From work experience to optometry student
Cardiff University student and AOP student representative, Millie Trotter, tells OT how her work experience inspired her to pursue a career in optometry, and how she hopes to promote the profession to others through her blog
12 June 2020
Who influenced your decision to go into optometry?It was my aunt who originally organised for me to have a day of work experience at my local Specsavers, as she knew that I was unsure of what to do after sixth form. If she had not helped me organise that work experience then I wouldn’t have been offered a position as an optical assistant (OA) and I probably would have never considered a career in optometry.
Aside from my aunt, the optometrists that I work with back home have been huge influences on my decision to go into optometry. They are really passionate, are more than happy to answer any questions that I have, and are always telling me about interesting cases or patients that they have seen.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?I wanted to do a biology-based degree, but I knew many biology degrees involve a lot of lab work which I was never really a fan of. I realised, from my jobs as a riding stable assistant and as an OA, that I really enjoyed interacting with different people. Optometry ticked all the boxes. I like the amount of variety that comes with the job as no two patients are the same.
What are the main challenges of the university course and what challenges has the outbreak of COVID-19 added?Before the lockdown, I found that I sometimes struggled with time management and I found it hard to keep my notes up to date, complete extra reading where necessary and find time to practice my clinical skills, as well as making time to do the things I enjoy outside of optometry.
The outbreak of COVID-19 added a lot of uncertainty around all of our upcoming assessments, which wasn’t useful in terms of planning revision. On top of that was the added stress of trying to decide whether to go home or stay in Cardiff and the anxiety that the lockdown and the virus itself caused.
I hope to continue sharing my experiences as an optometry student and promoting studying optometry
What placements have you carried out and what have you learned?I am quite lucky as I am able to work for my local Specsavers when I am home and for an independent practice when I am in Cardiff, so I have seen a lot of interesting cases. The two placements have allowed me to gain insight into the running of multiples and independents. I feel like this has helped me to make more informed decisions when considering future career options.
I have also sat in on a hospital contact lens clinic which was really eye-opening (pardon the pun), as I hadn’t had much experience with contact lenses. By the end of the day I was a bit sick of RGB lenses, but that placement cemented my goal of wanting to work in a hospital setting as I got to meet a number of different people involved in the hospital’s ophthalmology/optometry department.
Could you tell us what inspired you to launch an optometry-specific blog?I set up my blog when I was in sixth form as a way of motivating myself to study for my A Levels and also because I noticed that there weren’t many UK optometry students who were actively talking about their lives at university. The blog is really useful as it has provided me with a good network of people to go to for advice and it’s also helped me find out more about the opportunities I could have once I’m qualified.
I hope to continue sharing my experiences as an optometry student and promoting studying optometry. I also really enjoy the fact that having the account lets me connect with people who are considering studying optometry and just want to find out a bit more about what the course entails, what living in Cardiff is like etc., as that’s something I wish I had when I was in sixth form
What are your career goals?I’d really like to do my pre-registration in a hospital, Moorfields in particular. I’ve also considered obtaining a qualification in independent prescribing (IP) and the Medical Retina and Glaucoma Diplomas once I’ve qualified. But that seems like a long way off right now.
Studying in lockdown
How has the outbreak of COVID-19 impacted your course and how have you had to adapt?The week that university closed I was due to have my clinical assessment, which was to perform a full, skeleton sight test within half an hour. However, as the university was closed, the assessment was cancelled. It looks like we’re going to have to do a clinical assessment when we come back, which could be interesting considering not many people will have the opportunity to practice whilst we’re away from university.
All other assessments have been moved online. Having to do an online practical dispensing exam was an interesting experience. We have also had some modules move to be completely exam-based because of missing practical, data collecting sessions.
Because the assessments have moved to online, open-book exams, I’ve had to adapt my revision technique so instead of focusing on learning as much information as I can, I’ve switched to learning which lectures cover what content. I’ve also done a lot more extra reading than usual so my understanding of a topic has deepened. This is because many of the exams have been reformatted to be mainly essay based, so they test your understanding of a topic more.
How have you found the motivation to study through the lockdown?I have definitely experienced the struggle to motivate myself to study. There have been a couple of days that I spent lying in bed, watching Netflix and snacking, and I know a lot of my friends have experienced the same. I found that it was really hard to concentrate with all the uncertainty that the whole situation has caused.
I find that writing out a to-do list the night before, and planning a really good breakfast, helps me have the motivation to get out of bed. I noticed that I kept sleeping in later as well, so I’ve started setting an alarm and stopped staying up as late and I’ve found that has helped me to wake up feeling more motivated.
I recommend not putting too many things on your to-do list though, because not being able to achieve all the tasks you wanted to do is a tad demoralising.
What advice would you have for others on helping to maintain their mental health and wellbeing during this time?I think that it’s important to recognise that it is okay to not be okay in strange times like these and that it is okay to have bad days. If you are having a bad day, don’t force yourself to study if you don’t want to; your wellbeing should take priority. Reach out to friends and family and open up about how you’re feeling if you can, or just reach out for a chat. There’s always the AOP Peer Support Line, which is also available for students to use.
I’d definitely recommend doing something that you enjoy doing, maybe something new that isn’t related to studying. You can then use this as a study break or as a treat once you’ve finished for the day.