A to optometry

“I actually wanted to go into astronomy”

Isha Saghir, newly-qualified optometrist at Hakim Group independent practices Bennett and Batty Opticians, Steven Wilcox Optometrists and Millicans Opticians in Merseyside shared her optometry journey so far

woman with dark brown hair smiling in a optometry practice

How did you first become aware of the profession?

I was exposed to optometry from a young age through hospital appointments with my younger brother, who started wearing glasses when he was around two. When I then gained experience working as an optical assistant at Specsavers I decided to explore the career further.

Who influenced or inspired your decision to go into optometry?

When I was doing my GCSEs, I actually wanted to go into astronomy, and I attended a course at NASA Space Centre in Houston. While I was there, I joined a talk on how being in space affects the body and that started my interest in human biology. I began exploring career options related to that.

When I took the role as an optical assistant, I enjoyed it so much that I thought: “This is the right career for me.” It was completely different to the career path I had in mind going in, but four years later, I'm a fully qualified optometrist.

What were the main reasons you wanted to become an optometrist?

It is a career that will always be needed: everyone has eyes that need seeing to, so I know that I will always have something to do. It’s also always evolving. I like the variability, in terms of the clinical scope, but also in the patients that you meet. Now that I’m working between different practices, even though they are all in Liverpool, I get such a variety of patients in each practice. No day is the same; no two patients are the same.

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What is your favourite aspect of optometry?

Meeting the different patients that come in and hearing their stories, along with the appreciation that we are helping them. One patient in particular stands out for me. She mentioned that she’d stopped meeting with her friends for weekly coffee because she felt embarrassed about not being able to read the menu. Something as simple as varifocals instantly boosted her confidence and she felt as if she had reclaimed her independence. Having an impact on patients daily is something that makes me thrive.

Do you have a career path in mind? What are your professional goals?

I am interested in broadening my knowledge through additional qualifications because optometry is so vast. Medical retina really interests me.

Another thing which I’m really keen on is charity work. I’m Pakistani, and I've seen how healthcare works in a less economically developed country, such as Pakistan, and the impact it can have on an individual. I think healthcare should be readily available, not a luxury. I would like to branch out and hopefully do some charity work.

Having an impact on patients daily is something that makes me thrive


Pre-reg: take each assessment as it comes

What were your expectations of the pre-reg year and how did you prepare?

I used the information on the College of Optometrist’s website, so I had an idea of what to expect. I knew that we had the Stage one visits, Stage two, and then the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCEs). I went in with an open mind, and I think that worked best for me because I wasn't stressing about OSCEs or Stage two at the very beginning of my pre-reg, I just took each day as it came.

What reflections can you make of your pre-reg year? What advice would you offer others?

Take each assessment as it comes. When I was doing my Visit three, I was panicking because there is minimum of a two-week window between the visit and Stage two, and I felt that I needed to prepare for it all at the same time, however, on reflection I wish I had solely focused on what was coming up.

Being organised is important, especially when it comes to patient encounters for the competencies that are harder to find. Continually update your logbook and in the notes section, write down what competency that patient relates to, so that when you are submitting all your paperwork everything is there in front of you.

What were the main challenges of the OSCEs?

I think the most challenging thing about the OSCEs was waiting for results. I think revision for OSCEs is straight forward in terms of the content; it’s more the exam technique and being able to get your message across within that time limit that is tricky to perfect. If I had advice for anyone preparing for the OSCEs, I'd say to have a study buddy to go through mock OSCEs, because that sets the tone for what you're going to expect when you go into the actual thing.

How does working in practice live up to your expectations? What has surprised or challenged you?

I’m still adjusting to it; I think the big challenge for me currently is making my own clinical judgments independently. As a pre-reg I always had my supervisor to hand, however, now that I'm mainly testing alone, it feels like there's been a jump in responsibility. It all comes back to me. Even though you're technically doing the same thing as in pre-reg, because you're on your own after qualification it seems a bit more daunting at first.

Strong teams, holistic care, and when making sacrifices pays off

What helped you settle into university or the workplace?

At university I’d say speak to everyone in your year group because everyone is in the same situation.

With pre-reg and settling into the workplace – I’ve been working at Bennett and Batty since my second year at university, so I’d already built good relationships with the team. I used them for their knowledge and expertise. As I had such a close bond with them, when I was anxious or stressed around exam time, they were there to talk me through: "You’ve got this, you've been doing this for years. You know what's coming up. Just breathe.” It makes a big difference.

Is there one thing that you wish someone had told you about optometry before you started?

That a lot goes into one appointment with a patient. It’s not just refraction and then having a look at the eyes. You’ve got to talk about refraction, binocular vision, pathology, contact lenses, lifestyle advice; there’s so much that goes into it. It’s not just the eyes that you're caring for. It’s a holistic approach that you need to take for each patient, and you need to adapt to suit their individual needs.

How do you approach balancing studying and work, with socialising and making time for yourself?

It was a lot easier at university than during pre-reg. I treated university like a nine to five, and then after five o’clock, my aim was to have all my university work done and use that time to socialise with friends or have some down-time.

During pre-reg it was difficult because you always have something to be working towards. I had to make sacrifices and cut down on how often I went out with my friends or family. However, because pre-reg is such a short time in my career, I didn’t think twice about it.

Now I am qualified I do feel like I’ve got a lot more time and I’ve been able to go back to things that I enjoy, like reformers Pilates, and socialising with friends and family. I’ve also started to explore new interests as well, such as horse riding. So, I’m glad that I made those sacrifices during pre-reg because it is paying off now.