In your view, what elements are key for career satisfaction in optometry?
The key thing is to do something that you enjoy. Particularly for young people who have got 30 or 40 working years to go – that is a long time if you are doing something that you don't find rewarding. I think rather than trying to get the dream job that you want in one leap, consider collecting lots of skills and opportunities that may make you much more effective in that dream job. It is not a sprint. A career is something that takes time to build and you have to plan it. Undoubtedly, luck also has a part to play but you can help create that by forming a professional network by engaging with people at meetings and conferences.
While I was an undergraduate I worked in a variety of different opticians and I used to do all of the jobs that I was qualified to do – from reception through to fetching tea and helping patients select spectacles. That experience provided opportunities to understand what the patients who were coming into the practice really wanted. At the end of the day, optometry is focused around helping people and if you can't talk to people to figure out what they want, you will struggle to achieve career satisfaction.
How has working with contact lenses enhanced your career experience?
One of the things that I have learned is the importance of using insight into what patients want to help optometrists appreciate those patient needs. Something that really struck me is that patients won’t tell optometrists what they want, it’s almost like they expect you to be psychic! So really making sure you understand, and making an effort to satisfy, individual patient needs will keep patients coming back to see you.
From a personal perspective, it has been very interesting having worn contact lenses since I was a student, and seeing how my eyes have changed and how contact lenses have always allowed me to keep doing the sorts of things that I want to do. As a young optometrist I knew technically what presbyopia was but I don’t think I really understood what it is like to live with presbyopia until I became presbyopic. I find it much easier now to talk to friends and family about correcting presbyopia with contact lenses because I can relate to it. I wish I had realised how to do that when I was younger and this is an example of how I just didn’t get to know my patients’ needs well enough.
"It is very important that we satisfy patients by providing eye care practitioners with the knowledge, tools and technology that allow them to help their patients"
Why is it important to support the career development needs of eye care practitioners?
It is really important to help practitioners in the early stage of their life to think about and plan what their career will look like. Through our Success Through Education Programme® (STEP) we have close to half of the annual student population engaged in a broad learning curriculum. A key element of STEP® was for early-career optometrists to have access to people who have successful careers in different environments, such as academia, hospital, independent and multiple practice to come and talk about their careers. We hope that being inspired by these successful clinicians will encourage STEP® delegates to start thinking about their careers early.
How have you been able to create tangible benefits for patients through your role?
It is very important that we satisfy patients by providing eye care practitioners with the knowledge, tools and technology that allow them to help their patients.
An example of this is multifocal contact lenses. With these more complex lenses, the key thing is getting enough light into the eye and making it focus in the right way to combat the effects of presbyopia. A critical part of this eye/contact lens combination is the pupil.
One of the insights that we have is that the existing lens designs weren’t accounting for the fact that people's pupil sizes change as their refraction changes. In our design, rather than having three basic designs, we have 183 different designs to try and match a person's prescription as well as their age. I think this has made a huge difference and is a really unique element of our lens. It is the fastest-growing multifocal lens on the market and is hugely popular simply because it works.