WOPEC founding member receives MBE

Professor Barbara Ryan has been recognised for her services to optometry


Professor Barbara Ryan arrived home late one evening in November to find her family gathered around a mysterious envelope bearing a Government stamp.

That was the moment that Professor Ryan discovered she had been selected as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).

“It was a very unusual day,” Professor Ryan told OT.

"I was amazed; I wondered if they got the right person.”

The news was confined to Professor Ryan’s immediate family until the end of December when the honour became public. She will receive her award in person through a royal ceremony in the first months of 2019.

Professor Ryan said that she considered her MBE to be recognition of the work of many people.

“This is not just for me. Optometry in Wales has developed enormously over the past 15 years and everyone’s practice has changed,” she said.

Professor Ryan is a founding member of Cardiff University’s Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre. She served as the chief optometric adviser to the Welsh Government between 2012 and 2016 and as clinical lead for the Welsh Low Vision Service.

As the chief optometric adviser, Professor Ryan helped to develop the Eye Care Plan for Wales, which has led to a shift in how optometrists and other professionals provide services.

The plan has seen greater levels of collaboration between professions and optometrists taking on a greater clinical workload.

“We have played a much bigger part in NHS eye care,” Professor Ryan said.

“The day of optometrists just providing sight tests and contact lenses is gone in Wales,” she observed.

When asked about her career highlights, Professor Ryan pointed to her work as a clinical lead on the development of the Low Vision Service in Wales.

She said that more than 200 optometry practices now provide low vision services in Wales.

“Before that was established, waiting times for people who were losing their sight to get into a service were about six months,” Professor Ryan shared.

“People often had to travel a long way to hospitals to get that care. Now it is on every High Street in Wales,” she added.

Professor Ryan is a co-director of the Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre.

She highlighted that the centre has allowed advancements in education and training that were previously only delivered in Wales to benefit the rest of the country.

“It has been a huge success helping optometrists, not just from Wales but across the UK, to deliver enhanced services and show that they can take on extended roles,” Professor Ryan shared.

Professor Ryan continues to work as an optometrist in community practice through a part-time role at Monmouth independent, Monnow Eye Care.

In the past, she has held hospital roles in Birmingham, Oxford and Nigeria.

Professor Ryan said that she has always maintained a role in practice because she loves seeing patients.

“First and foremost, I see myself as a clinician and a practitioner,” she shared.

Looking back to the start of her career, Professor Ryan said that she studied optometry after falling into it “completely by chance.” 

After studying biology, physics and maths at A-level, a career adviser recommended that Professor Ryan study optometry, so that is what she did.

Despite her impromptu initiation to the profession, Professor Ryan has never looked back.

“I have had a wonderful career. I have been very lucky to enjoy all of my jobs,” she said.

AOP chairman and councillor for Wales, Mike George, said it was “fantastic” to see Professor Ryan recognised.

“Her contributions and hard work have helped put optometrists at the heart of eye care in Wales and I’m sure the rest of the profession will join me in congratulating her,” he concluded.