How I got here

All-round advancing

Optometrist, Raimonda Bullaj, on becoming a well-rounded clinician and her ambition to become a practice owner

Raimonda Bullaj

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd and have always enjoyed biology.

But it was only when I was looking through UCAS at university courses that I first came across optometry. I did some research and liked the idea of it as a career option, so I went into a Specsavers practice near my home at the age of 16 to have a chat and secured two weeks’ work experience.

I liked it as soon as I started and was subsequently offered a job. I remained with Specsavers at various practices while I was at college and university.

In 2011, I enrolled in optometry at City, University of London before opting to do my pre-reg year with Specsavers because I knew the systems, I knew the people and I like the company and have been really encouraged by Irinder Khakha, the ophthalmic director. Having qualified in 2015, my five-year plan is to open my own Specsavers practice through a joint venture partnership.

At the moment I am focused on upskilling and learning as much as I can clinically.

I don’t want to be managing and looking after staff members when I don’t know as much as I can first, which is why I have been doing lots of different things professionally. I am currently studying for my Masters, I do some work in a Newmedica glaucoma clinic, I practise with SeeAbility and Specsavers, and I am an enhanced services assessor. 

"I took my experience...and welcomed colleagues into my testing room to sit and watch me. A lot of them embraced the opportunity and now they all test children under five"

I applied for a role at the charity SeeAbility in order to build on my knowledge of children’s eye care.

However, it was also because I wanted to make a change in practice. During my career, I have seen and heard optometrists refusing to test children below the age of five and this concerned me. Tackling it was the only way I knew, so I threw myself in at the deep end. While I was terrified at first, I really enjoy the work that I do with SeeAbility. It has also allowed me to go back into practice and action change. I took my experience, identified the equipment that I thought was needed in store and welcomed colleagues into my testing room to sit and watch me. A lot of them embraced the opportunity and now they all test children under five.

In May last year I joined a Newmedica clinic so that I could learn a little more about glaucoma.

While this clinic focuses on glaucoma, it allows me to see a wide range of age-related conditions too. I get to see so much pathology and have the opportunity to work closely with ophthalmologists, which I think is important as optometry advances. In the future, I’d love to be able to offer the services that Newmedica does in practice. It is utilising skills that we all have and, with a little extra training, enables us to deal with a condition rather than refer.

I have always been very scared of change and new things, but I have tried to embrace it as I think it’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone.

When I started at SeeAbility I thought, ‘why am I doing this?’ They advertised for someone who was more than two years qualified and with hospital experience, and I didn’t have either. However, I embraced the opportunity, conquered my fears, learned a lot and have been able to help others as a result.

Having completed enhanced optical training shortly after I qualified, I am now a WOPEC assessor and a facilitator at Specsavers professional development events.

I enjoy this aspect of my job because I like being able to have a positive impact of others. While I was initially a little nervous about assessing or teaching people who sometimes have more than 20 years’ experience, I know that they are there to learn and I enjoy teaching and supporting them. 

A career highlight for me so far has been working my way up in the store where I practise to become someone that my colleagues look up to and can ask questions to without feeling uncomfortable.

I really look forward to building on this when I own my own practice. I want to do this with Specsavers because they have been extremely helpful and supportive of everything that I have done so far. 

Plan B

I can’t say whether I’d be working with numbers or teaching maths, but it was an aspect of learning that I enjoyed a lot.