Lending a helping hand
Pre-reg optometrist, Hafsah Raja, shares with OT the value of friendship, collaboration and support in fellow optometrist and friend, Brooke Hutchins
21 March 2021
Who is your inspiration, and can you tell us more about them?I believe many people have shaped me and enabled me to focus on my personal and professional growth and development. Alongside God, my family and my best friend, Zainab, I would also like to make a special mention of fellow optometrist and friend, Brooke Hutchins.
When thinking about my relationship with Brooke it reminds me of the parable called the Blind Men and an Elephant. This story emphasises the importance of collaboration. Being blind and coming across an elephant for the first time may act as a barrier in determining what is directly in front of us. If you consider developing a new skill in a similar fashion, we are all initially blind. Trying to learn something entirely alone could take us a long time, but when we work together and combine our individual learnings and experiences, we are much more likely to progress faster.
When did you first met Brooke and what were your first impressions?
Brooke and I both studied optometry at City, University of London, although it was not until our second year that we became friends. I was invited by a mutual friend to Winter Wonderland. Brooke also happened to be there. What struck me most about her was just how friendly and approachable she was. She radiated an aura of warmth and positive energy. We quickly became friends which made space for a very fun and memorable outing.
Leading up to my pre-registration OSCEs, where this competence could be assessed in the form of a practical station, caused me a significant amount of anxiety. However, Brooke came to my rescue. She was willing to teach me, and she did
Why did you decide to study optometry?
Optometry is a field that synchronises with my ideals of self-improvement and growth. It has so much scope for professional development; the learning never stops. Being surrounded by three healthcare professionals - my older brother is an optometrist and my two sister-in-laws are a dentist and a physiotherapist - inspired me to apply for optometry. I wanted to embody their defining characteristics of altruism, compassion and clinical excellence. I also wanted to have a healthy work-life balance as I enjoy writing, travelling, and spending time with family and friends. I knew optometry would allow me to stay true to who I am.
How did Brooke play a part in your university experience?Brooke was a motivational force for me at university. I witnessed her attend all her lectures and work ever so hard; she inspired me to do the same. She was always helpful when it came to revision for final year Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) and various other lecture topics.
Brooke on HafsahWhen I discovered that my good friend Hafsah chose me as her inspirational person, I was truly touched. I equally admire her passion, ambition and attitude throughout her studies and now in her final stretch to becoming an optometrist. She is such a humble and genuine person, and I am looking forward to us continuing to support each other as we progress throughout our careers and our lives. Hafsah and I are both strong advocates of women supporting women and I hope we can inspire other females from all professional backgrounds to do the same.
What attributes do you most admire about her?
I admire how authentic and generous she is. She is non-judgemental and willing to help others grow and improve alongside her. At university I didn’t get the chance to learn or practise how to use a one position keratometer. Leading up to my pre-registration OSCEs, where this competence can be assessed in the form of a practical station, caused me a significant amount of anxiety. However, Brooke came to my rescue. She was willing to teach me, and she did. I know it is just one technique, but her consideration to help relieve my anxiety meant the world to me and I will never forget this.
Is there a field within optometry that she specialises in or that you think she excels in?
Brooke is a well-rounded individual; she loves all aspects of optometry.
She is brilliant at contact lenses and completed the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Institute STEP Educational Project in 2018. She was selected as one of two UK optometry students to conduct research into a topic on contact lenses and anterior eye, receiving a grant of £1500. The topic she set out to explore focused on patient attitudes to presbyopia and its correction. I read her published article and instantly recognised her strength in contact lens research.
Can you share one thing you’ve learnt from her?
We both value the importance of professional development. Learning how to use a one position keratometer is one skill I am very grateful to have learnt from her. When it comes to patient care, seeing how friendly and bubbly she is whilst still retaining a professional demeanour inspires me to present in myself in a similar authentic manner. I am glad that the field of optometry has such a genuine and hard-working individual.
What advice has she given you about your studies or future career?
The importance of learning continuously. Both of us would love the opportunity to pursue a PhD and gain higher qualifications in independent prescribing and medical retina. Her constant uplifting support has helped nurture my confidence too. As we both embark on our optometry journey with similar goals of supporting the community, I know I have a friend for life in her.
I admire how authentic and generous she is. She is non-judgemental and willing to help others grow and improve alongside her
Is there anyone else who has inspired you throughout your optometry studies?
My father has provided me with a great deal of moral support. His giving nature and love for the community has motivated me to mirror these principles. My best friend, Zainab, has been my lifeline. At university, when I had impending exams, she would always offer to be my patient. Her optimism is infectious and helped me to stay strong despite the adversity that came alongside the onset of the pandemic.
The team at Specsavers Maidenhead has also been extremely supportive. When I started as an optical assistant, I had no experience of dispensing, spectacle adjustments and pre-screening. Lynsey Brownlow, Liam Halliday and Stephen Woodward have nurtured me and allowed me to make mistakes without judgement.
What words of advice would you give other optometry students and pre-reg optometrists?
Be tenacious in everything you do. Do not be afraid to ask others for help - it does not take away from your academic or intellectual ability. Do not compromise long term development for short term discomfort. People are very willing to help. You can come across a few judgemental individuals but never let it dishearten you, as it reflects on their inability to help another person grow. We grow stronger when we collaborate with others; no single person is an expert at everything.
Also, be open-minded to continuous professional development; the more you learn the more you realise how much more there is to learn. This should motivate you in your quest for knowledge and to be the best optometrist you can possibly be. Remind yourself to compete with your past self not with others.
The impact of COVID-19
How has Brooke been affected by the pandemic?
Brooke was gearing up to sit her stage two exams last year until the pandemic hit, leading to the cessation of all assessments. The delays to the examinations and general anxiety around being a frontline worker has been a difficult process to adapt to.
However, she has come out stronger and more motivated than ever. She has recently qualified since passing her January exams and is now concentrating on developing her skills base with CET. She is focusing on staying optimistic by surrounding herself with uplifting friends and family.
How have you managed your studies and work since the pandemic started?
Specsavers pre-reg and the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care STEP programmes have provided me with support in the form of revision and webinars. This gave me the motivation to keep studying for exams, even though there was a great deal of uncertainty about if they would take place.
I have also been practising mindfulness and listening to podcasts by Jay Shetty, Tim Ferris and Ali Abdaal. They focus on themes of productivity, improvement and growth.