How I got here

“I can’t tell you how privileged I feel”

Optometrist at Newmedica Birmingham, Sameer Bahal, on how his medical interests developed and his unexpected road-not-taken

A head and shoulders shot of a man wearing a grey suit and blue tie

At school, my strongest subjects were modern languages and biology.

It was the biology lessons where we learnt about the eye, coupled with my own positive experiences when I used to visit my optometrist and chats with family members who were already optometrists, that paved the way for a career in optometry.

I went to the University of Bradford from 1997 to 2000.

Between my second and third year, I was offered a place on the Boots Undergraduate Summer Placement Programme. Based on that, they offered me a pre-reg position in Birmingham city centre, which luckily was very close to where I lived. It was a great, well-structured programme. My supervision was split between two stores, and I felt really well-supported.

Around 2000, High Street practices were branching out into refractive surgery.

As soon as I had completed my pre-reg I thought, “this is something more medical, and I’d really like to know more about it.”

During that time, there was a company called The Health Clinic. They had a few locations in major city centres across the country, and I approached them, because they were slightly more established in the field of refractive surgery. I was offered a position with them.

Unfortunately, they went into administration, only six months after I joined.

Subsequently, they were acquired by Optical Express. They allowed me to keep my position on the proviso that the role became nationwide. That meant that, while I was learning refractive surgery, I was covering stores anywhere from Newcastle-upon-Tyne right down to Southampton. I would cover these stores in the week, and then come home at the weekend. I was put up in a hotel, but it was a great learning experience. I did that for about a year and a half, before a position came up in the Birmingham Optical Express.

While I was learning refractive surgery, I was covering stores anywhere from Newcastle-upon-Tyne right down to Southampton


I became a pre-reg supervisor, and I was also offered the role of regional trainer.

That meant I would look after a patch, and I was involved in the induction programme for any optometrist who was new to the refractive surgery side of the business. It was a one-week, quite intense, programme. I would also visit the optometrists in store after the training, to make sure their clinical knowledge was up to scratch. I loved the teaching aspect, and the refractive role allowed me to use instruments I wouldn’t normally be permitted to in practice, like topographers and pachymeters. At that point, I decided I wanted to do more teaching.

I stayed with Optical Express for nine years.

To further feed my knowledge, I then wanted to diversify and learn more about the anterior segment of the eye. I very much enjoyed anterior segment. So, after leaving Optical Express, I locumed for multiples on the High Street, and at the same time worked for a few smaller corneal clinics. I learned things like treatments for keratoconus such as corneal collagen crosslinking, and continued working in refractive surgery.

In 2018, I was offered a role with Optegra.

At the time, they had glaucoma and wet acute macular degeneration (AMD) clinics, which I was interested in. After the lockdown in 2020, Optegra's business model changed slightly: they wanted their optometrists to focus more on consenting NHS patients for cataract surgery, a role that previously ophthalmologists had done. This was very high-volume work.

I joined Newmedica at the beginning of 2023.

I moved to Newmedica Birmingham in order to fulfil my original plan, which was not just to be involved in cataract and refractive surgery, but eventually to diversify into areas such as glaucoma and wet AMD and to be involved in management of the clinic. Newmedica appealed to me because of the broad range of ophthalmology treatments offered. In Newmedica Birmingham we have four consultant ophthalmologists – two corneal, one glaucoma, one vitreoretinal – with the aim of expanding to offer these services.

Continually learning is what keeps me interested.

I feel really privileged to be working where I am at the moment, because the people I work with are of such high calibre. Every time there’s a verbal interaction, I learn something new. I want that to keep on going. To keep progressing, both in terms of skills and knowledge, while working in an environment like this – I can’t tell you how privileged I feel.

I feel really privileged to be working where I am at the moment, because the people I work with are of such high calibre


My ambition for the future is to keep on progressing.

The consultants I work with here are very keen on upskilling all their staff. I’ve already started performing YAG laser capsulotomies, under supervision. The plan is that I eventually see patients within glaucoma clinics and wet AMD clinics, and possibly perform AMD injections in the future. But it goes beyond that. At Newmedica Birmingham we are already working with pre-reg optometry students, we will be training junior doctors, we will be establishing links with local universities, as well as rolling out other clinical services.