A to optometry

“I had hope in this being a forever-changing career option”

Ann Pazil reflects on her journey into the profession, first years as a qualified optometrist, and being a STEP Mentor at Johnson & Johnson

Ann has a bright smile
Ann Pazil

What stage of your career are you currently in and where do you practise?

I have been qualified for just over two years now and am currently working at Leightons. I’ve also completed my Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECs) accreditation, my pre-cataract and post-cataract accreditations, and my Glaucoma Level 1 WOPEC – I’m now looking into doing Level 2.

How did you first become aware of the profession?

My aunt was a general practitioner (GP) and I originally wanted to do medicine, so I worked as a volunteer in a hospital on a haematology ward when I was 16.

Having that experience of being in a hospital, I realised that I wanted to do something medical where I took care of patients, but I didn’t quite see myself becoming a GP or working unsociable hours in the ward. Optometry seemed the best medical profession. It wasn’t just about prescriptions or glasses – there was more to it than that. Optometry was progressing to incorporate the health side of things, with regular screenings and checks, and a greater emphasis on the more clinical aspects. A couple of months in, while reading an article where an optometrist had started using laser treatment for glaucoma, I realised ‘Ok, this career holds a lot of potential.’

Who influenced or inspired the decision to go into optometry?

Funnily enough, at a moment where I originally thought I had run out of options within medicine and was about to stop looking into it, my brother was the one who mentioned optometry as another pathway. I did my own research and fell in love with it.

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

After doing my research, I had a look at the career itself. My main concern was the overall demand for optometrists and what this would look like in the future. As for my motivations, the practise becoming more clinical and the line between optometrists and ophthalmologists becoming a bit more blurred really helped me settle on this path. There are a lot of opportunities that can present themselves, so I figured that by the time I finished my degree I would have many prospects in places that I might not have previously known existed. I had hope in this being a forever-changing career option, not something that remained static.

What have you learned from your experience of optometry so far?

No two days are ever the same, and no two patients are ever the same. It’s not just a pair of eyes sitting in front of you: they are an individual and there are many differences to consider between each patient. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to assume, for example, ‘Oh, it’s a 35-year-old, this should be a simple sight test.’ You’ve got to look out for those subtle symptoms. I had a very young patient who presented with a headache which turned out to be a tumour at the back of her eye that had spread. Each patient is completely different from the other, so you really do have to listen to your patients and process what they’re sharing.

No two days are ever the same, and no two patients are ever the same


What is your favourite aspect of optometry?

Probably the clinical side of things. I like the fact that optometry goes through many changes and feels up to date with today’s environment; for example, myopia management rolling out and optometrists giving advice on lifestyle changes. It’s nice to see the ways we can implement these changes. Additionally, providing the most useful, up-to-date information to our patients, and finding ways to reduce risks with certain eye conditions.

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

I do have one in mind. It goes back to when I did my original research and decided on optometry. It started with the optometrist who completed an ophthalmology course in Aston and started to use lasers on glaucoma patients. I’m taking a similar path – I’m very interested in glaucoma and I’m looking forward to starting independent prescribing (IP) with Leightons. They’re a company that really supports their optometrists and want us to keep ourselves refreshed and educated, and they are quite keen on us doing IP. I’m really looking forward to doing that next, then starting my pathway for glaucoma, and going onto finally completing the Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty course with Aston. Becoming a consultant is my ideal end goal.

Pre-reg during the pandemic, keeping organised, and having a set of hobbies

What helped you settle into university, pre-reg, or the workplace?

With university, what helped settle me in was socialising and finding my friendship groups within the course as well as outside of it. Pre-reg was tough because it was affected by COVID-19, so I didn’t really get to say goodbye to university – my graduation came two years later, with exams done online. This meant that when it came to pre-reg, no one felt quite ready. Everyone still had to wear COVID-19 protection, change in and out of an overall and take gloves on and off. For a supervisor to take on a pre-reg in those times, it must have been a lot.

Pre-reg was tough because it was affected by COVID-19, so I didn’t really get to say goodbye to university – my graduation came two years later, with exams done online

I was originally assigned a store near to home and I was filled with joy. I worked there for a few months, but ultimately wasn’t taken on because they just didn’t have the capacity, especially with COVID-19 at its peak. I then worked between two stores in Brighton, commuting all the way from Epsom, then moved to Guildford where I stayed on and finished my pre-reg.

Ultimately the pre-reg was really difficult to settle into, but I was at a point where I wanted to take any and every opportunity that came my way. I knew that once my first visit was done, I would be on track to completing my journey.

Staying organised was another way of settling in. You can have all these life changes but the more organised you can be, the better it will be for you, regardless of whatever changes may come. I’d advise organisation and maintaining that attitude of taking every opportunity that presents itself and just running with it.

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

When my foot steps out of the practice door, that’s it, I just completely switch off from work. I have a good set of friends who are all keen on experience days, but it is just as important as being an all-round person and taking care of yourself. There needs to be something beyond just optometry, particularly keeping a set of hobbies and continuously developing them. I’m quite into health and fitness, going to the gym and for walks, and I enjoy renovating. My tip is to keep three to four hobbies and try to do each of them once a week.

Experiencing Johnson & Johnson STEP

What was your experience of Johnson & Johnson STEP as a pre-registration optometrist?

Johnson & Johnson was the one constant support that I had throughout pre-reg in the face of all the changes that I experienced; through virtual classes and Zoom calls and everything else. Having that one person who’s constant, to guide you the whole way through, is one of the biggest and best ways J&J helped me.

One stand-out was the resources they gave me, such as a book called Essential Contact Lens Practice, which contains potential contact lens complications and various patient scenarios.

Their Objective Structure Clinical Examination (OSCE) stations are really good too. I did terribly in my mock OSCEs; I thought I was ready for my final exams, and they really made me realise there was so much more to do. That was my lightbulb moment where I realised that there are still more areas to develop to be constantly evolving and becoming a better optometrist. 

Having constant support was one of those things that made me want to become a mentor myself and give back


What made you want to join as a mentor? What does your role look like?

Being a mentee, I had that constant support from one person who was able to guide me the whole way through and allow me to ask the questions I might not have felt comfortable asking my supervisor – in case I was expected to already know the answers – and just having the freedom to discuss things openly. Having constant support was one of those things that made me want to become a mentor myself and give back.

Pre-reg is not easy; it’s tough and a lot of people don’t always receive the full support they need. I know how valuable it is to be able to go somewhere like STEP and be provided help and resources. Also, when considering the educational side of things, it’s a different type of role to everything else I’m doing, which has encouraged me to push myself in all sectors within the optics field.