Through the generations

Father and daughter optometrists, Stuart and Isabelle Jones, who work together at Specsavers in Runcorn, discuss their thoughts on the future of the profession

ther and daughter optometrists, Stuart and Isabelle Jones
Optometrist Stuart Jones qualified 35 years ago and has led Specsavers’ Runcorn practice as a joint venture partner and practice director for almost three decades, after starting his career at the now defunct Dollond & Aitchison.

This year his daughter, 22-year-old Isabelle Jones, joined the practice as a newly-qualified optometrist, having completed her pre-reg placement at the store alongside her father.

Here the pair talk to OT about why they choose to tread the optometry career path, they reflect on their careers to date, and share their predictions for optometry in the future.

Why did you want to become an optometrist?

Stuart Jones (SJ): When deciding on a career path, it was the specialist medical aspect of being an optometrist that initially appealed to me. I also liked the idea of working within a profession that you had control over, one that allowed you to make your own decisions and would allow me to potentially fulfil my ambition to be a business owner one day. Exploring the subject, I met a family friend doing optometry at the time to learn more, and then visited the department at the University of Manchester. At the time I was deciding what to study, there were only six universities offering an optometry degree – the fact it was a very small, select group appealed to me too.

Isabelle Jones (IJ): When I was in school I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted a career that involved interacting with and helping people. I completed work experience at Specsavers here in Runcorn with my dad and really enjoyed it. When the time came to look at universities, I went to open days with dad. We visited the optometry department at Cardiff University and I really liked it. It felt like a small course where everyone knew each other really well, and I liked the atmosphere. My A Levels also steered me towards this path, and I like the idea of having a set role at the end.

When did you qualify and can you describe the landscape of the profession at the time?

SJ: I qualified in 1988, and Dollond & Aitchison was the largest group in those days. Boots Opticians, Vision Express and Specsavers were expanding, and NHS sight tests were free for all. There was a lot of demand for optometrists at the time, and it felt like I was entering the profession at a point of change and expansion. It was quite an exciting time really.

IJ: I qualified earlier this year, with much of my study done with a backdrop of the pandemic. Lots of change happened during my time at university really quickly; we were just sent home from university one day and all of our exams were cancelled. When we returned, we were wearing scrubs. In my third year, I probably only saw around 10 patients before starting my pre-reg placement. Initially I felt thrown in the deep end, but it was also equally exciting – I felt like I knew what I was doing, I just hadn’t had much experience doing it. To be able to see people and develop my skills was exciting.

When you qualified, what was the profession’s biggest challenge and why?

SJ: When I qualified, the biggest challenge I saw then was the sight test fee. Initially it was free NHS sight tests for all, and then, in 1989 about six months after I qualified, the charging for non-exempt groups came into play. We went from being extremely busy with a high demand for eye tests, to a significant drop when the charges came in. Back then the profession wasn’t used to charging for a sight test. Over the years it has become more confident in charging for professional services.

The pricing of spectacles has also become a lot more transparent and simpler than it was – I can remember as a student on a summer placement in a practice going through a big book that had lots of different prices in, and the prices depended on the prescription and a number of other things.

What has been the profession’s biggest success and why?

SJ: One of my fears when I went to university was what the long-term future of optometry was. At that time, I thought maybe the profession was too expensive and wondered if the foundations of optometry were strong enough to withhold the change. During this change there were lots of potential things that could have fragmented the profession – it was much weaker then as a result of a fragmentation between professional bodies. And while I think there are still weaknesses underlying in the profession, I also think it is a lot stronger and cohesive than it ever was in those days. I think professional confidence is the biggest thing that’s really been achieved since I qualified.

Where do you think optometry will be in five years’ time and why?

SJ: I would hope and expect there to be a continued integration with the NHS. I think that has been our biggest achievement over the last few years and I think that there is every likelihood that we can continue to do this. Where we are now as a profession provides us with lots of opportunities to get involved in a range of additional services, and I think the profession is getting better at both embracing that and planning for those extended roles.

IJ: The public will become more aware of the role of the optometrist, and what they can treat in the community – more and more people are coming into practice having been advised to by their GP, and this will increase and raise awareness further. I also think people are becoming more aware of optometry as a career option as awareness of the profession, what it is, what it involves and the importance of having your sight tested grows.

What is your one wish for the profession by 2030?

SJ: I hope that, given the fact that there is a shortage of GPs and ophthalmologists currently, there will be an opportunity for the profession to grasp shared care services fully and cement its place as the go-to place for eye care in the community. This has come on a lot in the last few years, and everything is pointing to moving down this road further with no alternative available currently.

IJ: I agree. And I think the public will only become more and more aware of the services that optometry can offer as the profession expands its scope and takes on a bigger clinical role in the community.

Reflecting on your career to date, what has been your highlight?

SJ: I am very proud of the way that, during the pandemic, the profession adapted and developed things quickly. We responded to change and acted in the community to support the public. A lot of people in the profession changed gear and stepped up when COVID-19 happened and that is one of the reasons that the profession is in the strong position that it is now.

What are you most excited about for your future career?

IJ: I would like to continue to develop and increase my skills through additional qualifications. I would like to form strong relationships with my patients and become a more confident professional.