Ola! Hope you’ve all had a nice Easter break! Quick update, life is manic at the moment! I’ve just sat my OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) which are similar to the pre-reg OSCEs where you’re assessed on different topics such as binocular vision and paediatrics, low vision, contact lenses and clinical skills. There are a mixture of verbal and written stations in which you may be asked to break bad news to a patient, obtain a history and symptoms from a patient, answer questions from your examiner when analysing case records or answer questions based on the theory on these modules. The exam was a bit better than I thought, though as you only have 7 minutes per station there are lots of opportunities to make silly mistakes that you immediately regret when stepping out of the room!
On a lighter note, the OSCEs are done and I’ve submitted my dissertation so it’s only my final exams to revise for then I’m done!
So, in my last blog I mentioned I’d talk about working in practice. I’ve currently been working in Specsavers for just over 2 years and it has definitely helped me progress as a professional. It can be a fast paced environment in which you will dispense a lot of glasses to patients of all ages with a wide variety of lens options, whether that be just single vision, bifocals, varifocals/occupationals or even lenticulars (for patients with very high prescriptions!). You also have the ability to help people with their sight whether that be providing glasses, giving advice on any concerns the patient has or even just adjusting someone’s glasses to make them more comfortable. I find it so rewarding when a patient comes into practice concerned about their sight, and you book them in for a test then dispense their glasses. They come back the following week to pick them up and seeing the sheer joy on their face because they’re now able to see clearly can’t help but put a smile on my face.
A new exciting role I’ve taken up in practice is determining the patients’ prescription. The practice has recently bought a new piece of equipment which is similar to an auto-refractor but uses wavefront technology to assess the vision a patient may see in more detail. I am able to use my skills from university to determine an end-point prescription from the patient by asking questions I’d normally do in my clinics and this provides a much faster refraction (final results obtained in just under a minute!) giving us more time to spend with the patient addressing their concerns and needs.
Working in practice also allows you to put all this knowledge you learnt from university into practice (and vice versa). Using your knowledge of what lens options or frames would suit a patient’s needs when a patient comes in telling you their symptoms, having the knowledge to help that patient by making a recommendation on what they should do next, whether that’s booking in for an eye examination or advising them to see their GP. The optometrists will also call you into the testing room to see interesting conditions. I’ve seen patients with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, Asteroid Hyalosis, advanced Glaucoma and even Papilloedema. These are conditions which can be rare to see in community practice and it’s fascinating to see, especially when you’ve only just learnt about the condition.
One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in practice though was when I was in my second year of university. I was practicing my refraction techniques where I’d determine a patient’s prescription and the optometrist asked me if I wanted to try refracting this little boy under their direct supervision. The optom informed me that the little boy was having problems with his distance vision and he could only really see just about arm’s length away from him clearly. I did my refraction and found a prescription that matched the optometrists findings, then took the boy to choose some glasses. I made sure he had two nice pairs that fit really well and I could see the boy couldn’t wait to get his new glasses. He came in the following week to pick them up and I could see the excitement on his face as I was finding them. I put the glasses on him and immediately his face lit up and he said ‘Mummy, mummy! I can see!’ He was so happy as this now allowed him to see the board properly at school, play sports and do all kinds of activities that his vision had prevented him from doing.
He then popped back in the following week to give me a box of chocolates and a card and in the card it said ‘Thank you Mr. for saving my sight!’. This really touched my heart, as I thought I’m only in my second year of studying yet I’m already having a big impact on someone’s life. An experience like that is invaluable and definitely makes me look forward to my pre-reg when I’ll be seeing a lot more patients!
Another benefit of working in practice is developing your key skills that are essential as an optometrist. I work in a very multi-cultural environment in which many patients do not fluently speak English. This often poses a challenge, as not only do you have to convert the information into more lay terms, but find a way to adapt the terminology in order for the patient to understand clearly what glasses they are receiving and how to use them. This enhances your communication skills, as not only are you explaining the options to the patient, but you require patience and good listening skills to determine what best suits the patient’s requirements and make sure they will leave happy with the outcome of the appointment. You also work as part of a team with different roles, where your leadership and teamwork skills can be further enhanced as you all try to deliver the best patient care you can. By developing these skills in practice, I was able to achieve the Gold Employability Award in the Professional Development Programme at City. This opened up many different opportunities, and I had interviews for many multiples, independents and even hospitals for my pre-reg. Similarly, by working in a store as a weekend job, you could potentially secure yourself a pre-reg position, because the team will have gotten to know you and you will have first-hand experience of what it is like to work in that store.
Finally, it’s always nice to have a bit of money on the side!
Hopefully that provides you with an insight as to what working in a practice can be like. I would highly recommend either obtaining a job or just some experience as early on as your can, because when applying for optometry this will be a highly desirable quality in applicants.
I’ll now be preparing for my final exams, so I am unsure about when I will post next, but enjoy your summer and all the best with your revision and exams. I’ll hopefully see you on the other side!