How I got here

The independent side of optometry

Optometrist and partner of Opticare Opticians, Shaimil Shah, on the benefits of practising in an independent setting

Shamil Shah

Entering optometry was discussed within my family at quite an early age.

My father is an optometrist and owns a group of four independent practices. Growing up, I would do work experience in the practice during the school holidays.

What I have always liked about optometry is the fact that you get to talk to so many different people from different backgrounds and hear their stories.

You can feel the help that you are giving them and see the difference that you are making to their lives. Whether it is helping them pick a new pair of spectacles or saving their sight, you feel that you are an important part of that patient’s life and are supporting them.

My journey into optics was a bumpy one and meant that I trained to become a dispensing optician initially.

When I got my A Level grades, they were not good enough to study optometry and I thought that would be it. After re-evaluating my options, I decided to pursue a career in accounting. However, a week before I was due to start, I got a call to let me know that I had been accepted onto the dispensing course at City, University of London. Things changed one way and then changed another way very quickly. However, I didn’t hesitate and accepted my place on the two-year full-time dispensing course right away. Towards the end of my second year, I was fortunate enough to get a place to study optometry at Cardiff University the following year.

I completed my pre-registration year in independent practice and it was tough.

That year is unlike anything else you will experience in your life. University is great and it teaches you the background, but the pre-reg year is all about putting theory into practise. The first few months were definitely quite hard, but then you begin to build a routine that will no doubt stick with you for the rest of your career.

"I get to test patients, but I am also managing staff and helping to advance the business, it’s an all-round role that offers variety"

Currently I am an optometrist and partner at Opticare Opticians, a group of four independent practices in the East Midlands.

During my studies I gained experience in the multiple sector, but I knew that I wanted to be in the independent sector because of the flexibility and the freedom that it offered.

In terms of independent optometry, you can give the patient the best level of care without being restricted. That was the appeal. I have also found it offers a more relaxed working environment, with more flexible testing times. However, you still have the practice support that you may require and there is much more of a family feel.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is the freedom to be able to do what I feel is best for the patient.

I also enjoy the fact that my role now is a mix of both clinical and business skills. I get to test patients, but I am also managing staff and helping to advance the business, it’s an all-round role that offers variety.

A career highlight was probably passing my pre-reg. It was such a long journey to get there that when it finally happened it was almost unbelievable.

I had finally got to the end. And while I know that it was the start of my career, for me it was also the end of the study part and the start of everything to come.

In terms of my next steps in my career, my focus is on the development and expansion of Opticare.

We want to open more independent practices in and around the East Midlands first, and then whether we go regional or national eventually, I don’t know. For me, it is all about creating an independent business where the brand name is known within the community and where personal care is delivered through a friendly service. We also want people in the area to recognise what Opticare is about and to know what they should expect, even before they walk through the door.

Plan B

My plan B would have been something along the business route as I’ve always had that hunger and drive. There was a brief period between getting my A Level results and going to university where accountancy looked like the path I was going to take.