My inspiration

How three inspirational people helped Aniqa unlock her potential

Pre-registration optometrist, Aniqa Waqar, shares how a sixth form mentor, a university lecturer and an optometrist inspired and motivated her throughout her optometry studies

Aniqa with Ali

Who is an inspiration to you and can you tell us more about them?

My inspiration stemmed from several people that I feel privileged to have met. Many names come to mind to whom gratitude is owed, and all have shaped me into the young woman I am today.

Three people that have been an inspiration to me during my optometry journey are my academic improvement mentor at Luton Sixth Form College, Rafaqat Ali; optometrist, Dr Nizam Alvi, and optometrist and senior lecturer at City, University of London, Dr Rakhee Shah.

Ali went above and beyond his role at Luton Sixth Form College. Alvi gave me my first patient-facing experience of optics and the opportunity to engage with patients, and Shah helped me believe in my abilities and helped me to achieve a first-class honours degree.

Why did you decide to study optometry?

Several different things led me to realise that I wanted to learn more about the world of optometry, a combination of my own personal experiences and an interest.

I have a highly myopic sister and a partially sighted relative, so seeing first-hand how sight impairment can impact someone’s life and how a person’s quality of life can be improved by simple interventions, such as an updated spectacle prescription. All had a role to play in my decision to study optometry.

Before I started my optometry degree, I did some work experience at the Luton and Dunstable University Hospital. While I was there, I witnessed a patient with a paediatric case of preseptal cellulitis. This certainly sparked my interest and had a part to play in my decision to study optometry at university.

Can you remember when you first met them and what were your first impressions?

I remember meeting Ali for the first time during my pre-induction enrolment day at Luton Sixth Form College, when I handed in my pre-course tasks for my chosen STEM subjects. But my first proper one-to-one meeting with him was in September 2016, before I started my A-levels. His encouragement, constant motivation and belief in my abilities was inspiring.

I first met Shah virtually, helping her gather online material for the clinical and professional practice module in my third year of university. I later met her in-person, volunteering as a patient for one of my peers during our Goldmann applanation tonometry assessment.

Be it a smile or some kind words of encouragement, my first impressions of Ali and Shah were very positive. Both were people I knew I could reach out to, who would do their best to help enhance my academic experience. Outside of the realms of the curriculum they were also great people and, if needed, I knew I could talk to them.

What attributes do you most admire about Ali and Shah?

Ali’s ability to instil optimism in all his students. He has an amazing ability to make them realise how capable they are. I also admire his patience. Whether it was a personal or academic concern he dealt with any issue in a manner that never seemed to faze him, focusing on how he could help his students meet both their academic and personal potential.

Shah’s integrity and caring nature, not only when dealing with patients or students, but anyone she meets. She offered me a wealth of guidance and support, which I really value.

Did Ali and Dr Shah play a part in your university experience or shape your career choices?

Ali inspired me to pursue optometry. He assisted me during my studies and always had an open-door policy. As one of the first members of my family to pursue higher education, he ensured I had access to all the appropriate educational materials and offered me guidance along the way.

Shah also played an important role in my university experience. She taught me how to tackle academic requirements, such as exams or administrative tasks, and always offered helpful words of advice during a crucial point in my personal and academic life. I also discussed my ideas and thoughts about the future and the potential of undertaking a masters or PhD after a few years of clinical experience, in which she was a great help. 

I admire her integrity and caring nature, not only when dealing with patients or students, but anyone she meets. She’s offered me a wealth of guidance and support, which I really value


If you studied or worked together can you describe a scenario where they impressed or helped you?

During my studies Ali was a continuous support to me and encouraged me to succeed. He impressed me with his dedication to his students, always thinking about how he could help others in their chosen pursuits.

My father went through a particularly challenging time with his health during my final year of university. I discussed my circumstances with Shah and she supported me throughout this challenging time. She was so compassionate and understanding; it really impressed me. She was always on hand to help with any queries I had, be it related to lectures or a personal matter. She goes the extra mile for her students.

Alvi who gave me my first work experience in optics has extensive clinical knowledge and excellent communication skills that really impressed me. He managed his own practice and had an impressive amount of knowledge but also a very kind and professional way of dealing with patient queries. I was inspired by his motivation to serve his community, through trying to eliminate language barriers by simplifying medical terminology when he spoke to patients. He also helped me discover and develop my business skills and nurtured my entrepreneurial spirit.

Can you share one thing you’ve learnt from them?

I have learnt how a little bit of compassion and care goes a long way and can really make a big impact on someone’s life. The saying “a smile travels a mile” rings true for me here. I also learnt that reaching out and having a support system in place not only presented new opportunities but also helped me to flourish under difficult circumstances.

Aniqa wearing a mask
I recently visited my old sixth form college and met Ali to thank him for all his help. I told him that an olive tree was planted in his name in Palestine through a charity I support, this was my way of showing him my appreciation. In some ways the olive tree is a metaphor for how he helped me. Throughout my studies he was a huge support to me and many other families, so much like an olive tree that provides nutrition, shelter for animals and a source of income for multiple households, Ali also did this for me, by nurturing my talents. I believe small ‘random acts of kindness’ really can make a difference.

Is there anyone else that you would like to mention that has inspired you throughout your optometry career?

Two of my high school teachers, Caroline Hutchinson and Charles Seanla, for believing in me and recognising my potential.

Maureen Asher, Sally Burke and the Luton Sixth Form College science department for their role in supporting me in the Advanced Learning Programme for High Achievers. I would also like to thank David Crabb for his words of wisdom as a university tutor. Pooja and Jagjeet Bhansal for their positivity and Mark Mayhew for his support and guidance in tackling the ‘dreaded’ dissertation. Professors Lawrenson and Douglas for their enthusiasm in educating new entrants into the profession.

And lastly, my parents for being the wheels to my vehicle of success, helping me to achieve my career goals and filling me with enthusiasm. Not to mention the home-made packed lunches, beating the classic lunchtime egg and cress sandwich any day.

If you could help to inspire someone, what words of advice would you offer?

If I could inspire someone, I would advise them to seek knowledge as opposed to chasing after academic perfection and achieving the top grades. Gaining knowledge that stems from a genuine passion has a lot more value than obtaining knowledge just to pass an exam. Be honest with yourself about how much and how far you can push yourself. It can be easy to become lost in trying to achieve goals, so making a conscious effort to check in with yourself is better for long term success and prevents burnouts. Lastly, trust in your own abilities and work outside of your comfort zone, having faith and confidence in your abilities.

I have learnt how a little bit of compassion and care goes a long way and can really make a big impact on someone’s life


Lead image: Aniqa with her mentor at Luton Sixth Form College, Rafaqat Ali