Optometry student guide

Gaining confidence in contact lenses

Newly-qualified optometrist Rebecca English on presenting her research in a competition, loving contact lenses, and changing the lives of patients

Contact lenses

“There is so much you can do in this profession. A lot of people think it is just testing eyes, but there is so much more.”

As the runner-up in a research competition for optometry students, Rebecca English is a passionate advocate for her career choice.

“From complex lens fitting, to specialising in glaucoma, macular degeneration or dry eye, there are so many different paths,” she explains to OT.

A graduate of Ulster University, Rebecca completed her pre-reg at Vision Express Liverpool, while also pursuing a Master’s qualification with Ulster.

Part of the first intake of seven students for the Master’s course, Rebecca explained that it was another example of how exciting studying optometry is today.

“Alongside my pre-reg, I was able to do modules in pre and post cataract assessment, retinal disorders including optical coherence tomography, minor eye conditions services and glaucoma referral and refinement,” she said. “It was great to do this alongside my pre-reg, but it has been a tough year. Pre-reg is hard enough anyway.”

Rebecca added: “The Master’s was helpful. There was a lot of essays, but through the patient episodes and encounters that I had seen in practice as a pre-reg, it helped me to think about what I had done and what I could have done better.”

The FORCE be with you

Rebecca became aware of the FORCE competition run by contact lens manufacturer CooperVision through a project superviser at Ulster, who suggested that her third-year dissertation on anterior eye would be a worthy submission.

“In my research I tested the I-Pen System, measuring tear osmolarity against other tests that we would use in practice every day,” she explained. Awarded runner-up status in 2019, Rebecca described the FORCE competition as a career highlight to date.

“I would absolutely encourage students to get involved and put their research papers forward. Presenting the research to the CooperVision judges and students is a great experience. You get to present research you have put so much work into and share it with peers – and you are able to see what other students have researched. You learn a lot.”

Often patients are really shocked that they can go and try new specs and see themselves wearing them


“During the presentation day, we were shown around CooperVision’s manufacturing site in Southampton. Seeing how the contact lenses that I work with every day are made right there in front of you was fascinating,” Rebecca said. And as a runner-up prize, Rebecca was invited to the BCLA conference and exhibition 2019 in Manchester as CooperVision’s guest.

A passion for contacts

Today, Rebecca is a passionate advocate for contact lens wear, but admitted that prior to qualification she was anxious.

“I did feel a bit unsure and nervous about contact lenses handling and fitting, especially multifocals, in the first few months of pre-reg,” she explained.

However, she advises pre-reg students to think of the practice team as an invaluable resource, and to engage with in-store initiatives that drive contact lens wear.

“Our store does fit in five,” she explained, which is an initiative where “you pop a contact lens in at the end of a sight test, enabling the patient to experience lens wear while also looking at spectacle options. Often patients are really shocked that they can go and try new specs and see themselves wearing them. It is really nice to see their reaction – and a lot are keen to then go on to a contact lens fit. It helps to get really happy patients at the end of the day.”

For students unaccustomed to contact lens wear and handling, Rebecca’s advice is simple: “Try different types on and understand how they fit. In my spare time, I would go to the lens bank with my fellow students at university to take out lenses so that we could practise applying them. Also remember to access the tools for practitioners produced by the contact lens manufacturers including CooperVision’s OptiExpert. This really improves your confidence. You are assessed in pre-reg so get practising with contact lenses now.”

The AOP has a range of patient leaflets and videos, including advice on contact lens wear.

Image credit: Getty/JONGHO SHIN

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