“Myself and my wife have done everything together”
Scott Mackie, of Mackie Eyecare, on his varied career and why he’s ready to embrace a work life balance
28 January 2023
When I left school, all I knew was that I wanted to work with people. I didn’t want to sit in an office.
Back in Glasgow, they used to say ‘Do you want to be a welder? Do you want to work in shipbuilding?’ because it was all heavy industry. I said, ‘I want to be an optician.’ They looked at me and said, ‘Nobody wants to be an optician, what are you talking about?’
I didn’t do well enough to get into optometry, so I did two years of dispensing at Glasgow College of Technology and then a training year with Dollond & Aitchison in Clydebank, which was brilliant because it was learning skills of communication. You had to look at a person and not judge a book by its cover, so it taught me a lot. There were people who were really poor, and would pay a pound a week for their contact lenses. It was a great learning experience.
Dollond & Aitchison then made me a manager in East Kilbride, a new town that was being built from scratch.
I worked there for a year and got experience as a manager.
I then went back and did optometry for four years at university, which was great. In my final year, I decided people should be continuing their education afterwards. This was before the GOC brought in CET. We set up a training course, and it was massively popular from day one. The minute I qualified, I set it up as a company. We ran that for 20 years, and then sold it. A few years later we set it up again, in a different format.
I did my pre-reg in Aberdeen, which was rare back then: people in Scotland tended to be very parochial, so if you were Glaswegian you stayed in Glasgow.
But I went to Aberdeen and had a great time, working in the hospital. My supervisor, Professor John Forrester, was doing a PhD and was editor of the British Journal of Ophthalmology. He was a really nice guy, and got me into research.
Once I’d finished my pre-reg year, I was offered a PhD scholarship at what was by then Glasgow Caledonian University. I completed my four-year PhD in 1996. It was on a very pragmatic topic: diabetes and how it affects eyesight.
We [Mackie and his wife, Roisin, also an optometrist] opened one practice, in Lesmahagow, in 1996, and another, in Bothwell, in 1997.
We still have these practices today. The minute we started working in the practices, I could see what it was really like. For example, there was no low vision service. Lesmahagow is a rural part of Lanarkshire. The nearest hospital is Glasgow, about 35 miles away. People living in these traditional mining villages have never been to Glasgow in their life, and they don’t want to. The first qualification I did after my PhD was the ABDO certificate in low vision, and that was the start of doing a lot of postgraduate training.
Since the minute I got the chance to do optometry, I’ve never looked back. That’s why I’ve been driven to have so many qualifications. I also did independent prescribing, right at the start, as one of the first cohort.
Since the minute I got the chance to do optometry, I’ve never looked back
When the College of Optometrists started doing OSCEs, I became one of the first assessors, along with my wife.
Myself and my wife have done everything together. We met during our PhDs. We opened the practices together, we did the low vision certificate together, we did the assessing and examining together. That led on to the General Optical Council making CET compulsory, and we were some of the approvers.
I was also on the Optometry Scotland executive board.
I was on a lot of committees, and was quite instrumental in getting the Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) up and running. I also received an honorary associate professorship at Plymouth, and I did a lot with Ulster University.
I worked with Visioncall in domiciliary two days a week.
That showed me that it’s very hard to gain consent from a patient with no capacity. I relayed that to Scottish Government, and we did consent and capacity training for all the opticians in Scotland. We have a national contract up here, so that means everybody has got an NHS contract. To keep that contract, you have to do compulsory training, so we choose every year what compulsory training we want.
We also set up the Scottish Optical Conference.
That was never the plan, but people asked me to do it. We ran the conference recently, and 540 people attended. People came from England, Ireland, Wales. It is an interesting time for optometry, because there are so many new skills that we’re having to learn.
I’ve been lucky that I’ve won a few awards.
Some of them you nominate yourself for, and I stayed away from them for years because it’s like tapping yourself on your back. But it is great for marketing your practice. I got the Macular Society Award, and the NHS Scotland Award for Optometrist of the Year. The icing on the cake was my fellowship from the College of Optometrists.
I wanted to give something back, so we started our own charity, Right for Sight.
We get a lot of opticians sending us glasses and we go into Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. Some prisoners are on remand, some are there for life.
We’ve also done a lot of work in India, and next year we’re going to Cambodia. My friend, who is an ophthalmologist in the UK, has built a hospital there with funds from external stakeholders. It’s called the Khmer Sight Foundation, and last week I sent 3000 pairs of glasses to them. We’re trying to recycle, and upskill people that are there so they can do it themselves. I’ve got a lovely bunch of friends, and I just phone them and say, ‘let’s jump on a plane.’ We give lectures over there too. It’s another thing that I’ve really enjoyed doing.
During the pandemic we were asked to stay open as an emergency eye care treatment centre, covering 26 practices.
It was scary, because people were walking in who should’ve been in A&E. On the other end of the phone was a consultant, because all the juniors were on the COVID-19 wards. We were able to tell the NHS that we needed access to the hospital records and the medications that people are on, and they gave it to us. It is amazing, what doors open in a pandemic.
Now that I’ve only got five or seven years left in my career I’ve decided: no more committees, just working in the practice, and enjoying life.
I’ve stopped doing everything that’s external to that, apart from the charity. We still do that, because that’s good fun.
I love the pace and interaction, and the communication. You can have knowledge, but one thing I’ve been trying to get universities to do is interview students. It’s a waste of time if somebody does optometry or dispensing, and then thinks ‘I don’t like this because I don’t like talking to people.’ You’ve got to be brilliant at communicating. Even being clinical is about communicating.
I’ve always loved working with patients. So, work in the practice, doing some innovative things, like myopia management, and just having a great time. All three kids are out of the house, so myself and my wife can hopefully have a better work life balance, which is a dream.