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My relocation

Life in the sun

Optometrist, Niall Farnon, shares his experiences practising optometry in Trinidad & Tobago

08 Mar 2019 by Florence Adu-Yeboah

When and where did you relocate to?

I initially relocated to Trinidad & Tobago in the West Indies in 2001.

What inspired you to relocate?

Winter was approaching and my dad had passed away some months before. I was depressed and just wanted to get away. This was the time of the early internet and an opening at a company had just been published on an optical recruitment website. I went to the local library to check it out and I saw an advert for an optometrist in Trinidad & Tobago.

How did you prepare?

To be honest, very badly. Previously before that, for any trip, I would have looked up travel guides etc. However, I just wanted a change of scenery and took the job immediately.

What was your first impression on arriving in Trinidad & Tobago?

It is always hot in the Caribbean.

“Maracas beach is the most famous beach here and it looks like a typical Caribbean beach with white sand and turquoise water. When at Maracas, it is traditional to have a Bake and Shark sandwich”

What is a typical day like for you in the practice?

The working hours are 9.30am–5.30pm with a 30-minute lunch break. The appointments are 30 minutes each and the pace is nice.

How does practising optometry in Trinidad & Tobago differ to practising in the UK?

We didn’t have dilation or cycloplegia here before 2014, so that took some time to get used to. The other difference is that patients don’t grumble if you are running behind schedule.

What is the lifestyle like outside of practice in Trinidad & Tobago, and how does it differ to the UK?

It is very laid back, which can be a pain sometimes when things need to be done quickly, but I am so accustomed to it now that when I go back to Europe, the hustle and bustle of the big cities can be overwhelming.

The other thing I see a difference in is that there isn’t as much of a sense of keeping up with the Joneses here.

Trinidad and Tobago town
A small town in Trinidad & Tobago

What is the most rewarding aspect of optometry where you are based now?

The patients are very grateful for the work that we do.

What is the most challenging aspect of optometry where you are based now?

Public health education and the need to take action is very low here. We see cases where I wonder how the patient ended up with their eye condition so advanced. Why didn’t they seek action sooner?

What have you learnt from relocating?

That no matter where you are in the world there will always be advantages and disadvantages to living there.

Trinidad and Tobago carnival
Trinidad & Tobago carnival

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about relocating or travelling for work? 

Make sure you read your contract and question everything in it so you don’t get any surprises. The company I worked for had a well laid out contract where every part of the move to Trinidad was defined in it.

I know of some optometrists who came over here to work for other companies and got stung when they realised what was said in the phone interview and what was in the contract were completely different. 

It’s also important to consider that, in relation to optometry, different countries have a different scope of practice. Finally, try to understand and adapt to the culture of your new country as quickly as you can and remember that nowhere is going to be exactly like back home. 

What are your favourite places to visit or activities to do in Trinidad & Tobago?

The heat is the best thing about living here and it is lovely to be able to walk around in a t-shirt and shorts in December when my family back home is complaining about the weather. 

I’ve got to see most of the Caribbean. Barbados and Puerto Rico are my two favourite destinations.

Trinidad and Tobago Bake and Shark sandwich
Bake and Shark sandwich

Sum up the experience in a sentence?

Life changing. I am now married and lecturing and in the sun — things I never thought would happen when I left optometry school

What are the top three places to go or things that anyone visiting should experience? 

Maracas beach is the most famous beach here and it looks like a typical Caribbean beach with white sand and turquoise water. When at Maracas, it is traditional to have a Bake and Shark sandwich. There is also an amazing wonder of nature called the Pitch Lake. This is the world’s largest deposit of pitch (asphalt). This pitch has been used to pave UK roads and runways. The carnival is also a great day out with a lot of music and dancing and because there are so many ethnicities living here, the diversity in food is great.

Image credit: Getty

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