Pre-reg focus

Unexpected changes

Pre-reg optometrist, Nikki Sharma, reflects on her first three weeks in practice

Nikki Sharma at her graduation

Phew, was my most prominent feeling after I completed my first visit as a pre-reg. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the feeling would soon be gone as the dates for my following three visits were confirmed.

A false start

I have to admit, the start of pre-reg did not go exactly to plan. The placement that I accepted with Boots Opticians was not in my hometown, so I had to look for somewhere that I could call home for the next year. This, of course, came with plenty of challenges. Juggling work and preparing for my first visit was difficult enough, without also dealing with the nitty gritty details that come with renting a property. I felt as though the transition from a university student to a pre-reg optometrist and a fully responsible adult hit me at once.

Unfortunately, the flat that I had moved into did not measure up to expectations and I found myself moving out four days before my first assessment. This meant that in the days leading up to my visit, I was living out of a suitcase – waking up at 5am, going to work, staying at a hotel and getting home at 9pm. Although this was not the ideal situation to be in, I could not have done it without the support of my family, friends and new work colleagues.

Rather than receiving complaints about my suitcase taking up the space in the staff room, my new team rallied around me; offering guidance and emotional support. I did not think a relationship with my colleagues would develop so strongly and quickly within three weeks. They have gone above and beyond to help me with my homesickness and my confidence – to the team at the Boots Opticians in Gallowtree Gate, thank you.

"Although there have been times where I have not been able to recognise what I am seeing, having the chance to learn from the experienced optometrists around me is wonderful"

The year ahead

I have only been a pre-reg optometrist for three weeks now and already I am starting to get a taster of all the mental challenges that lie ahead.

I have seen a range of incredible pathology; pigment dispersion syndrome, retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy, choroidal pigmentation, optic atrophy and pterygium, to name just a few. And although there have been times where I have not been able to recognise what I am seeing, having the chance to learn from the experienced optometrists around me is wonderful.

One of my supervisors, Hardeep Riyat, has been particularly supportive in helping me expand my knowledge, calling me into her consulting room to view any rare pathology that she comes across.

My new colleagues have also been patient with me, understanding that I am learning, which has made me feel comfortable and able to ask any ‘silly’ questions.

Working as a pre-reg optometrist is very different from being a university student. There are no lectures, timetabled homework or practice clinical sessions. The onus is on you to manage your time well. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular aspect of clinical practice, then you need to be proactive and book some time to go through it with your supervisor.

Having to manage my work with my studies has forced me to become independent and responsible for my own time; something that I feel will be an invaluable skill in preparation for my upcoming assessments.

Even though I am constantly supervised, I have already started to feel a great sense of obligation for my patients. Whenever I identify something that the patient may not be aware of, I endeavour to provide them with as much information and assurance that I can. For example, when a young patient presented with floaters, I took the opportunity to show them images and explain their development.

Whilst I am aware that my pre-reg year will be the most difficult year so far in my life, I have to remind myself that it is a learning year as well. Having assessment after assessment may be daunting, but they are designed to help pre-regs grow in to confident and competent optometrists; and, when someone’s sight is involved, the importance of these assessments become even more apparent.