“Optometry gives the job satisfaction of helping people”
Dr Christine Astin, hospital optometrist, educator and Lifetime Fellow of IACLE, on her international career and the joy of being professionally recognised
I had always wanted to help people, and was particularly interested in human biology.When I realised that there were too many barriers to my attending medical school and becoming a doctor, I investigated allied medical professions. Optometry offered a good clinical vocation, without being invasive like dentistry. My career began when I obtained my honours degree in ophthalmic optics from Aston University, and then passed the professional exams.
I enjoyed the hospital optometry work in my pre-registration year at Cheltenham General Hospital and the Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital, which triggered my thirst for hospital optometry.I then worked combining private practice and part-time posts at hospitals including Coventry and Warwick, Newcastle General, and Moorfields Eye Hospital. I was a full-time senior optometrist in the contact lens and prosthetic department at Moorfields from 1982, soon becoming deputy to the head of department, Professor Geoff Woodward. He was a great clinician and teacher, and was a fantastic inspiration for many aspects of my hospital career.
Geoff got me involved in teaching visiting optometrists, pre-reg optometrists, junior doctors and delegates on courses run by Moorfields and the Institute of Ophthalmology. Teaching proved to be demanding and stimulating. I enjoyed it, and consequently taught student clinics for several years at City University, London.
I gained the Diploma in Contact Lens Practice in 1981, and also served on the council of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) from 1986 to 1989.
In 1988, when Geoff Woodward took up the post of professor at City University, London, I became principal optometrist and head of the contact lens and prosthetic department at Moorfields.My research and clinical work continued, and I supervised pre-reg optometrists and taught on ophthalmology courses in Birmingham, Nottingham and London, and at Moorfields. I gave lectures in the UK, US and Europe over several years, and was delighted to be an invited keynote lecturer at conferences in both New Zealand and Australia.
Since 1992 I have been involved with the teaching organised by the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE), and in 1996 Judith Morris and I were the first UK members to pass the fellowship exam and obtain the FIACLE qualification.
In addition to clinical and management work, I carried out research at Moorfields and at the Institute of Ophthalmology at the University of London, where I obtained my Master of Philosophy degree in 1995.The main part of my research studied corneal changes following various methods of cataract surgery, and also following refractive surgery. Encouragement and advice from colleagues at Moorfields helped me to develop and reach out further.
From April 1997 to January 2006, I was also on the General Optical Council panel, visiting universities to ensure that adequate facilities were available for students, checking the curriculum and exam timetables, observing procedures and professional qualifying exams, and having discussions with panels of teachers and students to ensure high levels of education and assessment were being maintained. At the same time, I was an optometric practice visitor for the College of Optometrists
I gave a number of presentations at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology‘s annual global conferences in Florida.
These conferences provided amazing education and incredible experiences. My international experiences led me to take the exam for the American Academy of Optometry; I was then awarded a fellowship and gave several lectures at its conferences in both the US and UK.
I taught at Aston for 14 years, and enjoyed advising and encouraging the students, several of whom I am now proud to see are in major optometry roles
Over the decades, I have given many conference presentations for the European Vision and Eye Research Association and the Hospital Optometrists Association, the College of Optometrists and the BCLA. I also give occasional lectures to local optical groups in the UK.
I have written significant contributions to textbook chapters, including for Contact Lenses, Contact Lens Practice, and the Manual of Contact Lens Prescribing and Fitting. In addition, I have published more than 30 papers in international journals, and have refereed papers for Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics and for Contact Lens and Anterior Eye.
The next stage of my career saw me working as a part-time senior optometrist across private practice, at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital and at Aston University.
Working in academia as a visiting lecturer and clinical teacher fulfilled a long-term goal. I taught at Aston University for 14 years, and enjoyed advising and encouraging the students, several of whom I am now proud to see are in major optometry roles.
At Aston University I also took the opportunity to carry out part time research for my thesis on corneal and biometric changes of the ageing eye, and gained my PhD in 2005.
My next step included private practice, university teaching and a part-time senior optometry post in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, specialising in corneal problems and complex contact lens fitting. For more than four years I also enjoyed my role as a visiting clinical teacher at Cardiff University Optometry Department. In 2017, I was granted Lifetime Fellowship status of IACLE.
I feel very fortunate to have combined optometric practice, supervising trainees, examining for the College of Optometrists, participating in conferences and supporting IACLE as part of my professional career.
In February 2021 IACLE informed me that, in appreciation of my work with them since 1990, it had decided to grant me emeritus membership. Such recognition is heart-warming.
Optometry has given me an interesting and rewarding career, meeting a wide variety of people. Career highlights include working at several major hospitals, participating at international conferences, teaching, and achieving my PhD. Optometry gives the job satisfaction of helping people and, whether listening, advising or improving vision, ultimately making their lives better.
- As told to Lucy Miller.