“I’m very optimistic about the future of the profession”
Optometrist Christian Dutton on his varied career and how an interest in medical technology has brought about new opportunities
01 April 2023
My father is a dentist (now retired) and was really supportive throughout the careers process.
I was keen to do something clinical. Medicine seemed to take too long, and I wasn’t keen on needles, so dentistry was out. Optometry seemed like a clean and interesting career, and as a spectacle wearer I’d already experienced the benefits first-hand.
I studied at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), now the University of Manchester, from 1995 – 1998.
The tutors were excellent, and I made a good number of lifelong friendships. I enjoyed learning with a diverse range of other students of different ages, backgrounds and cultures in a large, vibrant, but rather rainy, city.
I joined Boots Opticians’ Undergraduate Summer Work Experience Programme in 1996.
I remember coming home exhausted after my first few days of ‘proper work’ and falling asleep on the sofa. This led to a pre-reg placement two years later with Boots, which had a great reputation and a fantastic team of ‘tutor practitioners’. My supervisor changed mid-way through the year, but I managed to pass my professional qualifying examinations first time. I was qualified at 21 and looked like I’d just left school.
The first couple of years of my career were mainly spent at Vision Express.
Upon qualification, colleagues and patients suddenly had quite different expectations of me. I enjoyed building rapport with my patients and providing staff training for the first time. On reflection, leadership training and working alongside a more experienced optometrist during those early stages would have been beneficial.
A role came up with Asda Opticians, which had recently branched out into optics and had just opened a new practice in Farnborough.
I was keen to influence the setup of a new practice from the outset, so this was a great opportunity, and I stayed for 14 years.
During my time at Asda Opticians, I had the opportunity to write various clinical guidelines and policies, which piqued my interest in professional services. Throughout my time at Asda Opticians, I maintained a keen interest in postgraduate education and completed a Master’s in clinical optometry through City University, London, which gave me a helpful clinical edge.
I was qualified at 21 and looked like I’d just left school
I had been interested in Tibetan culture and philosophy since completing a module on ‘the philosophy of science’ at university.
Asda Opticians granted me leave to set up the Tibet Eyecare Project, a life-changing experience helping several thousand impoverished people see more clearly without charge. There was huge demand for this service, so over the following years I designed and fundraised for a purpose-built clinic in Yushu to improve the quality and volume of care provided. I led groups of volunteer UK optometrists and broadened the scope of the project to incorporate dentistry and midwifery. We recruited, trained local people, and sponsored students to encourage self-sufficiency. I travelled to Tibet five times in total and met my future wife there.
I consider optometry and the hospital eye service one big team
In 2016 I moved into a substantive professional services role with Evolutio Care Innovations Ltd., a community ophthalmology provider.
My focus was on education and training, quality improvement, and triage. Again, I had the opportunity to write clinical protocols and support my colleagues operationally in delivering a broad range of services.
Whilst with Evolutio, in 2019, I completed a diploma in independent prescribing and a higher professional certificate in glaucoma. The Evolutio Lead Consultant was my mentor (based in community ophthalmology clinics) but I did some sessions in the hospital too. These qualifications have given me the knowledge required to manage a greater proportion of patients autonomously.
For the last three or four years I’ve sat on the General Optical Council (GOC) Hearings Panel, where we consider whether a registrant’s fitness to practise, train or carry out business is impaired, and impose sanctions if appropriate to do so.
This part-time role has given me a clearer understanding of how the GOC and other healthcare regulators function. Seeing the seriousness of cases that end up with the hearings panel has helped reassure me that practitioners don’t have to be overly defensive and fearful of their regulator. Rather, the process exists to protect the public when they have been put at significant risk.
I’ve maintained a keen interest in electronic medical record systems throughout my career and my role with Evolutio has given me the opportunity to work closely with their in-house software development team.
This has allowed me to contribute to the design and testing of bespoke systems, including digital medicine and telehealth. More recently, this has been formalised through membership of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics, the discipline that uses IT and data to improve outcomes in healthcare.
It would be nice to be able to develop a medical record system, not necessarily for optometry, but any healthcare discipline.
I think the efficiency of an electronic medical record system is so crucial to optometrists, because if they need to get through a decent volume of patients, and you’ve got a system that works with them rather than against them, everything is so much smoother. If they have to click all over the place to find the box that they need to fill in, it’s going to cause delays and inefficiencies. I think it’s crucial that we get our electronic medical record systems right for the end user.
Having read and triaged over 100,000 ophthalmology referrals over the last seven years, I recently launched a YouTube channel, Dutton Optometry,
where I offer my tips on writing informative referrals for a wide range of conditions as well as jargon-free patient education videos.
My next move is to the Specsavers clinical performance consultant team.
The role is all about supporting and developing community practices and clinicians, so patients have access to eye care they need now and in the future. Each consultant has a regional responsibility, tailoring their support to the needs of local optometrists, health service and patients. My patch is in the south of England. Specsavers’ purpose is about improving lives through better sight and hearing, and as a clinical performance consultant I’ll help make that positive difference.
COVID-19 has been the catalyst for change, and I feel that it’s really time for us to come together to drive the profession forward in a unified way, making the most of our skillset.
Optometrists shouldn’t be afraid to develop themselves, to do independent prescribing or a glaucoma qualification. I consider optometry and the hospital eye service one big team; we’re supporting one another for the benefit of our patients.
Patients are going through a time of great need with healthcare. I think it’s a good time for us to really demonstrate how we can help them. I’m very optimistic about the future of the profession.