“I enjoyed it from the first day”
Deepali Poojara, second year at the University of Central Lancashire, on the work experience that shaped her future, blended learning, and the importance of routine
27 January 2024
How did you first become aware of the profession?I had work experience in a dentist and pharmacy, and they weren’t what I was expecting. My mum suggested that I get some experience in an optometry practice, so I went to my local practice. I enjoyed it from the first day. When the optometrist asked me how I was finding it, I told them: “I really like it. I think I want to do optometry.” I still remember that conversation, it was life changing.
Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?Observing the optometrist during work experience inspired me. I sat in a few eye tests, and I could see that there is a lot that goes into testing eyes. There's a lot of knowledge that you require, as well as understanding how to piece it all together to give the best outcome and advice to the patient. It was a good balance of healthcare, but also giving back to the community.
I applied for jobs through LinkedIn and found a route into optometry through working, becoming a dispensing optician (DO), and then converting the degree through the course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). I am undertaking the optometry course now.
What placements have you carried out, and what have you learned from your experience of optometry so far?I have worked in two Specsavers, in Hemel Hempstead and now in Harrow, and I have learnt so much. I started as an optical assistant, training and working a lot on the shop floor. I also worked one day a week in the lab. I learnt everything I could, because I knew that at the end of the day, I still wanted to do optometry. Whilst everyone was on furlough, I worked through lockdown and learned everything about how to run a practice, from the operations to sales. I also developed my knowledge around contact lenses during that time.
Last year, I completed the DO course at my current practice. Through that experience I discovered how I could apply what I was learning to the day-to-day work. That has been what I’ve really enjoyed about the blended courses – I did it in block release, where you study and then bring it back to practice and I think that’s a really valuable experience.
Do you have a favourite aspect of optometry?At the moment, I think it’s contact lenses. It's fascinating how a tiny piece of plastic can correct your vision. I think it's going to really develop in the next three or four years.
I'm also interested in dry eye management. It's something that is so common, but so many people don't know about it. It could be easy to explain dry eye, but it's only when it gets extreme that patients realise they are having problems.
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Do you have a career path in mind? What are your professional goals?I definitely want to continue studying and complete further qualifications, like medical retina or glaucoma. I don’t know if I want to be based in a hospital or in High Street practice.
I do have a passion for working with children. As a DO in practice, it is really nice to look after the children and see them come back every few years. You get to see how they have changed and they see a familiar face regularly. Sometimes they even decide to try contact lenses too. It is rewarding.
Blended learning and allocating time effectively
What helped you settle into university or the workplace?On the blended learning course, I go to university for one week per month and then I’m working for three weeks. What helps me to prepare is making sure I’m up to date with the work because a lot of what we're covering is then done in the practical sessions. Staying organised is really important, especially when you are juggling so much.
Is there one thing that you wish someone had told you about optometry before you started?How much equipment costs; it has put a hole in my pocket. If you knew about it, then you could prepare for it.
How do you approach balancing studying and work, with socialising and making time for yourself?
I have a routine for the week and allocate my time carefully. To be honest, I have to be quite rigid with it. I generally only make time for socialising on Friday and Saturday evenings. It can be tough.
Deepali’s top tips
What is your favourite piece of equipment?I couldn’t live without my iPad. I use it for everything. It has all my notes on it and I can take it to work, university, and home. I don’t have to carry folders around.
Do you have a top tip for student budgeting?Try not to impulse buy. If I want to buy something, I make sure I still want to buy it in a few days' time. Try to keep takeaways to a minimum.
What are your three must-haves for studying or exam prep?
- I use the Pomodoro technique for studying so I need to have a timer on my phone
- I have a notepad with me at work to make quick notes
- The Quizlet app. I use this if I don’t have my notes on me.
Representing students at the AOP
Could you tell us about your experience as a representative for students at the AOP?
My AOP membership means to me…
What has the role involved so far? Is there anything you are looking forward to as an AOP Councillor?
I was part of the AOP Instagram student takeover. I hope to share a bit more awareness around the UCLan course. If other optometrists know about it, then they could talk to their colleagues, and if any DOs are interested, they can learn how it works.