“Every day is different and that’s what I love about optometry”
Pre-reg optometrist Luke McRoy-Jones on progressing through his pre-reg during lockdown and building a patient base in practice
This time last year, I remember being fairly stressed while finishing my optometry degree from home in the midst of the first lockdown. Between trying to enjoy the sunny weather at the time, I was completing my dissertation and getting to grips with online exams. At the same time, optometry practices were in the Red phase, staying open on skeleton staff to deliver essential and urgent eye care needs to their communities. At that point, grave uncertainty lay ahead, and I had no idea whether or not I’d even be able to start a pre-registration placement in 2020.
Meeting patientsEvery day is different and that’s what I love about optometry: one minute you can be examining a 90-year-old visually impaired patient and the next seeing a lively four-year-old. This is certainly the case at my pre-reg practice, which, as part of a busy independent group, has a diverse patient base. I also enjoy a bit of variety in the day, including performing Eye Health Examinations Wales (EHEW) acute appointments and also referral refinements, in addition to routine eye examinations, contact lens appointments and dispensing.
At that point, grave uncertainty lay ahead, and I had no idea whether or not I’d even be able to start a pre-registration placement in 2020
Lately, I’ve particularly enjoyed starting to develop my own patient base within the practice. I’m now seeing members of the same family for eye examinations and getting to know our patients. Plus, now that I’m eight months in, I’m also seeing some repeat patients whom I saw at the start of my pre-reg and were on shorter recalls. In fact, just the other day, a patient specifically requested to see me again. I had seen this elderly gentleman in my first few weeks and referred him with suspect glaucoma and when he attended for his recent eye examination he was very grateful that I had referred him, as he had just been diagnosed with glaucoma and had commenced treatment. It’s little moments like these that reassure me that I’m doing the right thing as a trainee optometrist, particularly after days that have been clinically challenging.
Practising in lockdownHaving said this, I’ve certainly faced a lot of challenges, along with other pre-reg trainees across the country. The area where I practice has been affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, and at one time Merthyr Tydfil topped the UK for the highest infection rate, at over 1000 cases per 100,000 of the population. This has meant that for the majority of my pre-reg so far, I’ve been working in some form of a lockdown, which has brought its own challenges.
The remote assessments were a bit tricky at first, but I’m grateful to have been able to progress through the Scheme for Registration during these challenging times
In terms of things that have helped, my experience working as a student has been particularly beneficial. Before going to university and also while studying optometry, I’ve had the pleasure of working at an independent practice and also two multiple practices, which have all been influential experiences. I also worked as a domiciliary optical assistant with Specsavers while in my third year and I’ve certainly found that all these experiences have helped. For example, I felt I got to grips with dispensing relatively easily, as well as tasks like contact lens teaches, and I feel this has given me a bit of a head start in these areas. In these past experiences, I also worked with some brilliant colleagues, and today I’m still able to draw on these individuals for guidance, in addition to the practice team I work with now, which I value highly. Finally, I’ve attended a few courses as part of the Johnson & Johnson Vision STEP programme, and also with OptomAcademy and Optotutor – these have been massively helpful in preparing for assessments and reflecting on my skillset.
Getting assessment ready
At the point I write this article, I have now had two assessments and I am currently preparing for my Visit 3 in just a couple of weeks, which will be the first in-person assessment of my pre-reg. The remote assessments were a bit tricky at first, but I’m grateful to have been able to progress through the Scheme for Registration during these challenging times.
As the summer approaches, it’s nice to have some optimism and I look forward to continuing to progress through the Scheme. I’m also hoping that I can squeeze in a trip abroad and some more social activities in my free time that aren’t entirely optometry related as lockdown begins to ease.
The biggest learning curve has been… learning that it’s okay to ask questions and that nobody expects you to know absolutely everything all the time. As a pre-reg it can be a little bit daunting when you’re faced with a complicated case – especially in the hospital setting. It’s difficult to try and control your anxieties and worries about doing things right. At first, I had a big fear of people thinking I was stupid for not knowing things. But actually, everyone is really understanding – and everyone was a pre-reg once, so they get how we feel and how nervous we might be.
The next thing I hope to achieve is… to gain a little more confidence in doing things more independently, and also a bit more certainty that what I’m doing is right. We’re moving onto more independent working in areas like paediatrics, so I’m hoping to grow in confidence in refracting children and making more management decisions independently. We’re also moving onto taking low vision patients now we have gained a bit more experience in refraction. I’m really looking forward to this as I find low vision a very rewarding part of optometric practice.
My best experience of the pre-reg period so far is... honestly, it’s hard to choose just one. Living in the middle of London, doing my pre-reg and being at Moorfields is almost like living in a constant ‘pinch-me’ moment. Some of the best experiences so far have been just engaging with patients and being able to still carry on working even in a pandemic. Other great experiences are fitting keratoconic patients with contact lenses and their vision being 6/6 – something they’ve never experienced before. Hearing how happy they are is really rewarding.
Emily Mather is a pre-registration optometrist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.