Students in...

“My experiences have opened my eyes to how big of a subject area optometry is”

Pre-registration optometrist, Kelly McMullin, on returning to the Isle of Man and the benefits of practising in a smaller area

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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.

I'm not sure how I fell into optometry, because I don't know anyone else on the Isle of Man that is studying it. No one else in school was interested in it and I didn’t really know any optometrists. But when I was at school, I did my work experience in a practice and started working there on weekends.

I moved to Gillian Sheard just before I left for university. It's nice to work in a smaller team. I feel well supported and like I can ask anyone anything. Even if they didn't have an answer they would find out for me. It has a family feel.

I started the pre-reg with a lot of dispensing at first, then moved on to testing. Now I test three or four days a week and I'm just at the end of my Stage One. It’s been a little bit longer than usual – with living on a small island you have to pick your competencies a bit more strategically. But I've seen a lot more conditions than I thought I would as a pre-reg. There is a smaller ophthalmology department at the hospital here and that means lots of things come into practice that I didn't expect. I think that has been a good experience and has allowed me to see more.

I didn't really have an idea of what to expect in pre reg – you do get a bit of a shock when you first start. I don't think people quite realise the balance that you have to find between doing pre-reg work, working full-time, and trying to have a bit of a social life. I think I've found that balance now. Having a supportive group of people around you does make a big difference. It is challenging, but afterwards, you look and appreciate the experience because it is going to help you in the future.

One of the main things I enjoy about working in a smaller area is that you get to build a rapport with the patients and it is nice to see familiar faces. I have found it particularly rewarding going from knowing patients through working on the shop floor to now testing the same patients. It makes you feel very proud when these people recognise you and ask about your journey. This is definitely one of the main benefits of a smaller and more unique location.

When you're in your pre-reg journey, I think it's quite hard to see outside of it because you're focusing on the next stage all the time. I have found it really interesting to see the variety of conditions come into practice and I think I'd like to specialise in some area of medical optometry in the future. I enjoy working in an independent and I do think I get to see more unique things than in a High Street practice.

I think it is really valuable to experience a range of areas in optometry. I was very grateful I had work experience, so I wasn’t thrown in the deep end as much for pre-reg. Especially with the pandemic – I know it made it a little bit more difficult to get it whilst we were at university, we also had less time in clinics, and missed out on some of the hospital placements.

In explaining to my friends what I do on my pre-reg and at university, they have also realised how important optometry is


A private eye clinic has recently opened and I've been able to go up there and watch cataract surgery, which was really good experience. I got to watch from admission to discharge. They went through everything with me, not just the operation, but what their patients get told before and after. Since then, I had a patient who rang up asking me questions about what happens before and after surgery. It was nice to be able to confidently answer rather than give a textbook answer. Any experience you can get, I would say to go for it.

When I started university, I didn't think of optometry as much more than eye examinations. My experiences have opened my eyes to how big of a subject area optometry is and how many different opportunities there are – working in multiples, independents, hospitals, but then also specialising in different areas. The hospital placement we had to do for pre-reg made me realise that there are a lot of different paths I could take after this. Volunteering is one of them, and I would like to do that. I do think optometry is a bigger area than people think. Getting a range of experience is a way to open your eyes to all the different opportunities that you have.

In explaining to my friends what I do on my pre-reg and at university, they have also realised how important optometry is. I think they had just put it down to the refractive side, and didn’t realise the other aspects. It’s good to talk about optometry and pre-reg and explain to people what we do.

The setting, with Nick Skillicorn, director at Gillian Sheard Optometrists

Placement: Gillian Sheard Optometrists, part of Hakim Group family of independent practices
Location: Douglas, Isle of Man

How many placements or shadowing opportunities do you offer per year and for what duration?

We have previously taken on three Year 11 school students on their work placements, one dispensing optician student in the tail end of their pre-reg placement, as their existing placement fell through, and then Kelly as our first fully-fledged optometry/professional placement. I am keen to take on others, both dispensing optician and optometry students in particular.

Why does the practice take on student optometrists?

As clichéd as it sounds, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been students and therefore all need to give back to the system that facilitated our training, hopefully imparting our good habits and practices on to the next generation. As an aside to this, living on the Isle of Man there is a real shortage of medical professionals in particular and home-grown professionals in optometry are a rarity. Whilst I am keen to see any student progress over the pre-reg year and to achieve their fully qualified status I am particularly keen to do so with candidates who remain local (not necessarily within my employ) but who benefit my local community for the benefit of future generations.