The joy of helping people to see
Ruth Cuthbert on a well-rounded career
I suppose my first experience of optometry was when I got my eyes tested at the age of 14 and had my first pair of glasses, which were those lovely black 524s.
My decision to study optometry stemmed from attending a careers talk at school. At the time I was studying maths, physics and biology at A Level and the careers adviser happened to mention the prospect of a career as an optician and how those A Levels were appropriate. Prior to that, I was aware of optometry because my cousin, who was two years older than me, was also studying it at university at the time.
"I believe that I've had a really good and worthwhile career as an optometrist"
I've explored all sorts of avenues. I started off as an employee and, after having children, I locumed in a range of settings, from multiples and independent practices to a laser eye clinic and with domiciliaries. However, in the end I settled down to be an employee in a small independent practice in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.
Being nominated by the AOP to be a trustee of The Benevolent Fund was a real eye-opener for me. You think that optometry is a well-paid career and therefore optometrists should have a secure income and should be able to support themselves, but you just never know what is going to happen, or what is around the corner.
When the previous chairman stepped down, I was asked to be the chair of The Benevolent Fund. Taking up the position was an easy decision to make and it has been a real honour to be able to look at the applications and decide how to help people.
"Being nominated by the AOP to be a trustee of The Benevolent Fund was a real eye opener for me"
Optometry truly was for me from the start. I enjoyed my time as both a student and a pre-reg optometrist, and I believe that I’ve had a really satisfying and worthwhile career as an optometrist.
Recently I have been appointed chair of the Local Eye Health Network in Lancashire. Here there is the opportunity for all eye health professionals, together with the voluntary sector, to re-design services and pathways to meet local patient and population needs.
At the age of 18 I was advised by my school that I should have a back-up plan in case I was not accepted on the optometry course. I said that I would be a maths teacher. Dream-wise I would like to have been a gardener and have a winning entry at the Chelsea Flower Show.
– I really enjoyed returning to life as a student in middle age. Also, in general, as an optometrist it’s a pleasure to be able to help people to see well and to fulfil their potential.
In terms of a career setback, if I'm honest, I've always been very happy in my career as an optometrist and it has always fitted in well with my family life. I was able to pick and choose my locum days when the children were young, and as they grew up, I could work in several different branches of optics.
Having spent almost 40 years in optics, my next steps involve re-evaluating everything that I do and working towards retirement, but while still being a valuable member of the optical world.