Why optometry?

Mature student, Helen Rixson, on becoming fascinated with optics and later enrolling at Plymouth University to become an optometrist

Helen Rixon

I became interested in optometry when my own vision began to deteriorate and I found myself attending the opticians on a regular basis.

I went from wearing prescriptive correction sparingly, to finding it impossible to see clearly without correction. I consequently experimented with both spectacles and contact lenses, until opting for LASIK laser eye surgery four years ago.

I took great pleasure in independently researching the range of treatments that I have experienced and subsequently developed a significant interest in ocular science. This motivated me to arrange a work experience placement at my local High Street opticians in order to gain a realistic view of the profession.

In practice experience

During the placement I observed comprehensive eye testing and checks regarding all aspects of vision and eye health using ophthalmic equipment. I was also shown how each instrument operates and the optometrist explained the importance of each to the eye examination. As a result, I developed an appreciation of the detailed methodical processes involved in evaluating a patient’s sight to determine the prescription required to improve their vision.

I found it fascinating that while these checks provide valuable information about the health of the eye, they can also indicate more serious conditions. Because of this I thought that being an optometrist would be an extremely satisfying and rewarding career to pursue.

With strong communication skills, I have the ability to build rapport with people of all ages and knew that I would embrace the challenge of using this competence to alleviate any distress to patients, who may be anxious during testing procedures and to empathise with their vision difficulties and ailments. I think it is important to create a customer experience the patient will value and trust to ensure customer loyalty and repeat business.

"I can't wait until I qualify and become a primary healthcare professional providing eye care services in the south west of England"

A career change

As a 31-year-old married mother to three young children, I had previously been working as a receptionist. Knowing that I wanted to embark on a career in optometry, I enrolled on an access to higher education course two evenings a week, which began when my third child was only two weeks old and I was on maternity leave. This required a great deal of multi-tasking – I have fond memories of typing assignments on my laptop while soothing my son to sleep. I went on to achieve distinction grades in maths, physics, biology and chemistry, and I was subsequently offered a place to study optometry at Plymouth University.

I began my first year of study in September 2015 and feel privileged to be part of a course that combines work experience with state-of-the-art facilities for practical work, along with teaching methods from passionate staff within a close knit team.

Studying can be intense at times, but my knowledge and understanding has progressively increased, I have made some amazing friends, and I am really happy to have chosen optometry as a career path. I can’t wait until I qualify and become a primary healthcare professional providing eye care services in the south west of England.

During my time as a student, I have discovered that there are a range of exciting extra curricular opportunities to get involved with alongside the course – I am a student representative for my second year optometry cohort, and I have recently been voted as Plymouth University’s overall Course Rep of the Year 2017. I am also an AOP student rep for Plymouth and will be volunteering in August at the Special Olympics, helping to test athletes’ sight. I am really enjoying getting involved in all of these activities and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to be involved.