's really amazing. How can you do that? How can you calculate a prescription? How do you do an eye examination?’ I was really interested from that point.
I always wanted to do something related to healthcare.When I was in high school and I had to decide what I wanted to do in the future, I did look at different professions, and thought optometry was really promising. It's an autonomous, regulated health care profession. That's why I decided to start on this path.
My degree was in optics and optometry.I studied at Complutense University of Madrid for three years and then worked in practice for a year, but I knew that I wanted to do something else. I wanted to expand my clinical knowledge, so I did a clinical residency programme at the university, for almost two years.
After that I went to work in a private eye hospital.I was exposed to all types of ocular diseases, which improved my clinical skills. It was a very busy and research active hospital. I was in charge of the contact lens department, and the majority of the patients needed specialised contact lens fitting. I have always been more interested in the medical side of contact lenses, so all those cases would be referred to me.
It's interesting to see the scope of optometric practice worldwide, and how optometry has evolved since I started practising
From this early stage in my career, I started to present our studies at different international conferences, including those held by the British Contact Lens Association, the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, and the American Academy of Optometry.I was really inspired by the scope of practice in the US, and by diagnostics and independent prescribing. I did a MSc at the European University of Madrid, which included a six-week residency in Chicago. I was with third and fourth-year students, seeing patients. It was really interesting to see how everything worked; the way they were doing these comprehensive eye exams. I was teaching in Madrid in third-year clinics, so it was nice to try to apply that knowledge and training there.
I then completed a BSc and MSc with Pennsylvania College of Optometry, which was mainly distance learning.The lecturers came to Madrid to do the lectures and clinical skills competencies, and we went to Philadelphia for a month to do the clinical aspects. It's interesting to see the scope of optometric practice worldwide, and how optometry has evolved since I started practising. I qualified in 1998, and since then everything's evolved a lot.
After I finished my MSc, I wanted to apply the knowledge and clinical skill that I had gained on the course, but I couldn't use that in Spain as we’re not qualified to work at that level there.
I did my PhD in Spain, related to refractive surgery, gaining the Extraordinary prize (for the best academic results at the university), of which I was extremely proud.As soon as I finished, I knew that I wanted to do postdoctoral work in the UK, to learn about other ways to research and practise.
In 2013, I got a postdoctoral position here at Aston University, which was initially for three years.I also started to do the independent prescribing (IP) qualification.
I knew that I wanted to do postdoctoral work in the UK, to learn about other ways to research and practise
I’ve never stopped studying, so the IP was a normal process for me. It was outside my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it. I think it is the way to move forward. I think that more and more optometrists, especially the new generation, will become independent prescribers.
During my postdoc, a lectureship in Optometry at Aston became available, and I got it. Few months later, I qualified as an independent prescriber.
When I was very small, I used to put all my dolls in front of me, and I used to teach them.When I decided that I wanted to do optometry, I really liked the concept because I thought that I could maybe do some research and teach. When I finished my degree, I did things that I knew would help me to become a lecturer. That's why I expanded my knowledge more in the clinical aspects of research. I think I always knew that I wanted to be in academia, teaching and doing research.
I always try to take any opportunity that I get.
Some people don't want to do that, because it's out of their comfort zone. In Spain, I had my niche, so everything was easier. But I wanted to grow and acquire knowledge from another country. That was a big step, because it was like starting from scratch. It's important that you try to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Try and learn from every experience and enjoy it.
Plan B?I always knew that I wanted to do something within the health professions. I've always been fascinated with scientists: the people in the lab with microscopes. I wanted to do pure science, or biology. So, maybe a microbiologist.
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