Locum optometrist guide

The AOP Peer Support Line in focus

A look at a confidential peer-to-peer helpline for optometrists facing challenges at any stage of their career

Animation of a person on a phone with flowers behind her

The Peer Support Line (PSL) is a confidential free-phone helpline for optical professionals, AOP members or not, at any stage of their career to discuss any issues they may be facing with a trained peer.

Elin Daniel, AOP events coordinator, explained to OT: “The PSL is a space for people to talk through anything that may be bothering them. Any issue can be discussed – nothing is too big or too small.”

“The volunteers who speak with callers won’t tell them what to do or supply the answers, but they will listen,” she explained.

Daniel added: “Volunteers can signpost callers to services that may be helpful to them, help the caller to come to a resolution themselves about what a next step for them might be, or just give them a space to express themselves when they need a neutral sounding board.”

Calls to the PSL can be on a range of issues. In 2023, 26% of callers discussed employment issues, 14% of callers raised issues of stress, and 10% of calls referenced family and relationships.

“The calls to the Peer Support Line cover issues inside and outside of the workplace,” Daniel shared.

“The service is guided by the caller and what they need it to be,” she added.

An understanding ear

Calls are answered 24 hours a day, by an external answering service, with volunteers on duty to return calls between 8am and 8pm.

The calls are completely anonymous and only a first name or alias will be requested.

“All of our volunteers are optical professionals. They understand the pressures, circumstances, and situations that people might find themselves in,” Daniel explained.

Commenting on what the helpline might offer for locum optometrists, Daniel shared: “For a locum, it can be difficult going into many different practices and situations and the likelihood is that some will be easier than others. I think it is helpful knowing that there is support should you find yourself in a difficult position, facing something that you weren’t expecting, or dealing with people you find challenging.”

“It is lovely to be able to offer support to a group that do put themselves out there and encounter all kinds of different circumstances and situations. We hope the support line helps them to feel more confident should any issues come up for them,” she added.

In 2023, the PSL received 465 calls – an increase of 125% on the previous year. Of the total calls, 261 resulted in a conversation with a volunteer.

I hope that in a small way, the PSL can enhance hope, improve confidence, and improve subjective wellness for our callers

Ziggy Shah, Peer Support Line volunteer

Reflecting on the support provided by the helpline volunteers, Daniel said: “The volunteers joined because they wish to give back to their profession, and support people in the way they may have been supported themselves in the past.”

“The Peer Support Line volunteers care so much about the callers. We want to make sure that anyone who has a wobble or experiences a difficult time knows that this is somewhere they can call to get support and work through whatever it is they have got going on,” Daniel concluded.

Locums share their volunteering experiences

Locum optometrist and AOP Councillor, Summaya Ali, is a volunteer for the PSL. She sees her role as a way of giving back to the profession.

“This voluntary position makes me feel as though I am making a difference just by being there for somebody when they are going through a stressful time in their working life,” she said.

Within the locum workforce, Ali shared that there can be issues associated with working alone much of the time.

“A resident may have easy access to support, but a locum optometrist may not,” Ali highlighted.

When volunteering for the PSL, Ali ensures that she is in a quiet environment so she can concentrate solely on the caller.

“I will break down the conversation that has taken place so I can get a good gist of the reason for the call and this will lead me to identifying the most appropriate services the caller needs signposting to,” she said.

Locum optometrist, Ziggy Shah, began volunteering for the PSL in 2017. He described being able to assist fellow optometrists through the listening service as “a privilege.”

“I believe it is incredibly valuable to provide callers with a safe, non-judgemental, and understanding space,” he said.

“The calls can be emotional but also positive and uplifting. Hopefully callers may feel some relief, clarity and control over the issues affecting them,” Shah shared.

He added that making a call to the PSL can provide a bridge while callers seek more formal support – which can in some cases take months.

“I hope that in a small way, the PSL can enhance hope, improve confidence, and improve subjective wellness for our callers,” Shah emphasised.

When asked about some of the common health and wellbeing concerns facing locum optometrists, Shah shared that callers have described incidents of harassment, bullying and abuse.

Locums may also express concerns around a lack of training in unfamiliar environments.

Shah observed that the background pressures created by excessive workloads, short testing times and conversion targets can also create challenges for locum optometrists – as with employed staff.

“Locum callers are worried about the continuity of patient care and patient safety, and are more worried about potentially being the subject of a patient complaint,” he said.