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How I got here

“If you don’t carry on learning and developing, you’ll be left behind”

Navneet Gupta, professional education lead at Thea, on how his passion for optometry education developed

Navneet Gupta is wearing a dark grey suit and smiling widely at the camera
Navneet Gupta
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I was probably around 10 or 11, and I remember going to have an eye test.

The whole experience was quite frightening. I had noticed floaters for a while, but I didn’t tell the optometrist or my parents. Throughout the whole sight test, I sat there afraid of what was going to be found. 

The minute the optometrist put yellow fluorescence dye into my eyes, internally I freaked out. I related it to the floaters, thinking that something was definitely wrong. He didn’t explain why he was going to put the drops in; he didn’t explain anything about what he found.

At the end, he said, ‘Let’s go and talk to your parents.’ We went out, and all he said to my dad was, ‘Yeah, everything is fine.’ I had relief in the sense that everything was okay, but complete and utter confusion as to what was going on. That was the first time I thought, “I really want to know what these black things are in my eyes.”

For years after that I was really interested in biology; it was my favourite subject in school. Putting that together with that experience is where the whole optometry story started for me.

I studied at Aston University. I enjoyed my final year dissertation, and the relationship I built with my supervisor, Professor Shehzad Naroo.

That was the start of the rest of my career, because it was my first exposure to research. Professor Naroo opened my eyes to the world of academia, and really instilled my drive to do a PhD.

I was always in the top two students for end of year results, and at the end of my degree I received the highest mark in the whole year. That was a big highlight.

I completed my pre-reg, and then worked in practice for 15 months before returning to Aston University to start my PhD in October 2005.

The PhD was on assessing visual function in presbyopia. It was very mathematical and psychological. The primary focus was about developing a questionnaire that would allow you to assess and measure patient satisfaction with presbyopic corrections. The second part involved looking into accommodating intraocular lenses and multifocal contact lenses and their performance, and measuring patient satisfaction with them.

We made up the phrase ‘pre post-doc.’ Normally when people finish a PhD, one of the potential routes is postdoctoral research. In the last six months of my PhD, I also completed a separate research project on ocular allergies. I finished that, then finished my PhD, so I almost did it in reverse.

The first role I went into after my PhD was as clinical editor for Optometry Today (OT).

Working with OT was my first exposure of dealing with CET, as it was then. That was a fantastic space to learn what CET was all about: how to write, how to edit, and how to publish appropriate materials. It also opened doors and helped me to start building relationships with experts in all kinds of areas: dry eye, colour vision, pathologies of the eyes, ophthalmologists – a whole host of different contacts and networks. I absolutely loved working with the team at OT.

I worked with OT for four and a half years. Because it was a part-time role, I was still doing clinical work, so I was working as a locum in practice. I dabbled in different things. During that time, I started working for Optimax in refractive surgery as well.

I also became a College of Optometrists assessor, assessing Stage one and Stage two of the Scheme for Registration.

During my PhD, Aston had asked me to do two days of clinical teaching. That was my first exposure to teaching, and I really enjoyed it. Putting that together with the experiences I had through OT made me want to go down the road of becoming an assessor, because I absolutely loved the education side of things.

I also started working with the General Optical Council (GOC), as an education visitor panel member.

This role involved me visiting different optometry and dispensing programmes across the country and doing their accreditation visits, to make sure that they were meeting the GOC standards.

Towards the end of my time at OT, I also started working in hospitals, taking my clinical work away from the High Street and into secondary care.

I started working for NewMedica, based in Nuneaton at the George Eliot Hospital.

I stayed there for seven or eight years. I did the odd clinic in Northampton, but my primary base was the George Eliot. I did move away for about a year or so during that time, to Burton-upon-Trent. The Trust there has two sites, Burton and Lichfield. I was split between the two sites, doing glaucoma and post-op cataract clinics.

Working in the hospital was the impetus to do more continuing personal professional development. Throughout my time at the hospital, I completed the independent prescribing qualification, the College of Optometrists’ professional certificate in glaucoma and then the higher certificate in glaucoma. That allowed me to do more work within the hospital, complemented my own skill set, and meant I could start managing more complex cases.

Working in the hospital was the impetus to do more continuing personal professional development

 
 

When COVID-19 hit, more or less everything I used to do in the hospital came to an end.

I joined Carl Zeiss Vision in September 2021. That was my first foray into professional services and an industry role, rather than a clinical role.

I enjoyed the professional services work. It was a complete step change, because I went into a corporate environment, to work with a whole host of different people and personalities. In terms of skill sets, it’s a completely different world – supply chain and marketing are people I had never encountered or worked with before.

Plan B?

Accountancy. I had a fascination with money – how business operate and make profits and losses, and things like that.

 

It was a very steep learning curve, but great to get a totally different perspective on the working world in optics. I’d benefited from having a self-employed portfolio career, where I didn’t get too involved in office-based work. This was the first time I’d been in an office-based role.

I was at Zeiss just under two years, and then I moved on to become professional education lead at Thea, where I am now.

At the end of November 2023 I had been there six months, so it is still really new. There’s a strong focus on education. In my previous role, there was a fair amount of retail sales and a corporate approach. I’m not saying that doesn't exist here, but the focus is very much on teaching, training, CPD – the kind of things I enjoy, and that are my forte from having a clinical background.

We’re starting to deliver dry eye and blepharitis-focused educational events to university students. Thea holds education close to its heart, educating practitioners from the young, through to newly qualified and even those who are reaching the end of their careers, but still doing CPD.

We also do a fair amount of education for ophthalmologists. I don’t necessarily deliver them, but I’m involved in organising and doing CPD applications for those kinds of events as well.

Thea sells pharmaceuticals across the board: optometrists and ophthalmology, but also to pharmacies as well. We’re increasingly getting more engaged with community pharmacists, and supporting their activities and education, which is new for me.

It would be nice to grow a team at Thea, so that I can develop management skills and responsibilities and help support and deliver education for all arms of the business, right across the country.

At the moment, I’m a one-man team. It would be amazing to be a part of that journey, where we start to develop a team of education specialists and become renowned for that. That would probably be my short to medium-term goal.

Long-term, who knows? I may have ambitions to have some kind of global role, perhaps, and be able to make a difference not just within the UK, but maybe across the company in other markets as well.

Fundamentally, teaching is about being able to help someone to become a better practitioner.

If you’ve got a lot of experience behind you, the joy of being able to understand something and pass that on to somebody else for them to understand and make use of and become a better practitioner for their patients – that’s what makes me tick.

I can categorically say that everything I’ve done has given me an experience that I’ve leaned on when I’ve gone into another role or another environment. I look at my career and think, “I’m so glad I did everything I’ve ever done.”