I could not live without…

Further education

Specialist refractive optometrist and AOP Councillor, Bhavik Parmar, discusses his thirst for studying to enhance his career

Since starting school, I have never stopped studying. Strangely, I have always enjoyed it…

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During the third year of my undergraduate optometry degree, the university that I was enrolled at decided to offer a fourth year of study to top performing students; an integrated Masters in Optometry (MOptom). The final fourth year of study would be carried out alongside the rigours of the pre-registration year. This very much appealed to me as it included some interesting further modules.

Being a guinea pig

I was in the first cohort of students to complete the course – it was almost an experiment to see if students could cope with studying at Masters level while carrying out their pre-reg year. Most students coped well and it was actually very rewarding. I found that many aspects of the Masters helped me apply knowledge in practice and helped during my pre-reg assessments.  

Working full-time, carrying out the pre-reg, working through the Masters and somehow maintaining a healthy social life can be challenging indeed. The key skill that helped me through this difficult stage was prioritising and organising my time. I set myself deadlines and prioritised for oncoming exams and assessments. I made structured tables and ‘tick-lists,’ which sounds cliché but they very much helped drive me to meet my targets.

For me, a key distraction is watching television. Of course, everyone needs to unwind otherwise one will ‘burn out.’ My form of relaxation is working out in the gym. I find it gives me the energy and focus I need throughout the day to work and study in the evenings. This strategy certainly worked for me as I ended up with the overall highest grade in the Masters programme.

Non-stop education

After completing the optometry degree, I was still not satisfied. Having worked in an opticians since the age of 16, I was intrigued about how the business operated.

I knew that one day, I wanted my own practice. However, I never had much business theory behind me. My A-levels and undergraduate degree did not cover business or management.

Consequently, I came across an MSc in Clinical Health Management. This included modules such as business strategy, marketing, accounting, law and healthcare policy. This distance learning course allowed me to work full-time while studying.

This degree developed my inherent business acumen and gave me a good foundation for managerial roles and running my own business. Furthermore, it helped to develop my creative right side of the brain. It is quite easy in this profession to become very tied down with objective measures, and left-sided brain tasks. But having an equally strong right-sided brain to understand subjective complaints from patients and to inspire or innovate new business ideas is essential for our profession.

I am currently studying for the Doctor of Optometry. I have completed the first half of the course which consists of flexible taught modules in advanced optometry. The next half will be the research part of the Doctorate.

This programme has sparked my interests in particular specialities for me, such as refractive surgery. Furthermore, within the programme, I will attain independent prescribing rights.

"I cannot live without studying because it keeps my mind active, my work interesting, my day stimulating and my life motivating to strive for more"

Being stimulated

Many optometrists can get bored with carrying out day-to-day tasks, yet they have never considered further study to make their day more interesting and enjoyable.

For some there will be barriers to overcome in enrolling onto a course or a degree. The most common barrier I find that peers complain about is finding enough time. There are many courses that require very little time input. For instance, CET lectures, peer reviews and clinical articles require little time input, yet they can be very rewarding in terms of acquiring skills and knowledge.

Another barrier for many people is the cost of studying. Unfortunately, student loans services and the NHS do not fund post-graduate degrees for optometrists and it can therefore be quite expensive. However, many universities offer alumni discount for completing a postgraduate course with them. Furthermore, you may be lucky enough for your employer to fund part of the course. Nevertheless, there are also plenty of free courses and accreditations that optometrists can carry out. These include the MECS/PEARs accreditations, which, again, require minimal time input but increase job satisfaction by keeping the day varied.

Many optometrists may not see the direct benefits of further study. However, I genuinely find that continually learning and up-skilling helps me stand out from my peers when applying for a new job. This has tremendous advantages in terms of career progression too, as well as respect from colleagues and patients.

I cannot live without studying because it keeps my mind active, my work interesting, my day stimulating and my life motivating to strive for more. I hope this inspires you to embark on further study and continued education…I certainly will be studying for many years to come.

Image credit: Getty