“I love interacting with the patients – you meet so many interesting people”
Newly-qualified optometrist, Emily Chell, on starting out as an optical assistant, learning from the practice team, and juggling studying, work, and life as a new mum
26 July 2023
How did you first become aware of the profession?I originally started working at Specsavers in 2012 as a weekend optical assistant, but quickly realised this was a career I wanted to take further. I started a dispensing optician degree in January 2013 and became a fully qualified dispensing optician in 2016. I knew I wanted to go as far as possible and thankfully I was accepted on to the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) Masters in optometry course in 2019.
Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?I have worn spectacles since I was very young so it was always an area I was interested in, however it wasn’t until working in Specsavers that I realised it was something I wanted to have a career in.
What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?
Are you an early career optometrist?
What have you learned from your experience of optometry so far?What a difference you can make to people’s lives – whether it’s as simple as helping them see better or helping them make health and lifestyle changes.
What is your favourite aspect of optometry so far?I love pathology – explaining the fundus photographs and optical coherence tomography scans is my favourite part of the examination. Being able to help reassure patients with concerns, or give them an answer to their problems, is always satisfying.
What are your professional goals?My next step will be medical retina – I hope to start this in the very near future. After that: glaucoma and independent prescribing. Eventually, I would love to do a PhD.
What reflections can you make of your pre-reg year, and what advice would you offer to other students?Take advantage of the experience your team has. Dispensing opticians, contact lens opticians, and fellow optometrists have a huge bank of knowledge to take advantage of – not just your supervisor. Make sure not to rush your tests, use all the time you are given. Now is your time to make sure your routine is perfect and to master those skills. Don’t forget your ret.
Dispensing opticians, contact lens opticians, and fellow optometrists have a huge bank of knowledge to take advantage of – not just your supervisor
What were the main challenges of the Objective Structured Clinical Examinations?I actually really enjoyed the OSCEs (sad I know). I completed the March OSCEs. The hardest part was waiting for the results. Do not overthink it, as you will convince yourself you have done worse than you actually have.
Prioritising revision, asking for advice, and balancing work, studies and life as a new mum
Now that you recently qualified, how does working in practice live up to your expectations? What has surprised or challenged you?Newly qualified life is great, although it feels very strange to make referral decisions without discussing it with your supervisor first. Remember they are still there for advice even once you’re qualified, though.
Is there one thing that you wish someone had told you about optometry or pre-reg before you started?Be as organised as possible from day one as you can quickly fall behind. Update your log book every day. Prioritise revision, do something every day, even if it is just 15 minutes.
You have to make sacrifices, but remember it’s such a short time in your long career
In your experience, what helped you settle into university, pre-reg or the workplace?I have worked at Specsavers in Leek since 2012 so I have had the support from the team from the very beginning. I have been very lucky to have amazingly supportive directors. The UCLan course allowed me to study and work at the same time which was incredible, as I was able to see pathology in real life on a daily basis and practice the skills learnt at university repeatedly.
How did you approach work-life balance during university and pre-reg? What does your approach look like now?
I had a baby during my time at university and I started my pre-reg when she was seven months old, so work/life/study/new mum life was a juggle. You have to make sacrifices, but remember it’s such a short time in your long career. I updated my log book every lunch time so I never had to do that at home, I would study for one hour at least every night once my daughter was in bed, and had Sunday as a rest and family day. I competed my pre-reg in 10 months, so it is definitely achievable if you put the work in.
Emily’s top tips
What is your favourite piece of equipment?Volk, without a doubt. But don’t underestimate what clues your ret can give you.
Do you have a top tip for student budgeting?Meal plans.
What are your three must-haves for studying or exam prep?
- To-do lists
- Flash cards