2020 wins: “Ultimately, sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith”

Optometrists from across the UK and Ireland reflect on their successes at the close of a year filled with challenges

hands in the air
2020 has been tough – but that’s no reason not to celebrate our successes, whatever form they’ve taken. As the year that no one was prepared for draws to a close, optometrists from Cornwall to Edinburgh tell us about the achievements they’re most proud of.

Ahmed Ejaz, locum optometrist, West Midlands: taking on a residency and finishing a novel

“This hasn’t been easy. Nobody said it would be, but I’ve kept as positive as possible for my family, friends and the patients that I’ve seen since returning to practice.

“Although locum work has picked up, I decided to take on a residency for the first time in years. Now is as good a time as any. My training and support team have been amazing in welcoming me back to practice.

No one knows what lies ahead, but I know we’ll take it on just fine

Ahmed Ejaz, locum optometrist

“I’ve loved getting back to optometry, even more than I would have thought after a long period out. I guess like the band Passenger said, ‘You only know you miss it when you let it go.’

“Outside of work, I’ve had more time to reflect and take on projects that I’ve been putting off. I’ve finished a novel that’s out soon on Amazon, done more work with the community, and have had time to just relax with family.

“I feel that we have to accept that now we are in it for the longhaul, and do the best we can. No one knows what lies ahead, but I know we’ll take it on just fine.”

Raj Gill, optometrist, Specsavers Keighley: providing staff with autism and dementia training

Raj Gill

“I'm most proud of some customer feedback that we had, from a lady called Angel Kershaw, who is autistic. She sent me a note that said: “I have experienced high anxiety and stress due to present COVID-19 measures. The staff were very kind, demonstrating a high awareness of mental health issues, and the stress many feel at present. I can’t recall when I was last treated with such care and compassion on a business premises.”

“I'm proud that by providing our staff with autism and dementia awareness training, we're equipping them with communication skills to support all of our customers – regardless of their personal struggles. It's become part of our core training and it's paying off to hear Angel's wonderful feedback.”

Karen Davitt, front of house manager at Hakim Group practice Eye World, Westport: winning the Transformative Employee prize at the Businesswomen of the Year Awards 2020

Karen Davitt

“This award is testament to the support of my team members in creating a successful practice. Working within an industry alongside many other high achieving female professionals, it can be challenging to stand out. That is why winning this award, or even being nominated, is so special. My team will share this achievement, and my patients and customers can enjoy and celebrate with us.”

Jason Searle, locum optometrist, Gloucestershire: working towards becoming an IP

“I'm still a locum, but I’ve limited the number of clients I work with to minimise risk of spreading COVID-19 across the counties I cover and between the teams. This has given me more of the feel of being a resident optometrist and an experience of what that way of working entails, versus the transient nature of being a locum. I really enjoy it and am in the process of moving away from locuming and forming a more permanent role with the practices.

“I'm midway through the independent prescribing (IP) course, being taught via distance learning at Ulster University, with the aim to be ready for a placement in the new year, although I’m uncertain on how this will pan out due to the pandemic.

We are grateful for our health, and to be able to provide healthcare to those who need it during this awful year

Jason Searle, locum optometrist

“In addition, I’ve been creating some visual effects videos on Instagram, which I used to keep friends and family entertained online whilst we were locked down. I also used this time to create free (and royalty free) social media content for optical practices and practitioners to use for their businesses.

“It's been a tough year, with financial and health uncertainty for us all. We had our wedding postponed and are still anxious we won't have the day we had planned next year. But we are currently grateful for our health, and to be able to provide healthcare to those who need it during this awful year.”

Michael O'Kane, optometrist and co-owner, Specsavers Morningside: being recognised by the College

Michael O

“To be recognised as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists is such a privilege and I’m absolutely honoured to receive it. During my career, I’ve tried to push the boundaries and perceptions of optometry and guide others through the industry. It's hugely flattering to have your work recognised on a national scale, particularly at a time when there's so much distressing news in the world.

“Prescribing, diagnosing and treating eye conditions during a pandemic has been challenging. I am incredibly grateful to my teams who have worked really hard with me to provide continuity to our community.”

Steph Bowen, pre-reg optometrist, Bowen Opticians, Weston-Super-Mare: completing an optometry conversion course

Steph Bowen

“I completed the optometry conversion course at Bradford University. The course is pretty well renowned in the profession, and not for the faint-hearted at the best of times.

“The course fast-tracks dispensing opticians and contact lens opticians through the optometry degree, condensing what is usually a three-year course into just 12 months. Needless to say, we faced many curveballs after the university had to close halfway through the course in March.

“I've worked at my family’s optometry practice, in Weston-Super-Mare, since I was old enough to help out. I haven't really had any significant time away from the practice, so it was a big deal anyway, going and doing the course. I was managing the practice remotely from Bradford, so I was keeping in touch and trying to do as much as I could.

Amid the chaos I have achieved something great and have a focus for the upcoming months

Steph Bowen, pre-reg optometrist

“That worked really well for semester one. And then in the new year the course started getting a little bit more intense, with exams coming up. When routine eye tests stopped, it was it was all just a bit mad really. I was helping out as much as I could.

“I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to achieve the most, learn and grow from this year. I kind of had that mindset, and then the more curveballs that get thrown at you, the even more determined you get.

“Luckily the optometry department at the university were amazing and worked with the GOC to get us the practical skills we needed to qualify. All 18 members of my cohort made it out in one piece. We are all just starting our journey through pre-reg, with our official degrees having arrived this week.

“So many people said it was such a terrible year to do the course (and don’t get me wrong, it was undoubtedly tougher than most) but I keep saying I think it was the best year to have done it. Amid the chaos I have achieved something great and have a focus for the upcoming months.

“Besides, if we can learn to practice optometry through fogged lenses imagine how good we will be when the masks are off.”

Thanuja Sathiananthan, optometrist and co-owner, Specsavers Yate: becoming a practice owner

“I did my pre-reg year at Specsavers, and worked my way up to becoming the ophthalmic manager. I then relocated to Bristol and started locuming to see what other stores were like, but partnership has always been something I’ve wanted to do. When the Yate store became available, it was too great an opportunity to miss as I wanted to have a business of my own.

“The pandemic was concerning at first, but after working through it with my retail partner, Jug Singh, my uncertainty was definitely overcome. I was always confident about what I was able to deliver as an ophthalmic partner, but also aware that any store needs good retail leadership.

“My business partner has to share the same ethos and vision for the store. I knew we would be a combination that would be a success, and to date neither of us have proved me wrong. Ultimately, sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith as things can never be certain. It’s all about calculated risk.

“It’s been a rewarding year so far. You have a laugh with customers and each other. Having that element of support and challenge is great – we really enjoy it. It’s a rollercoaster with a lot of highs, and we are really glad we did it.”

Mitesh Gandhi, optometrist, Hakim Group practice Clamp Optometrists, Cambridge: winning Eye Care Specialists of the Year at the 2020 Cambridgeshire Prestige Awards


“To win this award is amazing and I’m so proud of the team for the effort they put in every day.

“At Clamp we believe everyone deserves the best, especially in their eye care; everyone in the team works towards the same goal of improving the patient journey.

"We all work tirelessly every day to try and deliver excellent clinical care and attention to detail, so it's a great privilege to be recognised across the Cambridgeshire area with this award.”

Adam Matthews, optometrist and owner, Hakim Group practice Matthews Opticians and Hearing Care, Helston: winning Newly Qualified Optometrist of the Year at the AOP Awards 2020

“Taking over the practice was a huge leap of faith as there was no rule book on how to do it, but it was one of those instances that present themselves at a surprising time; you just have to take that opportunity and not look back.

“I think this award is proof that becoming Matthews Opticians and Hearing Care has paid off. It’s all testament to the support of my team members in creating a successful practice, and is also down to the unwavering loyalty of our patients.

“Personally, working within an industry alongside many other high achieving professionals, it can be challenging to stand out. That’s why winning this award, or even being nominated, is so special.

“My team share this achievement, and my patients and customers can enjoy and celebrate with us. Professionally, it means I will be able to connect with more people, to create a positive change within the local and wider community.”

Do you have a ‘2020 Wins’ story that you want to share with OT? Email [email protected]