What is the AOP’s return to work event and who is it designed for?
Dr Ian Beasley (IB): The return to work event was a one-day programme designed to provide delegates with an opportunity to refresh core skills. It was held in partnership with City, University of London and was led by the university’s senior lecturer and programme director of optometry, Dr Byki Huntjens.
The original concept was that it should be principally aimed at those returning to work after an extended period of maternity leave. It wasn’t necessarily for those who had been on maternity leave for nine months and then went back to work, but more for those that may have had one or two kids and waited until they had started school, so they might have had four, five or six years out of practice.
The reality is that we had a real mix of people. The majority fell into that category of being return to work mums after extended maternity leave, but some had relocated to different parts of the world because of their partner’s work, for example. Others had remained within the sector but had not been testing eyes and they wanted to refresh skills in order to keep in touch. Some were there because they thought it was an interesting way to earn CET and were actually already working.
What topics were covered?
IB: The first session was a history and symptoms lecture. That’s always the first part of any appointment – Why are you here? What problems are you having? Are you having headaches? It was a reminder of all of those core questions that you need to ask as part of an eye examination. When you’re testing patients every day of the week, you can do that with your eyes closed, but if you’ve been out of practise for a while, you just lose some of that sequence and the ability to drill down those questions intuitively.
We then split the group in half. One half went off to do practical sessions in the university’s clinics. They each had a patient and were supervised on a 1:4 ratio. In that time, some chose to do an eye examination from start to finish and some would practise a particular technique. Whichever area they felt they needed to improve their skills on.
The other half were in a peer discussion, looking at cases on the most common clinical presentations, such as macular degeneration, cataract and glaucoma, so that they were up to speed on how they would manage those patients in today’s setting.
"It’s nice for them to mix with their peers and not feel alone. I could sense on the day that they were supporting each other"
Was practising the sight test the most important aspect of the day?
IB: It was the part of the day that attendees found most beneficial based on the feedback we received. It was a well-received event, but attendees expressed a desire to have more of that clinical time. Ideally, it would be a two-day event. One part that we could look to change was the last session of the day, which was a lecture on clinical and regulatory updates. We could provide that as a written resource to allow for more clinical time.
What are the main factors that an optometrist should consider before returning to work?
IB: There were eight interactive CET points on offer, including the peer discussion requirement, so for those returning to work after a long break, that’s a huge chunk of their requirements to get back on to the register.
It’s nice for them to mix with their peers and not feel alone. I could sense on the day that they were supporting each other.
In terms of the core skills, it is dependent on what environment they’ll be going back to. If I were on the course, I would have used the time to go through a full routine examination because that’s the thing that most closely represents what I’d be doing on day one of being back in practice on the High Street.
How important is it to stay on top of clinical and regulatory changes?
IB: There’s been an important update on referral criteria on raised intraocular pressures, for example. It used to be that you would refer a patient with a reading of over 21, that’s been updated to above 23. If you didn’t know that then you would be referring patient’s unnecessarily.
There’s also the changing landscape of the profession, so an optometrist might need to get up to speed with minor eye conditions services (MECS), for example. Even if they are not involved in MECS, but they will still need to know what’s available locally.
We only scratched the surface with this event. We discussed including optical coherence tomography (OCT), which if an optometrist hasn’t been practising for the last five years, OCT would have been pretty alien to them. If you’re suddenly coming back into practise after a five-year break, getting to grips with OCT is going to hard.
"When you're not in practice, it's harder to keep up with CET points and the event was something that ticked all these boxes"
Why did you decide to attend the return to work event?
Duoné Hopwood (DH): I haven’t been back to work for about three and half years since having my two kids. I was looking to get a little bit of confidence back and that general sort of pitter-patter. It’s not the information that I’d forgotten, it’s just that the routine of what you do is no longer routine.
What specific skills were you looking to refresh?
DH: I wanted to find out where the gaps in my knowledge were and where I needed to sharpen up a little bit. When you’re not in practice, it’s harder to keep up with CET points and the event was something that ticked all these boxes. It was the kind of course that I’d been looking to do for quite some time. It’s strange that there isn’t anything else on offer because optometry is a career where a lot of women exit out of the profession and there’s not anything that allows you to refresh your skills.
How did the course benefit you?
DH: One of the things that was really helpful was engaging with other people. The peer discussion session gave me the opportunity to sit alongside peers, which I haven’t done for a long period of time.
Practically, it was not necessarily about being observed or assessed, but having someone there who is on hand to say ‘you’re on the right line’ or to say ‘try this instead.’ On the day, people could choose what they wanted to, so if they wanted to focus on insertion and removal of contact lenses, or run through a full routine, it was nice having somebody there to say, ‘you’re doing this, try this.’ Apart from the fact that my routine took 45 minutes, I was amazed at how much I actually remembered.
What are your next steps?
DH: My return to work won’t be immediate as I’m waiting for a room to be kitted out at one of my husband’s practices, who is also an optometrist.