"Providing a voice for my fellow students and colleagues is something I value greatly"
Second year optometry student, Indy Ghuman, tells OT what he enjoys about being on the AOP’s student committee
01 March 2021
What stage of your career are you currently in?I am in my second year of optometry at Aston University. I am also currently an Association of Optometrists’ student committee member and course representative for Aston University - discussing contemporaneous issues within optics such as the Education Strategic Review and optometry apprenticeship. When not at university, I have been working part-time as an optical assistant, helping to serve my local communities’ eye care needs.
When did you first become aware of the profession?My secondary school organised a careers event attended by alumni. I remember having a conversation with Paul Cottrell, a specialist optometrist and independent practice owner, where I discovered the variety of avenues that optometry could take you down. In one day, you could be fitting complex contact lenses in a specialist scleral lens clinic or playing a key role within eye care governance. I was intrigued by this diversity, coupled with the fact that through shared care schemes and revolutionary technology, primary care optometry was going to provide a clinically challenging environment to learn and grow.
I also had the privilege to learn from Tulsi Parekh about her role as a hospital research optometrist, which motivated me to grasp every opportunity I could to observe research within the university setting. These successful individuals played a key role in introducing me to the optometry profession and I will always be grateful.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?Volunteering with visually impaired children during an expedition to Tanzania in Africa became a pivotal moment for me. I encountered children suffering from a variety of eye diseases, some preventable, and also correctable refractive error. During this time, I was able to help out, as well as speak to and observe American doctors of optometry examining children and dispensing spectacles. I realised how fortunate we are in the UK. I also learnt about how the scope of practice is much different across the pond in North America. Spending time with these children and watching how their quality of life improved, inspired me to want to study optometry.
I was intrigued by the diversity [of the role], coupled with the fact that through shared care schemes and revolutionary technology, primary care optometry was going to provide a clinically challenging environment to learn and grow
What are your career goals?
I’m a strong believer that university is not the end for further study. I plan on obtaining further qualifications, such as the College of Optometrists’ higher qualifications in medical retina and glaucoma, with a long-term goal of completing a master’s degree. This is important for me so that I am not only able to equip myself clinically for the evolving nature of optometry and the changing role of an optometrist, but to provide my patients with the highest level of care.
Additionally, I have been working with the AOP through the virtual policy and student committees. The opportunity to provide a voice for my fellow students and colleagues is something I value greatly. I hope to continue my involvement with the AOP and other professional bodies throughout my career to help inform and shape the future of optics.
At some point I want to travel back to Africa to give back to the communities that initially inspired me. I would love to be part of a long-term sustainable change within the region’s eye care provision, perhaps by being involved in the training of healthcare workers.
What do you enjoy about being an AOP student representative?
I have really valued the ability to network with like-minded individuals from an assortment of backgrounds and experiences. We have been able to learn from each other as well as compare and contrast how the widening scope of optometric education is provided across all four nations of the UK, and use this to help form AOP policy responses to the General Optical Council’s Education Strategic Review.
I have relished the chance to bring forward innovative new ideas and to work with other representatives to help create useful content for student members of the AOP. Although I can confidently say that when I started this position the world and optics were in a completely different place, this emphasised the importance of our role to gather information from peers to make sure student voices are heard and acted upon, and that positive change is made. Recent student initiatives include the creation and distribution of university eye clinic posters to increase patient flow and the COVID-19 ask the experts page.
I’m a strong believer that university is not the end for further study
What’s next for you?
I’m currently making plans to travel to Sydney, Australia, on an international university exchange programme with the University of New South Wales (UNSW). This is something that I am incredibly excited for, as the scope of practice in Australasia is much more diverse than in England. UNSW also has an esteemed research portfolio and teaching faculty. COVID-19-dependant, I hope I am able to follow through with this.
Studying in lockdown
What were the main challenges of the university course before COVID-19, and what challenges has the outbreak added?
Moving into the second stage of my programme, I knew the course was going to become more rigorous and challenging in terms of content, time management and learning clinical skills. However, the pandemic has markedly amplified these for me, owing to the reduction in on-campus practical time that has been imposed to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus. This has resulted in me making the most of those golden opportunities to learn from university clinical demonstrators to ensure my competence. Learning online has its challenges too, such as technical issues and diminishing chances to bounce ideas off other students.
In a previous article for OT, I mentioned that “when people say university goes so quickly, believe me it does. Therefore, enjoy every second while you can.”
Six months on and I cannot echo this enough. I also advised three tips: keep a balance between work and down-time, take the time to make new friends, and don’t compare yourself to others, as everyone has their own path. These still ring true.
Has the coronavirus outbreak affected any plans regarding placements and pre-registration applications?
In the latter half of 2020, second year student optometrists were preparing to apply for pre-registration optometrist positions due to commence in 2022. The application process has been completely transformed for some of the larger multiples, in comparison to previous years.
Gone are the days of one-to-one in-person interviews and large scale group interviews, replaced with screens and a sometimes faltering internet connection. This has been an interesting but not unexpected consequence of the pandemic but will mean the traditional ‘summer school’ application experience seems unlikely. We have been informed that when the time to enrol on the College’s Scheme for Registration comes around, we will be able to start on time, and we all hope this is the case.