Postcard from… Malta
Optometrist Luke McRoy-Jones on working as an optometrist in a country where the entire profession can be seated at a single dinner table
29 January 2024
Luke McRoy-Jones first entertained the idea of working in Malta while he was studying optometry at university.
A mix of family ties – his grandmother grew up in the country before emigrating to the UK – and familiarity through annual holidays attracted him to the idea of applying for a job on the island nation.
However, after some initial research led to a series of dead ends, McRoy-Jones pushed the idea to the back of his mind and went on to work as a newly-qualified optometrist at a multiple practice in South Wales.
McRoy-Jones was progressing in his career and saving for a house deposit, when he stumbled across a job listing on the Optometry Today website for an optometrist role in Malta in October 2022.
“I felt like someone was playing a practical joke on me,” he shared.
“In eight years in optics, I had never seen a job advert for an optometrist in Malta,” he added.
Intrigued, he typed up his CV and was contacted for an interview less than a day later.
“I ended up being offered the job,” McRoy-Jones shared.
McRoy-Jones set about completing the necessary paperwork to enable him to be registered as an optometrist in Malta.
Moments in Malta
Although regulation is less stringent than in the UK, optometrists must be registered with the Council for the Professions Complementary to Medicine.
This process involved taking his original documents in person to be checked at an office in Malta – as scanned or faxed documents would not be accepted.
McRoy-Jones, who was prompted by Brexit to acquire Maltese citizenship in 2020, did not have to go through the process of applying for a work permit.
After a year practising in the country, McRoy-Jones reflected that the decision to move overseas had put him outside of his comfort zone.
“It's opened my eyes a lot. I’ve become more adaptable and flexible,” he said.
There is a strong expat community on the island, and he will sometimes see patients of five or six nationalities in one morning.
I would prefer to give something a go and for it not to work out, rather than regret not taking the chance
Although most Maltese speak fluent English, McRoy-Jones has taken lessons in the language as a mark of respect for his patients.
“You don't necessarily need to be able to carry out a full sight test in Maltese, but if you can have a basic chat and ask 'Hi, how are you?’ I think it just goes a long way,” he said.
McRoy-Jones works for a longstanding group of independent practices on the island. He observed that patient loyalty is very strong within Malta.
“They will see the same optometrist from when they are three or four years old, right throughout their lifetime. They don’t deviate away from that,” McRoy-Jones said.
When he first started working in practice, it took time to build up a patient base through word of mouth.
The relatively light workload was a change from his practice in Wales, which had six testing rooms and a busy rolling clinic.
“I could go into work and see five patients all day. It was quite a strange concept for me,” he said.
There are only around 15 optometrists working in Malta, with the tightknit profession holding regular continuing professional development sessions.
“We have regular meetings where we get together for a meal, and we talk through issues,” McRoy-Jones said.
Within Malta, while there are some optometrists who provide publicly funded care within hospitals, all High Street optometry is private. McRoy-Jones shared that an appropriate fee is assigned to clinical care.
“My work treats medical services and retail as separate. We never do free sight test promotions,” he said.
Additional fees are charged for services such as optical coherence tomography scans and visual fields, with the equivalent of £85 charged for each test.
In terms of the financial side of his move, McRoy-Jones shared that optometrist salaries in Malta are comparable to the UK. While groceries tend to be more expensive, utilities and petrol are cheaper on the island.
While he describes his move to Malta as almost accidental, McRoy-Jones has no regrets about the decision to practise abroad.
“Before I came here, I wasn’t unhappy. I had good colleagues and a good lifestyle,” he shared.
“But when I saw that job advertisement for Malta, I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t apply. I would prefer to give something a go and for it not to work out, rather than regret not taking the chance,” McRoy-Jones concluded.