From locum optometrist to the NHS Ambulance Service

Locum Ahmed Ejaz discusses why he believes optometrists can expand their professional horizons beyond a single role

Let’s face it, there is no one in our industry who hasn’t been affected by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re a resident, locum, director or supplier, the implications of this disease are far-reaching and non-discriminatory. We are all affected.

But, the way in which we will be judged as an industry will not be on how badly we were affected, but by how well we responded.

Each of us has a different story to tell. It is enshrined in our DNA as clinicians and healthcare professionals to fight against diseases with the skills we have. Sometimes, we may think that our part is limited to the test room. In fact, our potential is limitless. The skills we’ve all developed through years of training in optics can be transferred to many other areas. What keeps us going is the passion for care.

The way in which we will be judged as an industry will not be on how badly we were affected, but by how well we responded.


My story during this pandemic began like that of many other locum optometrists. Suddenly, we were out of work and the outlook looked bleak. But I realised that being out of work didn’t mean our skills were all of a sudden redundant. We haven’t just learnt how to test eyes, we’ve learnt how to communicate with patients, think critically and manage a workload effectively all whilst displaying the highest level of professionalism. Realising I could have something to offer the community, I set out to find new work and eventually chose to join the West Midlands Ambulance Service’s NHS 111 Urgent Care Line to help the nation in our collective fight against coronavirus.

Finding the role 

The key factor was to be proactive and search for roles. I scanned through search engines and the NHS website to see where I could be of use. Just because the role doesn’t ask for a GOC registration, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Be flexible in terms of pay and shift patterns and more options will open up.

The training

I won’t lie, I was a little nervous on my first day. It was new - why wouldn’t I, or anyone, be nervous? But I was so relieved that my training team were so welcoming. I made new friends, some from healthcare backgrounds, others from sales, hospitality and retail backgrounds. We all shared a common purpose; to help as best we could.

I also received some amazing support from my allocated team managers, the chief executive and directors of the Ambulance Trust, who were all great in responding to any queries I had.

It is enshrined in our DNA as clinicians and healthcare professionals to fight against diseases with the skills we have


I was back in a classroom for two to three weeks during training and had exams to prove I could understand the service and navigate the systems. Due to the lockdown, I had plenty of time to study. I always try to look for a positive in a negative.

We wear an NHS Ambulance Service uniform. It’s pretty recognisable and makes you feel part of the team. It’s also nice to get out of my suits for once.

The role day-to-day

Having now completed training, I talk with patients to take them through an assessment and triage their main symptom. The role is so varied: we can be talking about any kind of condition. The most serious require me to send out ambulances. I’ll also liaise with clinicians daily. These are usually paramedics or nurses, but the service also has many other clinicians, such as pharmacists, at hand in house. We really are a diverse team. I’ll also speak daily with Primary Care Services and out of hours Urgent Care Centres to get the patient to the best place for them.

I have always had the greatest respect for the NHS, but seeing how hard my colleagues here and across all services work just reinforces it. I’m so proud to be part of the team.

What’s next?

I will no doubt return to practising optometry and seeing patients again. The need for optometrists won’t dry up, and I see locums being a key workforce moving forward as the lockdown restrictions are lifted and more patients return for their sight tests. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to join and help out the West Midlands Ambulance Service. I would like to always be involved.

My main takeaways

We’ve all struggled during this lockdown. We may have lost loved ones, we may have struggled to support them or ourselves financially, we may be or know someone who is struggling with their mental health. If there is anyone who needs help, get in touch, be a friend. Our sense of kindness cannot be hurt by this virus. As an industry, we will get through this; we will come out stronger on the other side. For now, let’s take the opportunity to be great ambassadors for the profession no matter what we do.