A to optometry

“I was the first pre-reg on the island in a while”

Kelly McMullin, newly qualified optometrist at Hakim Group independent practice Gillian Sheard Opticians, on the Isle of Man, on giving a helping hand to pre-regs

Kelly smiles in a consultation room in practice
Kelly McMullin

How did you first become aware of the profession?

When I was at school, I had work experience in a practice. I decided to apply for the experience because it seemed to me that optometry combined medical with a lot of patient interaction, and so I thought I would give it a go. I got a job at the practice and realised it was the right profession for me.

Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?

My current practice team. I moved to this practice before I went to university, and they were a huge encouragement during my course. I looked forward to coming back home to work with them.

Qualified in: April 2023

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

I wanted a role where I had to utilise a lot of social skills, and I knew I wanted something varied, so I would see different people all the time. I thought about pursuing a career in a medical profession. When I came across optometry, I felt that it mixes the social and medical perfectly; you get to do both simultaneously.

What are your professional goals?

I find that the cases that are more challenging for me are the most rewarding, because they can mean more to the patient.

I would like to take extended qualifications, but I’m still trying to decide which ones I would like to do. I really enjoy independent practice and I’m gauging what direction I would like my career to go in.

What were your expectations going into pre-reg?

I had researched in the run-up, but I do think having someone to talk the pre-reg through with you is a lot easier. I was the first pre-reg on the island in a while and now that there are a couple more, I’ve been trying to offer some help, because I understand how difficult it is. I’m very open to sitting down with them and going through what each stage and competency means. I don’t believe the journey of a pre-reg is spoken about enough at university and this would really help to manage expectations in preparation for the volume of work required too.

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What reflections would you make of pre-reg? Would you have any advice for others?

I think the main one would be: you will get there. Quite often you can compare yourself to where other people are in pre-reg. Everyone’s circumstances are different, whether it be where you live, what else you have to balance, or the support you have. You don’t need to compare yourself. The difference between passing one month and six months later is not a massive difference in the grand scheme of things. Persevere and when it gets tough, just know that you will get there in the end.

People are always willing to help, so make sure you ask. If possible, try to work for some length of time at the practice you're going to do pre-reg in to build the relationship, so that you are comfortable to ask people for help. That's what pre-reg is for.

What were some of the challenges in OSCEs?

The pre-reg scheme as a whole prepares you well for OSCEs. The OSCEs are difficult, so my advice would be to try and do a mock OCSE, if you can, because they are very helpful.

There are lots of pre-reg support programmes out there, which are all very good. If possible, get on those. Lots of them do talks close to the OSCE periods. Get as much practice as you can.

On the day, just stay calm. If you feel one goes badly, put it behind you and go on to the next. They are difficult – they're designed to be. But you can overthink it. I definitely did, and it actually went absolutely fine.

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

It takes a bit of time to settle in. You go from a pre-reg to fully-qualified overnight, which is quite daunting, but you can do it – it is what you have qualified to do. I do think sometimes that being young, some patients can doubt you, but I would advise others to just be aware that you do know it, and you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t. You might not notice it at the time, but at a point you look back and realise it has got easier.

I would advise others to still be willing to ask questions. At work we discuss each other's cases and it's normal to ask questions. I really enjoy it. I love where I work and the patients too. It's so rewarding, especially when you're fully qualified and it's you who has done something for a patient that has really helped them and, in some cases, has changed their life or saved their sight.

You might not notice it at the time, but at a point you look back and realise it has got easier


Building relationships, variety in optometry, and balance

What helped you settle into university or the workplace?

Building good relationships with the people around me. I get on really well with the people I work with and that made a massive difference during pre-reg, because it is not the easiest year. Having a good support network is the main one – whether that be at home, at work, or friends.

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

How varied it is. It would be useful to know before you go into it, how many different pathways there are in optometry. I don’t think I truly understood that until the third year of university. There are lots of different options.

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

I was at university in the middle of COVID-19. That experience taught me to find balance, because it is very important to enjoy your time at university. As important as it is to get the work and study done, it is possible to find a balance.

During pre-reg you do have to make sacrifices. I found it a bit difficult to find a balance when I first qualified, because it is a big change. Over the last six months or so, though, I have found a better balance. Over time you find what balance is best for you.