“Having longer appointments gives us scope to take things at a slower pace”
Sofia Fazal, owner of Wolverhampton’s Bushbury Eyecare, talks OT through her day, from morning breakfast club drop-offs to homemade evening curry
24 July 2023
Location: West Midlands
Owner of: Bushbury Eyecare, Wolverhampton
Business owner since: 2021.
6am:I get up at 6am, drop my children off at their school breakfast clubs by 7.45am, then make my way into the practice.
8:30am:On a typical day, I arrive at the practice at 8.30am. We tend to get in early so we can have a catch-up. The kettle goes on. We have the diary ready, have a coffee, and sit together to look through who is coming in.
Any key things that have come up from the day before usually get picked up between 8.45am and 9.15am. If there are any actions that I can’t do instantly, I ask the staff to put in some diary time where I can catch up with anything that needs to be followed up on.
9am:We open at 9am, but don’t start testing until 9.15am.
My main task is to make sure the team knows exactly what we’re doing: if there are any key actions that have to be delivered during the day, jobs to go out or chasing of any orders, if there’s any stock that we need to look at.
My staff have their own roles and responsibilities, and I will tap into that every now and again. Even if I’m off, I’ll sit down and we’ll have a weekly catch-up to see how they're getting on. You’re making sure nothing has been lost in translation.
Becoming a business owner interview with Sofia, where she explains how she took on Bushbury Eyecare
We don’t close for lunch, because we’re quite busy over that period. My lunch is usually a Pot Noodle or a piece of toast. I don’t eat a lot in the day.
Sometimes we have a team lunch, which is nice. Even if it’s half an hour, we’ll eat together and talk. But I also like to make sure the staff take it in turns, so they get time away from their desks. I think it’s really important for your staff's mental health and wellbeing to make sure they do take a break away from where they’re sitting.
2pm:We have the children’s clinic later in the day, so I like to know which children are coming in and look at their previous notes before they do. In the morning, we’ve already synced up who is coming in, who is our priority, and if there are any concerns. We have patients that we know are going to need longer, so we check that we’ve got enough time for those people.
The thing I most enjoy watching to unwind in the evening is...
I try to keep everything steady. We don’t do 20-minute testing, and that’s one big tip. When you’re testing at 15, 20 or 25 minutes, you don’t have the scope to take things at a steady pace. Our practice is all about maintaining the wellbeing of the patients as well as the wellbeing of the staff. Having longer appointments gives us scope to take things at a slower pace. I’ve learnt that. If we’ve got a very busy day, we make a 15-minute gap in the diary, so we’ve got a bit of breathing space and an opportunity to catch up.
4.15pm:I tend to do my clinic and then shoot off. I finish with my last patient and I’m on the way home around 4.15pm.
The practice closes at 5pm, but leaving earlier is the advantage of being a business owner. It allows me to miss the traffic and pick up my children, which I love doing. I think it’s really important to have that. The reason I have this independent practice is not to make lots of money, it is to get a better work life balance. I have the flexibility to do other things outside my work, but at the same time I’m not constrained to how many holidays I take or when I start or when I finish. I have flexibility. That gives me the opportunity to engage with the children, and find out about their days. Sometimes I pick all the kids up and sometimes I’ll pick one or two up. The older one can make his own way home, and sometimes he picks the younger one up.
Some days, if we’ve got a shorter day, I finish even earlier. Shorter days mean I can get home and get things done around the house. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have this business.
With small children and running a practice, my priority is having a better family life. It allows me to be flexible with sports days or school events. I can move the diary to suit those needs. That’s the advantage of being an independent practice owner: being your own boss. I could work five days a week and have a full clinic. But that extra money would not make any difference to the quality of life I’m living outside of work.
The reason I have this independent practice is not to make lots of money, it is to get a better work life balance
5pm:Usually, I’m home by 5pm. Being home at 5pm rather than leaving the practice at 5pm means I’ve got that extra hour to get the tea on.
Two or three times a week, I’ll make a curry and fresh chapatis. That’s our normal meal. If I’m home at 5pm that will be on the table for 6.15pm. If I’m making a quicker curry, like a lentil curry, I can be done in 15 or 20 minutes. You work quickly when you know what you’re doing.
Everyone has eaten by 6.30pm, and then we’ve got the whole evening.
Usually, we have to do the children’s homework. On a Thursday my daughter goes swimming, so I take her there at 7pm.
I usually look at main tasks for the following day the night before, as I have access to the computer system from home. I put notes in as to what the staff need to do for the next day. It keeps them on track for what needs to be done by when.
Then there’s an opportunity to do other things. I’m chair of the Parent Teacher Friends Association at my son’s secondary school, so sometimes we have meetings in the evening. I also have blogs for the optical leadership course that I’m currently completing via Cardiff University.
My friends say I’m too busy. I say, “what’s the point of having time if you don’t make use of it?”
My fantasy practice...
If I had an unlimited practice budget, I would...
Have all the high-tech equipment, so I could provide a fuller clinical service to my patients. I would like to have a range of spectacles and make it more bespoke in terms of seeing fewer patients in a day, but giving them longer, and making it all about the customer’s experience, making sure they feel that they’ve really understood everything. If I could have staff dedicated to each person who comes in, that’s what I would do.
I would also like to create a mini me. I’d have optometrists who could go the extra mile, taking time to deliver on patients’ individual needs, listening and giving them the time they need.
We want to elevate the position of optometry in the community. But I think by rushing we’re diluting what we are giving out. If we do a quick job on something we’re never going to be able to use and deliver our skills and experience. You have to cut back somewhere. So, I would like to have all the best equipment for the patient, and I’d like to be able to deliver an environment where patients feel like “wow, this is how it should always be.”
If I could invent a piece of technology to help solve one issue in the practice, it would be...
I wish all the machines could be put into one: fields, pressures, fundus, optical coherence tomography – everything into one piece of kit would be amazing. It would take up less space in the practice, but also the patient wouldn’t have to move from one machine to another.
If I could make one change to the optometry profession, I would...
I would like us to be paid more for our GOS (General Ophthalmic Services) 1 forms. That is a huge problem. I think we’re underrated. This is something I’m trying to work on with my Local Optical Committee Support Unit board position. If we can, I’d love it if we could make the GOS 1s better paid. That’s my biggest issue. As eye care professionals, we do so much for that £22 or £23. I give 45 minutes to a patient, and I’m paid £23. It’s not fair. My private patients are paying almost double that. You think to yourself, people are willing to pay more, so why is the NHS not paying us more?
If I could be visited in practice by one influential person from history, it would be...
I would like to be visited by Carl Zeiss. He was the founder of optics and microscopes and innovative technology. I’d love it if he could come and give his spin on what he thinks I should do. I don’t work for Zeiss anymore, but he is somebody who I really think made a big difference in optics many years ago.
If I could close the practice for a week without having any impact at all, I would...
Take my team on a lovely holiday. It'd be really nice if I could fund all of us to have some time out, and have some team building and fun. We have a lot of fun here, but we’re at work.
I do take them out for days. We have done escape rooms. But I’d like to close and go away for a whole week. I think I’d take the girls to New York.
My wildest ambition for my practice is...
I have a dry eye clinic. I’d love to really develop that side of the business, and also the macular side. It’s not wild, but I would love to be able to let people know about it, so people could come to us for specialist care. That’s my ambition for this practice, that people come here for specialist care and know that they’re getting taken care of.