“These are the lessons that help you to grow stronger”
Isle of Wight-based practice owner, Farzeen Khan, on the challenges she found whilst uncovering her love of optics in 1990s Nepal
You started in your optical career by studying your husband’s books whilst he was working for a charity-run hospital in Nepal and you were living there. How challenging was that for you at the time, and why?Soon after I got married, I moved to Bhairahawa, Nepal. This was in May, 1994. My husband, Javeed, was working as an ophthalmologist at Lumbini Eye Hospital, which was run by a charity called the Seva Foundation. It was a challenge to move to Nepal. It was the first time I was away from my family, and Javeed and I lived in the hospital accommodation, on the out skirts of the small town. I didn’t have company during the day and in those days, there were no mobiles or easily accessible internet. The postal service between India and Nepal used to be slow, taking up to a couple of months for letters to arrive.
Was that an isolating experience? If so, did discovering an interest in optometry help you through that?Having lived in a joint family setting before, it was different moving to another country and living on our own. International telephone calls were expensive, and we had to go to a phone booth to make our weekly phone calls home. Sometimes it did feel isolating.
The local library only stocked Nepali language books. I read most of the fiction novels that had been left by doctors in the hospital library. Javeed introduced me to his collection of ophthalmology books, and I loved reading them. He encouraged me, and that’s where my interest in and love of optics began.
You started working in the hospital in Nepal, testing pre-cataract patients. What was that experience like?When I first started working, I would do B-scans and calculate the power of the intraocular lenses (IOLs) required. Occasionally, I had to perform visual fields tests on the old Goldmann Fields machine, which took a long time. I learnt a few words in Nepali, enough to communicate with patients. It was a humbling experience: some of the patients had travelled long distances to reach the hospital, as they couldn’t afford treatment locally.
Did you find the prospect of training in optics, after already graduating with a chemistry degree, a daunting prospect? When did you start your training officially?I had always loved science as a subject at school, and graduated in chemistry. After my work experience in Nepal, I wanted to pursue a career in optics. With my husband’s encouragement, I did a distance learning course for optical assistants run by the American Academy of Ophthalmology while we were still in Nepal. I completed the initial course, but the final certificate was only given after attending an exam in the US, which didn’t materialise.
I learnt a few words in Nepali, enough to communicate with patients. It was a humbling experience
I started training when we moved to Upton, on the Wirral. By then I had a son, who was six, and my daughter, who was two. There was an advert in the local paper for a frame stylist in one of the multiples. Having done research about a suitable course to fit around my family, I found that ABDO’s dispensing optician (DO) course suited me perfectly. I applied for the job, mentioning in my interview I wanted to pursue a career in optics. Within a year, I started the DO course in Godmershaml, Kent.
You now own an independent practice with the Hakim Group on the Isle of Wight. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your journey to being a practice owner?When I first purchased my practice, we were not part of the Hakim Group. I had to quickly learn every detail with regards to running the practice. Everything was on paper records, with nothing backed up on computers. After working in a multiple, where everything was done digitally, going back to paper records was challenging to say the least.
Also, trying to do everything on my own, while living on the island, was isolating. This changed after I joined the Hakim Group. I received amazing back office support, along with the guidance of our Practice Buddy, and that helped me focus more on running the business successfully. During the first lockdown, Imran Hakim and everyone at the Hakim Group provided us with valuable advice and support, which helped us to come out strong.
Do you have any advice for those who are considering a change in career path?
Don’t be afraid, follow your heart, and take that step. There may be difficulties, but these are the lessons that help you to grow stronger. The best decision I’ve ever made in my time as a business owner was to join the Hakim Group. There is no other comparable proposition out there like them, which combines the strength of a larger business with all the individuality and autonomy of an independent. I have never looked back.