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How I got here

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to enhance optometry and broaden its scale”

Newly retired IP optometrist and practice owner, Susan Bowers, explains how her ambition for optometry persisted throughout her career

Susan in a red dress standing in the middle with three people standing on both sides of her. The group of people are standing outside on a sunny day in green area, all smiling.
Susan Bowers
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My teaching on contact lenses at university was very basic, but I was wearing contact lenses and wanted to know more.

So, the first thing I did after qualifying was the diploma in contact lens practice. I spent a year on the written papers, and then another year on the practical exam, so it took me two years to complete. In those days, you had to do a three-hour paper on anatomy and physiology. It was in-depth tuition.

After I had my diploma in contact lens practice, I started doing a lot of contact lens work.

I was working at Birmingham and Midlands Eye Centre at the time, learning to fit sclerals. I had joined the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) as soon as I qualified, and I eventually became their president.

This meant a lot of work on dry eye teaching. I also lectured in dry eye at City, University of London, and did a lot of peer discussion. When you’re president of the BCLA, you have to turn up for all the lectures, so I ended up with lots of continuing professional development (CPD) points.

I was about to do a diploma in orthoptics, but then I had a baby and couldn’t do any more studying for a while.

Read about why Susan Could not live without... continuing professional development during her career 

I was also quite busy starting my optometry practice. Later on, I got a bit bored. People who do optometry are highly intelligent: they’ve got very good A-levels, and they’re doing a degree, but at the end of that, if they stop learning, they forget what they’ve been taught. What they really need to do is expand their knowledge, so they can help people more.

I was really interested in the anterior segment.

It was quite a natural progression to do the original additional supply for therapeutics, which I did in 2004–2006. I then did supplementary prescribing, too.

In 2009, I was amongst the first cohort of 30 optometrists in Great Britain to get the independent prescribing (IP) qualification.

Because I’d worked with the local GP such a lot, I got my first prescription pad in 2010. I’ve had an FP10 pad ever since, which is lucky. Because I was writing to the GP so much before, they thought I should do it myself and save them some work. So, they were keen for me to get my own prescription pad.

With IP, the one thing I couldn’t prescribe for was glaucoma. So I thought, ‘Okay, I better do that.’ I started the certificate in glaucoma, at City University, and then I did the higher certificate at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and got a distinction.

I then began the diploma in glaucoma.

However, whilst I was working on it the consultant I was working with in Coventry, Rosemary Robinson, retired. Because a lot of the diploma is surgical, I had to move location. I didn’t want to give it up, having worked so hard. I moved to Warwick Hospital, where I then worked. I did seven and a half years with Rosemary, followed by four years at Warwick.

When I received the diploma, I had a look at the College of Optometrists register. I think I was the 35th optometrist in Great Britain to have both that and IP. Most were heads of departments at hospitals and nearly all were Scottish, because the Scottish health board paid for their training. I had had to fund it all myself, and it cost me thousands, especially with the time off work, but it was very rewarding. I always felt the more I learnt, the more I could help people and stop blindness.

I always felt the more I learnt, the more I could help people and stop blindness

 

Because I had my own practice, we were able to develop a lot of speciality services.

We had blue light, to treat dry eye. We had the latest equipment to diagnose dry eye, as well. We had machines to measure axial length and the growth of children’s eyes for myopia management. The amount of kit at the practice was amazing, particularly for glaucoma. I’d learnt Gonioscopy, so I could do so much. The practice grew and grew, because of those specialities, and because people wanted them.

I retired at Christmas in 2022.

For my retirement party, I invited some of my local optometry colleagues. We had a cruise on the River Avon at Stratford on the Countess of Evesham, and we had lunch on board. When we stopped to turn around, we took a picture of my optometry colleagues together.

This is the first time in my life where I don’t need to do any learning. I’m sort of missing the camaraderie. But I’ve become quite interested in gardening, so I’ve just joined two gardening societies. I went to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time in 2023. It was amazing. I don’t know the Latin names of the plants, annoyingly, but I'm trying to learn as much as I can.

I would have loved to have been younger and carried on and done SLT laser, and peripheral iridotomy for glaucoma.

I had always hoped that optometry courses in the UK would be enhanced, so optometrists would come out being able to do more, as basically doctors of the eyes, so that in the future ophthalmologists could stick to surgery.

My optometry colleagues at the hospital are doing laser work now. I think we can give ophthalmologists a big helping hand and help ease their workload, and that we would find that interesting and rewarding. I’ve spent my whole life trying to enhance optometry and broaden its scale of coverage. I’m hoping that the next generation will take it further.