“I truly believe I have the best job in optics”
Henry Leonard, AOP head of clinical and regulatory, on how his interest in optometry was sparked by diagnosis of lazy eye as a child
14 December 2023
My interest in eyes goes back to early childhood, when an optometrist spotted signs of a lazy eye at the age of three and referred me into the hospital eye service.
Role: Optometrist and AOP head of clinical and regulatory
On a visit to the opticians at the age of 17, my optometrist mentioned that my A-level subjects were ideal for optometry.In the absence of any original thoughts of my own, I decided this might be better than nothing, so off I went to study optometry at Aston University.
During my final year at Aston, Essilor ran a competition open to optometry students throughout Europe. I wanted to submit my dissertation, but the judging panel needed six hard copies and, having only a few pounds left in my bank account, I could only just afford to make enough photocopies. Fortunately, I ended up winning second prize, which included a trip to Paris to be presented with an award at the Silmo exhibition, so it was all worth it in the end.
I was extremely lucky to have fantastic support during my pre-registration training, which I completed at Specsavers Opticians in High Wycombe.
A helping hand
After I qualified, I worked for multiples, small groups and independent practices, and I feel very privileged to have practised alongside some exceptional practitioners over the years.A standout moment in my early career was a trip to Tibet with a group of other optometrists to help set up an optometry clinic in the remote town of Yushu on behalf of Rokpa International, a medical charity. Most of the patients we saw hadn’t previously had any access to eye care, and being able to give people back their vision, and sometimes their livelihood, simply by providing them with a pair of spectacles, was a truly rewarding experience.
Around this time, I also became a member of my Local Optical Committee (LOC), which got me interested in a side of optometry I hadn’t known existed.
When the AOP advertised for a clinical and regulatory officer, I was intrigued enough to apply.
Working in the AOP’s legal and regulatory team was a steep learning curve at first, but again I was lucky to find myself working alongside a brilliant team of solicitors, barristers and optometrists, who could show me the ropes.
After joining the AOP, I also spent some time as a trustee of the Optical Benevolent Fund, which is jointly funded by the AOP and the College of Optometrists, and offers assistance to optometrists who find themselves in times of need.
I gradually progressed to professional adviser and am now head of clinical and regulatory at the AOP.I truly believe I have the best job in optics. Working alongside the legal team to support other practitioners who are going through what is often the most difficult time in their professional career is a huge honour.
Working for the AOP means I’ve found myself doing things I never imagined, like being interviewed live on BBC News as part of the AOP’s campaigning, or giving presentations to MPs at the Houses of Parliament.
Working alongside the legal team to support other practitioners who are going through what is often the most difficult time in their professional career is a huge honour
Outside of the AOP, I’ve started a domiciliary company with my wife, who is also an optometrist, offering home visits to patients in my local area who can’t get to a High Street practice unaccompanied.
The idea for this service came after I experienced difficulty finding a domiciliary provider in my area, who could visit my elderly grandmother when she was no longer able to get to a High Street optician. This new role fits well around my other commitments, and gives me insight into being a GOS contractor, as well as a performer.
I’d like to say I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but the truth is I’ve mostly just been incredibly lucky to work alongside inspirational people, who have been generous enough to share their time and knowledge.