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“Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference”

Aston University graduate and pre-reg optometrist, Mohammed Zayn, on a placement with Villa Vision that opened his eyes to the role an optometrist plays in a child’s future

In this new series, OT asked student and pre-registration optometrists to share their stories of work experience – from shadowing days, to volunteering and internships – to find out more about what can be learned from these opportunities, and the variety of pathways that optometry can lead to. To follow along with the series, read more on OT here

I had first heard about Villa Vision a couple of years ago, during the pandemic. It was something that stood out to me at the time. The world was going through a difficult period and there you had an organisation that was inspiring thousands of people around the importance of looking after their eyes and the different ways in which that can be achieved.

I was really keen to be involved in the project, so when the placement opportunity first arose, I did not think twice about applying. I was fortunate to hear about the opportunity, as the initiative is supported by Aston University, where I was studying.

The experience involved travelling to inner-city schools around the West Midlands. I took part in delivering fun and interactive lessons where the children were encouraged to participate in various activities using 3D glasses, virtual reality (VR) headsets and a 3D model of the anatomy of the human eye. I was also involved in assisting the optometrist in performing screening tests, where individuals with significant colour vision defects or refractive errors were flagged up. A full eye examination would then be performed in the fully-equipped Villa Vision mobile eye care unit, which consequently allowed the patient to be managed appropriately.

What surprised me the most was the sheer number of children that had never had an eye test before


I had the privilege of delivering a session that was aimed at a Scout group, of children aged between eight and 10 years. The session was designed to help the Scouts achieve their competencies set out by The Scout Association, whilst learning about the different ways they can take care of their eyes. The session concluded with a thrilling football match, which was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.

I had high expectations of the initiative and I can testify that the experience lived up to my expectations. I was able to see first-hand the direct impact the organisation was having on the lives of young children. Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Through the delivery of educational material, the team at Villa Vision was able to change some of the views and preconceptions the children had about an eye examination.

What surprised me the most was the sheer number of children that had never had an eye test before. It highlighted to me that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in emphasising the importance of having your eyes checked regularly by an optometrist. It is my belief that every child should be given the visual foundation to succeed, and it is up to us as aspiring optometrists to make that a reality.

The only way one can truly discover their niche is by getting involved and experiencing different areas of optometry


Seeing a multidisciplinary approach

The most pleasant aspect of the experience was seeing the look of awe on the children’s faces during the interactive sessions, where they were able to use the VR headsets to view colours in a way an individual with a colour vision defect would perceive it. It opened their eyes to the daily struggles some of their classmates may face and it helped develop a feeling of empathy and understanding.

The most challenging aspect of the experience was transitioning from the friendly confines of university to a new institution where one is unfamiliar with the surroundings and the people. At first it did seem quite daunting, however through the support of the Villa Vision team, I was made to feel welcome.

This placement has helped expose me to different ventures that can be undertaken in the field of optometry. The placement itself served as an invaluable experience and has made me realise that optometrists are in a very fortunate position, where they have the ability to change the course of a child’s life. The impact of poor vision can be detrimental to the academic performance of a child, which in turn has a direct effect on their career ambitions.

However, it must be noted that optometrists are only one piece of the puzzle. Only through a holistic and multidisciplinary approach can the best outcome be achieved. Together as healthcare professionals, we all have a key role to play.

The only way one can truly discover their niche is by getting involved and experiencing different areas of optometry. Over the years, I have undergone various placements at hospital eye services, low vision charities, myopia clinics and High Street practices. I have come to realise that each area of optometry is quite unique in its own respect. Some areas of optometry may be more appealing than others, whilst some may be more rewarding. Through experiencing different areas, a student is able to make an informed decision on the path they wish to follow when embarking on their career.

From this experience, I have learnt that we all have a responsibility towards the wider community we serve. I have come to realise that we must take an active approach in bridging the gap between clinicians and the community. This can be achieved through effective communication, which will help to raise awareness about some of the current affairs in the field of optometry.

The setting, with Nikhil Sonpal, Villa Vision project manager and optometrist

Placement: The Aston Villa Foundation’s Villa Vision project
Location: Birmingham.

What does the placement involve?

Nikhil Sonpal, Villa Vision project manager and optometrist (NS): The volunteer placement is for Aston University optometry students to observe, shadow and support at local primary schools: the Villa Vision classroom educational workshops, and vision and colour vision screening for nine to 11 year olds.

Why does Villa Vision take on student optometrists?

NS: As part of Villa Vision’s partnership with Aston University, we feel it is important to provide optometry students with experience, exposure and insight into how the profession can be applied in various settings. This helps to highlight the importance and value the profession offers in supporting the eye care needs of those within the community.

Villa Vision offers over 100 half-day placements in primary schools per academic year, aimed at second-year optometry students. These are typically a one-off placement, however, students are welcome to volunteer again, subject to availability. A further 20–30 placements are also offered at various other events that Villa Vision participates in outside of schools.