What three words sum up your feeling of winning?
Wow, marvellous, humbling.
What does winning this AOP award mean to you?
It was a surreal evening; I’ve been in optometric practice for 20 years and this is easily the pinnacle of a varied and diverse optometric career.
Why did you choose optics as a career?
A better question would be: 'why have I stayed in optics?' My original career path was to be a dentist, but I entered optometry through UCAS clearing. It was only much later on that I came to realise that I could enjoy this profession long term – I relished the challenges that each individual patient provided and that the patients themselves seemed to like the way that I practised.
I find each patient like a puzzle in their own right; some are easy and some are extremely complex and it can be difficult to solve their visual needs. I get true satisfaction from knowing that I have made a real and tangible difference in their ability to see.
“I get true satisfaction from knowing that I have made a real and tangible difference in their ability to see”
What is the most rewarding part of being a locum and why?
The patients are amazing wherever I work, but I literally fell into freelance optometry when I was made redundant. The practice where I was a resident optometrist, and where I had supervised 12 pre-reg optometrists, was closed as part of a major restructure. The company continued my employment as a mobile optometrist, but I was travelling nearly three hours a day over huge distances and not really enjoying the job once I arrived. Something had to give and fortunately about the same time a dispensing optician, whom I’d known for a very long time, needed optometric cover. He only employed locums and as I had undertaken adhoc locum work since the day I qualified, I understood how being a locum worked and accepted the role. I was suddenly master of my own destiny and have never looked back.
The other day I was speaking to an area manager for a multiple and she asked me why I had stayed as a locum nearly five years after my redundancy. It was no effort giving her a prompt answer in that the real reward of being a locum is the freedom this lifestyle choice brings. Working the days and times that you choose, taking the holidays that you choose, undertaking the training that you choose and working a modular work pattern of your own choosing. If I work at a practice I don’t like or feel uncomfortable with, I can say ‘no more’ and move on. That said, it is also ‘no work, no pay.’
What are your three tips for being the best possible locum?
- Get educated and get trained: Not to neglect a varied choice of CET, but, in my opinion, Minor Eye Conditions Services and the College of Optometrists’ certificates in glaucoma shared care are the growth areas of our profession. They will be the areas where clinical commissioning groups and local optical committees will be negotiating for enhanced local services. A lot of this is training at core competency level, but practitioners who are able to demonstrate their competency and understanding will find themselves at an advantage over the others.
- ‘Do your washing up as you go along’: Don’t leave it for others to do a job you could have done whilst the patient was in the practice or consulting room. Personally, I only bring patients back when absolutely necessary and try to ensure that all necessary letters or additional tests are completed before I handover the patient to the dispensing staff. This includes cataract assessments, dilations, cyclo refractions, repeat fields or pressures and letter writing. This is a more efficient use of the practice’s appointments and more appropriate use of clinical chair time. It also means happier managers and happier patients
- Find the joy: This profession is amazing, but as you’ll appreciate, I am essentially doing the same job as I was when I first qualified. I have found a fulfilling balance between education, commercial, independent and house optometry, and I would encourage every optometrist to find the joy the profession has to offer.
What is your next career goal?
I have often quoted ‘finishing IP’ or ‘undertaking a doctorate’ purely for my own personal satisfaction, but at the AOP Awards I got into a really good discussion with Joseph Ong, the AOP’s Newly-Qualified Optometrist of the Year 2019, about what steps he should take next and my advice was for him to get glaucoma qualified. So, taking my own advice, I am in discussions with WOPEC about completing the College of Optometrists’ Professional Certificate in Glaucoma.