Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Optometrist Helen Peregrine on the changing face of hospital optometry

Globe and people

Five years ago, freshly qualified, I remember being asked “where do you see yourself in five years time?” in a job interview. Still feeling very young at the spritely age of 22 years old, I was filled with hope and excitement about the next five years.

Throughout my years training at Cardiff University, as well as during a hospital pre-registration period at Oxford Eye Hospital, I’d had a clear focus of wanting to work in hospital optometry once qualified. Feeling that it would be quite hard to get into, I knew that I would make every sacrifice that needed to be made.

Upon qualification five years ago, I went in search of hospital optometry jobs. At that stage, I still vividly remember a total of four optometry jobs advertised across the whole of the England. Successfully securing a position in the hospital setting felt like hitting the jackpot, so, without much thought, I uprooted my life to Eastbourne where I had the opportunity to be a full-time hospital optometrist.

The job did not disappoint, and after a good grounding I started to specialise in ophthalmology roles and completed my independent prescribing qualification. When I joined the optometry department at the Eastbourne District General Hospital there was just myself, my manager and a handful of part-time optometrists. However, our department has now expanded to 14 optometrists, comprising a mixture of full time and part time staff.

"Now more than ever is an ideal time for community optometrists to consider specialising in hospital optometry. The core roles alone provide a higher level of speciality, which can also be applied into community practice"

Extending the role

In the last five years there has been a huge shift and advancement in hospital optometry.

With the introduction of intravitreal treatments for medical retina, along with an ever growing (and ever ageing) population, the ophthalmology departments started to struggle more than ever with capacity.

One solution for this was to increase the workforce by training hospital optometrists in extended roles, following the realisation that optometrists have a clinical background very capable of managing ophthalmology patients.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon for hospital optometrists to be working in medical retina, glaucoma, diabetic and corneal clinics, as well as eye casualty. This has in turn raised the profile of optometrists’ clinical ability in the eyes of ophthalmology.

The impact this has had on the hospital optometry job market is a definite growth of jobs available across the UK. At the time of writing this article, there were 14 hospital optometry jobs being advertised in England, which is a three-fold increase from when I qualified.

Supply verses demand

However, is there a sufficient influx of optometrists into hospital work to meet this heightened demand?

With often no more than about 12 pre-registration posts available in the hospital setting each year, it is unsurprising that demand exceeds supply.

From my perspective, over the last five years, optometry as a profession has swung to a more clinical emphasis with shared care clinics, minor eye conditions services, PEARS, and much more.

While optics will always be our bread and butter, optometry is fast being recognised as a profession that can manage ophthalmology patients alongside ophthalmologists. With increasing numbers of optometry schools opening, perhaps a clinical focus is a key part to optometry’s future?

Now more than ever is an ideal time for community optometrists to consider specialising in hospital optometry. The core roles alone provide a higher level of speciality, which can also be applied into community practice (complex refractions, medical contact lenses and low vision work). Plus, there are plenty of opportunities available to develop a career in ophthalmology roles subsequently.

The recently reported NHS pay increase also makes a hospital position more affordable, with a lot of part time roles, in addition to good job security.

From my perspective, now is the juncture where hospital departments are shifting, which opens up a world of opportunities for our profession as a whole – let’s see where the next five years take us.

Helen Peregrine is an IP-qualified hospital optometrist and is deputy head optometrist at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust.