Complex contact lenses

OT  speaks to optometrist Drew Thompson about fitting complex contact lenses for both private and NHS patients and having a varied professional life

Tell us about what you do?

I like to keep my professional life varied, although some might say I get bored easily. Primarily I am an optometrist practising in the independent sector with a special interest in anterior eye disease. I have been fitting complex contact lenses for both private and NHS patients for some time now and find it highly rewarding, if not infuriating at times. I also help to run a cornea and anterior segment service for the local secondary care unit and this exposes me to the coal face in terms of eye disease management. Conditions we see only rarely in every day practice are the norm in these speciality clinics. This has been invaluable experience and something that I try and pass on to fellow colleagues through working with industry delivering CET presentations or through practice visits and face to face networking.

What is your professional passion?

My colleagues would say contact lenses – but that’s not true. My passion is problem solving and visual rehabilitation. There’s no better feeling in the profession than to give somebody the gift of sight, be it with glasses or contact lenses. Enabling a keratoconic to see with a simple contact lens or giving the young myope their first set of glasses and seeing them thrive because of them is amazing. Thinking outside the box, listening to want people really want/need, and going that extra mile to solve their concerns is a real buzz.

If you could change one thing about the way you work, what would it be?

To be the first port of call for all eye conditions and be able to manage/co-manage conditions and prescribe as standard. I feel we are under-utilised as a profession and can offer more than just visual correction. Having seen the way patients can be managed by other healthcare professionals I am convinced there is a better way to manage eye conditions. If you have a problem with your foot you are most likely to visit a chiropodist, same for a dentist, so why are patients with an eye problem more likely to visit a GP or a pharmacist over an optician?

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, my work in the hospital eye service. I have been present in the clinics for over 10 years now and in that time I have gained a wealth of knowledge that, in my opinion, no academic course can provide.

What is your next career goal?

Start practising YAG capsulotomy and develop the practice to offer high end services. I’d like to do more work in education at some point also.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be more confident: you’re not just a refraction machine. I wish I had realised that earlier than I did. 

If you could switch career path, what would you choose to do?

I like graphic design and the digital creative arts, I have designed and printed all sorts of leaflets and posters for the practice and others. I don’t know if I’m particularly good at it, but I enjoy doing it. I think I might have enjoyed being a graphic artist, given the opportunity. 

What do you like most and least about your working day?

I really enjoy the challenge of a new problem, it may be an emergency appointment or a complex case that needs resolving. I like to try and make the difference the patient who has a persistent problem and is genuinely seeking help, keratoconics for instance. I can’t abide the amount of form filling and paperwork that each appointment generates especially the complex cases.

What is your most cringe-worthy career moment?

There are a few, but mid-test leaning back on a stool, thinking it was a chair, and falling flat on my back was pretty bad. It was a bit like that famous scene out of Only Fools and Horses, one minute I was in front of the patient the next, on the floor. It’s just I couldn’t tell Trig I was leaving.

What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?

My digital slit lamp, hands down.

How do you manage a work/life balance?

I’d like to say that I’m amazing at juggling everything and can micro manage anything, but in truth I have a fantastic wife, Louise, who supports me in everything and without her I wouldn’t be where I am today for more reasons than I can think of. It sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true.

What do you do to unwind?

Holidays and weekends away with the family mainly, but other than that, I do a bit of charity work, organising events etc. I like to socialise, the pub quiz and poker nights are good fun.

You have won the OT lottery. What are the first three things you would do with the £1m jackpot?

Take the family to Disneyland and around the world. Buy a sail boat, and a bigger house – with no mortgage.

Where are you going on your next holiday?

A lakeside boathouse in Glen Coe. And Tenerife after that: I can’t wait.