“Work experience reinforced my desire to pursue this career”
Huda Hathaf, an AOP student representative moving into third-year at Cardiff University, on the skills she has gained from volunteering
10 September 2021
When did you first become aware of the profession?I first became aware of the profession when I was eight years old, after a teacher at school suggested my twin sister needed to have an eye examination as she was struggling to see the board. During the appointment I was intrigued by the instruments used and how they can aid the optometrist in diagnosing any abnormalities at the back of the eye. At the end of the appointment my sister needed glasses, whereas I had perfect vision. Since my sister and I are identical twins, it has always fascinated me why our prescriptions were so different, since vision does seem to have a strong genetic component.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?I believe that restoring sight has a positive impact on the wellbeing of all mankind. The satisfaction of improving the lives of others and enhancing their quality of life is rewarding. Through optometry I discovered how essential it is to help those that are vulnerable. Optometrists can play an increasingly critical role in the treatment and management of glaucoma. This showed me that optometry as a profession is constantly evolving, and optometrists are able to gain more responsibilities throughout their career.
It helps tremendously having my twin sister, Alia, studying optometry alongside me. I appreciate the conversations and debates we can have on various case studies. Having that interaction with someone I live with is so beneficial and can expose me to work situations I may encounter in the future.
Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?My grandad is a professor of clinical nutrition and obesity and he saw first-hand the negative impact that being overweight could have on the health of the eyes. It was interesting to discover how obesity can increase the rate at which a number of diseases, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, occur.
Work experience reinforced my desire to pursue this career. At Huw Bellamy Optometrist in Swansea I was impressed by the empathetic communication skills employed by the optometrist, especially when a patient had suspected signs of cataracts in both eyes. At Specsavers, the most eye-opening moment was when I observed a patient feeling anxious during instillation of fluorescein into the eye. The optometrist encouraged the patient to relax and remain calm and still, making me appreciate that success is dependent on good optometrist-patient interactions.
What experiences have you carried out, and what have you learned from them?During my first year of university, my twin and I decided to join Maggie’s Club, an organisation run by Dr Margaret Woodhouse helping blind and partially sighted children. Before COVID-19, we would volunteer at the charity club, encouraging the children and adults to take part in exercises including arts and crafts, music and juggling, which helped to build their self-confidence and made me appreciate the importance of teaching and communicating information in a way that is understandable to people. Since COVID-19, our volunteer sessions now occur online, where we continue to play fun games and activities as well as singing and dancing.
Maggie’s Club gave me the strong communication skills needed to volunteer as a telephone group facilitator for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, where I communicate with adults with a vision impairment. Every week I provide 40 questions and act as a quizmaster, entertaining a number of people.
By volunteering, I achieved the skills to be able to build a rapport with people of all ages and relate to people from different backgrounds. I also gained an awareness of how important good interactions are and how integrating as part of a team is vital.
It’s important to recognise that although it may be a very difficult and unusual time to live in, life will not always be like this
What are you enjoying about being an AOP student representative?I enjoy being able to work with individuals from many backgrounds and a range of expertise. I believe it’s essential to make positive contributions and to communicate new ideas in the best interest of others.
What are your career goals?In the future I am hoping to complete the independent prescribing and medical retina qualifications as I think they are very beneficial. Continuing on with your professional development enhances your skills and supports dedication, not only to the profession, but also to your patients.
What’s next for you?
This summer I will act as a student mentor consultant. This involves supporting mentors who will be helping the next first year optometry students at Cardiff University. I will advise them on planning sessions and provide feedback on their progress. Becoming a mentor enhanced my own study skills and knowledge of my subject, and has increased my confidence and motivation to engage in multiple volunteering opportunities. There is a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in aiding your future colleagues, as well as strengthening the qualities of leadership and management.
Studying in lockdown
What were the main challenges of the course before COVID-19, and what challenges has the outbreak added?One of the main challenges of university before COVID-19 was time management, especially as I was commuting every day for an hour by train. This can feel quite overwhelming – especially on top of all the lectures, practical work and completing extra reading. To overcome this I stayed organised by investing in a huge whiteboard, which detailed the assignments I needed to complete. I find writing a to do list incredibly helpful as, by prioritising aspects of your study, it can enhance your memory and therefore increases motivation to study and reduces a lot of stress.
The outbreak has meant a lot of lectures have been moved online and, while it’s been great not having to commute every day, it can be difficult to stay engaged and concentrate for long periods of time.
How has the coronavirus outbreak impacted your course and what adjustments has your university made? How have you had to adapt?An impact that COVID-19 has had on our course was the lack of practice time available. This has been especially evident during practical exam week. To solve this issue, the university introduced free practice sessions that you could book every two weeks. However, in order to adapt it was important to not make these practice sessions a core part of my revision strategy. I made sure I prepared my timetabled practicals beforehand and considered other revision strategies. This included rehearsing what to say during history and symptoms, going over my refraction routine, as well as learning the specialised slit lamp techniques.
Since we had open book exams this year, I knew that the questions would be more applied. Therefore, adapting my revision technique in order to understand and relate the content to any given scenario, rather than rote learning, was vital.
What have been some of the concerns students have had during this time? Do you have any tips to help students in maintaining their wellbeing during this time?
A concern for some students is the uncertainty of the future. It’s important to acknowledge your concerns and reassure yourself that it’s completely normal to feel this way. Whilst it can be intense thinking about life after university, accepting the situation we are in gives us the ability to make things better and look for areas of improvement. It’s important to recognise that although it may be a very difficult and unusual time to live in, life will not always be like this. We have our whole lives ahead of us and opening up to trying new things, such as volunteering, will improve our wellbeing as well as that of others.