A new landscape

Sheetal Patel explains why she believes that now is a more exciting time than ever to be a newly qualified optometrist


I tell newly qualified trainees (NQTs) how excited I would be if I was starting my career right now.It’s such a different landscape than it was just a few years ago, with such a wide range of career options available to them – from community optometrist roles to research positions, to hospital eye care departments. With community optometrists increasingly able to offer Minor Eye Conditions Services (MECS) and independent prescribing, their early experiences as practising optometrists are richer and more educationally driven than ever before.

A growing treatment remit

More and more, optometrists have a role to play in the community because the demands on eye care are increasing. As hospital eye care departments struggle to keep up with the demands they are increasingly looking to other sources for support, making community optometry a growing and exciting area of work. One example of this is glaucoma referral refinement – allowing optometrists to become accredited so they can help triage patients for the secondary care sector. Optometry’s professional remit is widening from historically being refractionists providing spectacle prescriptions and detecting ocular abnormality, to being instrumental in maintaining the nation’s eye health.

The right journey

It’s always been important to build a solid foundation in your career and there is true value in the process. Patiently acquiring the skills and experience needed for your chosen career path is incredibly valuable because it keeps you focused on the overarching aim of being an optometrist: providing exceptional care for your patients. What better way is there to start than by working with a variety of patients at the heart of a community?

"If I were an NQT again, I'd want someone to tell me that in every experience, whether you work in research or as a locum, great patient care is always the foundation for the development you will make as an optometrist throughout your career"

Getting the right support and guidance

As part of the Johnson & Johnson Vison Care Companies STEP programme, my colleagues share personal experiences about their own journey and how they got to where they are today. It’s something I would have hugely appreciated at the start of my career – that’s partly why I, as well as the dedicated faculty associated with the programme, wanted to include this as part of the STEP offering.

Part of the programme’s role is to help NQTs learn what career options exist and how to gain the relevant skills and knowledge for that role. If a NQT wanted to be a locum optometrist for example, STEP would help them understand what that role truly entails. One of the important factors of being a good locum is to be very confident in your clinical decisions and management of patients. It is, therefore, advisable to gain real, front-line experience of working with patients as an individual clinician and learning from any management decisions made (for example, when referring a patient).

My own experience

If I were an NQT again, I’d want someone to tell me that there is real value in the process I’ll go through, and that in every experience, whether you work in research or as a locum, in a hospital or on the high street, great patient care is always the foundation for the development you will make as an optometrist throughout your career.

Sheetal Patel is manager of the Johnson & Johnson Institute and founder of Johnson & Johnson’s STEP® (Success Through Education Programme), a four-year learning educational journey supporting undergraduate optometry students from their penultimate year at university, through their pre-registration period to becoming newly qualified.

Image credit: Getty