"I wanted to work with kids like myself"
Mahnoor Khan, final year student at the University of Huddersfield, on how a childhood curiosity around spectacles, and family encouragement, led her into optometry
09 May 2023
How did you first become aware of the profession?
I started wearing glasses quite young, around when I was in year four [eight to nine years old], so I've always been in and out of Specsavers, getting new glasses. I was curious: how am I able to see clearly with the glasses? It was like magic. That sparked a curiosity in me as a child.
I was curious: how am I able to see clearly with the glasses? It was like magic. That sparked a curiosity in me as a child
Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?
I was always interested in healthcare, because some of my cousins have studied to become doctors and pharmacists. No one was an optometrist, which I found interesting, because it was something different.
My parents and family always supported whatever decision I wanted to take and my cousins who are now almost-qualified and qualified themselves in healthcare professions pushed me towards pursuing a healthcare career because they saw the benefits in it. They suggested that optometry would have a lot of career opportunities. I had thought that it was limited to working in practice, which is great in itself, but I was really surprised when I looked it up and found that the possibilities are almost endless.
I also had a placement in Doncaster Royal Infirmary with the intention of studying orthoptics. While there I shadowed an optometrist and ophthalmologist and I felt that optometry was the perfect balance. I received some advice from the colleagues there which also made me want to consider optometry more.
I was really surprised when I looked it up and found that the possibilities are almost endless
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?
I wanted to work with kids like myself, who needed glasses at a younger age. I wanted to support them to see better, and feel more confident in glasses. Now we have myopia management, which wasn't a thing when I started wearing glasses, so that’s even better.
I like the work-life balance optometry offers. If you want to gain further education you can work part-time or locum. There is a lot of flexibility, so you can give time to your family.
What placements have you carried out, and what have you learned from your experience of optometry so far?
I had a two-day hospital placement, organised by the university in third year, where we spent the mornings in one clinic, and the afternoons in another, so it was designed in a way that we got to experience different clinics. I managed to see paediatrics, emergency, oculoplastics, and glaucoma. It was overwhelming in a way because it’s not your day-to-day – you are seeing people who are at risk of sight loss, for example, which is very sensitive. It was an insightful experience.
I’ve been working in a Specsavers practice in South Yorkshire for the past two years. I find it really helpful. I feel like if I didn't have this job, my university experience would be entirely different, because what I learn in theory, I get to apply every Saturday. You see so many fundus examples when you do pre-screening, so you can kind of see: ‘oh, that disc looks a bit blurry.’ I'm really thankful that my directors and managers are supportive and have always encouraged me.
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What is your favourite aspect of optometry so far?
I think at the moment glaucoma is probably top of the list. My dissertation was focused on normal tension glaucoma and in doing a lot of research on it, I felt like I wanted to be a part of that research and part of those changes. Then on my hospital placement this year, a hospital optometrist said that he felt I could be a glaucoma specialist in the future and that really stuck with me as something I should maybe consider. But then I also think about paediatrics as well. I feel like as I get my experience, I'll be able to decide what I want to do.
Do you have a career path in mind? What are your professional goals?
My immediate goal is graduation and then pre-reg. Then it will be getting that post-qualification experience for about two or three years. I could then hopefully try to get started doing emergency appointments. At some point, I do want to supervise in university. I like what they do; the supervisors have been really helpful. I'd love to be able to do that for future optometry students. I'd want to have a hybrid career.
Growing with others and emphasising the clinical role of optometry
What helped you settle into university or the workplace?
As a commuter student, I think it's quite daunting going into a new town where you don't know anybody. That feeling of not being familiar with things can make it just that bit scarier than university is for everybody else. So I’m thankful for having friends in Huddersfield. We did the foundation year and then we progressed on to optometry together. So it's been really nice to have them there to grow and learn together. I think having good friends and study buddies is really important. Especially in a course that can get stressful at times. Using the right resources and finding out how you revise best is also really important.
Is there one thing that you wish someone had told you about optometry before you started?
I wish someone told me to be prepared for how hard it was actually going to be. I think before I started I didn't realise how much more there is to optometry. People don't really see optometry as that clinical, and even I didn't until I started studying and learning about the pathology. It's really interesting, but I did wish I knew that before because when it's all suddenly thrown at you you're a bit gobsmacked. We know in medicine, dentistry and other professions that there is this knowledge that's required, but I feel like that needs to be more vocalised for optometry, that it is very much a clinical career and it can save lives.
How do you approach balancing studying and work, with socialising and making time for yourself?
I utilise evenings or free periods because commuting takes up quite a chunk of my day. My friends and I will revise together and if we're all free at the same time we’ll go out for a quick meal or order food in to revise and eat at the same time. Then I catch up with family in the evening, or when I when I feel like I've done most of my work. At the start of university it was definitely easier, but it’s just one of those things as you get closer to exams that you have to accept you’re not going to get that much time for yourself. That being said, you definitely need to make some time for yourself if you can because it can get stressful.
Mahnoor’s top tips
What is your favourite piece of equipment?
My pen torch. You can check for corneal reflexes, you can check for pupil reflexes, you can even use it as a target to check convergence and accommodation. It’s a handy tool to carry around because sometimes I'll just get it out and say to my family: “I want to check your eyes.”
Do you have a top tip for student budgeting?
If you are able to, use the library resources for books because many times universities have access to a lot of the material. For example, Kanski’s Clinical Ophthalmology is on the library system so we can access it online.
What are your three must-haves for studying or exam prep?
- My favourite is Quizlet. I've got it on my phone, my iPad and my laptop. You can type up notes, highlight and add pictures, and do everything you would on a normal flashcard – except that you can carry them around with you
- Utilise any practice sessions that are provided in university. The next time I'll be in clinic will be when I'm in pre-reg, so you need to make sure you're getting enough practice to build your confidence
- Work on the application of knowledge. If your lecturers haven't given you them, you can make your own questions: think of some symptoms and apply your knowledge to see what you would do. That's what you’re going to be doing in real life. It's not just about memorising something and putting it back on paper, it's about application more than anything.