My inspiration

Finding inspiration in a teacher, a fellow student, and an Instagram influencer

Plymouth University optometry student, Isabel-Onyi Oweregbulam Smith, talks to OT  about three pivotal people in her life who help provide her with a source of inspiration and motivation

Young woman smiling looking into the camera. She is wearing a patterned pink, purple and white long-sleeved top.

Who is your inspiration, and can you tell us more about them?

Not just one person inspires me, so I’ll name a few. In regards to academics, a lecturer at my university, Alice Cottle, always encourages me to do better and would always listen to me complain if things didn’t go well. A friend of mine and a fellow student optometrist, Jelleh, would always book a room at the library for us to study in – knowing fully well that I deceive myself by trying to study on my bed. Lastly, Dr Nishan Pressley who is an optometrist and an influencer on Instagram. I strive to be like her someday.

Why did you decide to study optometry?

I decided to study optometry after my first visit to the optometrist when I was 10 years old. I was in awe of all the equipment and machines used to check and test my eyes. I had an incredible experience and hoped to someday be like that optometrist who checked my eyes. It was so easy to see that he was passionate about what he was doing, and I loved every moment of the eye exam. After my first visit, I made sure to get my eyes checked every year because I loved the whole routine and the feeling of nostalgia.

Optometry is a service to humanity, and I would love to be a part of that. I hope to be a good optometrist and make a difference in a patient's life


I also started following a lot of optometrists on Instagram and fell in love with the profession even more. That was when I discovered that so many health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can be detected by an optometrist during a sight test. I always told my family members and friends to get their eyes checked as it could save them the risk of suffering from these medical conditions, which could be life-threatening. Optometry is a service to humanity, and I would love to be a part of that. I hope to be a good optometrist and make a difference in a patient's life.

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

At first, I thought my lecturer Alice would be too strict to be friendly. This is because she would stand outside the lecture hall to mark the attendance. I would say I feared her initially. She was my clinical skills lecturer in my first year at university, and every time I felt like I wasn’t doing enough she would tell me to go easy on myself and be proud of how far I’ve come.

Jelleh has always been cool from the start, and we always helped each other with university work and personal stuff. As for Dr Pressley, I have never met her, but when I saw her profile for the first time, I was like: ‘This is exactly how I want to be.’

What attributes do you most admire about them?

Alice is a great teacher, and she is patient. She would take her time to teach you stuff personally and ensure that you understand whatever it is that you’re doing. Jelleh is always positive and would not let any setback get to her. She would always say “we’ll do better next time now that we know what we did wrong.” Dr Pressley is hardworking and relentless, and she provides helpful tips to take care of your eyes.

Did they play a part in your university experience studying optometry?

Since I always knew I wanted to become an optometrist, checking Dr Pressley’s profile fostered my zeal. I follow other optometrists on Instagram but she just stood out to me. As someone who’s always stressed and anxious about exams, there was a time when she posted about not allowing your grades or anything else to define you and taking whatever dream you have away from you. That right there is engraved in my heart.

My friend Jelleh would also tell me that there’s no going back, now that we have started. We can only move forward, and that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Whenever I doubt myself, Alice and Jelleh would always tell me to trust and believe in myself


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

That I can be whoever I want to be. I just need to put my mind to it.

What advice have they given you about your future career?

Whenever I doubt myself, Alice and Jelleh would always tell me to trust and believe in myself. I still doubt myself sometimes, but I remind myself of this often. I also learnt to stop comparing myself to my peers from Jelleh. She always told me that we are different people, and so it is expected of us to do things differently.

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

My entire family. Being African is getting used to the fact that your family would call you whatever it is that you’re studying. For instance, if you’re studying law, they’d tease you by calling you a lawyer. It gives them and you that sense of pride. My family calls me ‘my optometrist’ and I don’t even have my degree yet. It makes me happy and encourages me to work hard so as not to disappoint them.

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

Whenever you are in doubt, remember that so many people have achieved this same dream of yours. It doesn’t mean that they are better than you or that you are not as good as they are. Do not let the imposter syndrome get the best of you. Also, take your time to figure out what you want and what works for you. Never compare yourself to anyone.