Students in...

“The placement really confirmed that this is the area I want to go into”

Jack Fowler, preliminary-year student at Cardiff University, told OT  about observing a special assessment clinic and being unafraid to ask questions as an early student

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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. 

Dr Maggie Woodhouse, senior lecturer at Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, gave an in-person demonstration of special needs optometry, where we were taught how to identify plus or minus spectacle lenses just by looking the patient in the eye, and how to use simple hand gestures to convey meaning.

I had wanted to be involved with special needs patients ever since I decided to pursue this profession, and after I approached Maggie to thank her for the lecture, I recounted my great aunt’s experiences of optometry. My great aunt had brain damage as a result of too much oxygen at birth and, being unable to find a suitable optometrist, she had developed severe sight loss and is now visually impaired. Maggie offered me the chance to spend a day in practice with her to gain a better perspective of this field, which I gratefully accepted.

The experience involved covering many common techniques in optometric practice, such as measuring vision with different charts. Being a preliminary year student, there were many opportunities to learn new skills, such as using an ophthalmoscope and how to identify a cataract. These skills are invaluable for optometrists, and I feel far more prepared for next year as I now know more about the role and procedures that we haven’t covered yet.

Going in, I was tremendously excited, as it is a field that I have become more interested in as the weeks have gone by. I tried to prepare myself by reading up on common eye conditions and my notes for the year.

This work experience has not only boosted my confidence and taught me so much before even beginning first year – it has confirmed that this area is the one I want to practice in


Putting patients at ease and following procedures

I was surprised initially by how relaxed the patients were, as from my great aunt’s experience, I know being comfortable in a clinical setting can be difficult. But due to Maggie’s kindness and calming approach, the patients were always put at ease – a skill I hope to emulate when I practice in the future.

I enjoyed everything about the work experience. One challenge I found was following some of the procedures that we have not covered in my preliminary year, such as using equipment like an ophthalmoscope. These issues were quickly resolved by Maggie, who always took the time to ensure I was keeping up. I felt I could ask any question and would receive a detailed answer.

Reflecting on the placement really confirmed for me that this is the area I want to go into after the course. The thought of helping each patient was incredible and I haven’t stopped thinking about the placement even now. I am so excited to return to university for my first year and to start practice in a few years.

Covering a wide range of areas is extremely important for student optometrists, and starting earlier helps too. I think this is because, without seeing an area for yourself in practice, a student could feel less prepared or may end up working in an area they are less fond of. In my future years I hope to revisit this area along with others to gain a broad view and aid in deciding which area of optometry to work in.

Overall, I have taken away a new love for the subject and my interest in practice reignited after the stress of exams. This work experience has not only boosted my confidence and taught me so much before even beginning first year – it has confirmed that this area is the one I want to practice in.


The setting, with Dr Maggie Woodhouse

Placement: Special Assessment Clinic
Location: Cardiff University Eye Clinic

Why is it particularly important to engage students in special assessment clinics?

Dr Maggie Woodhouse (MW): People who do not 'fit the norm', that is, very young children, people of all ages with learning disabilities, people with physical limitations, people with dementia, people with communication difficulties, all have the same right to eye care as able adults. Once students have qualified, it is taken as read that they have the core skills to provide eye care to members of the general non-disabled population. Without exposure at undergraduate level, how are they going to attempt an eye examination for a person in a vulnerable group? This is not everyone's area of interest, but everyone needs to be aware of the issues and to know either how to carry out an eye examination themselves, or how to arrange for someone with the skills to do so.

The Special Assessment Clinic at Cardiff University Eye Clinic runs one day a week through the year. In term-time, undergraduate students are timetabled to attend the clinic. Outside of term, the clinic can accommodate visitors for 25 weeks out of the year. Read more about shadowing the clinic through OT’s ‘Students in…’ series.