By Roland Mak
After graduating from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Auckland, I didn’t have a clear direction on where I wanted to go with my degree. I decided on a path of continuing education by starting the Masters of Optometry at UNSW while working in Sydney.
I had been enticed by the promise of seeing lots of patients and the convenience of working in Sydney when I took up my position at Specsavers Hurstville. Starting with one-hour appointments, my employer mentored me on how to streamline my routine and go from doing Test A to Test Z for every single patient, to doing tests that were clinically relevant for each patient.
The recruitment team didn’t lie about us being able to see lots of patients at Specsavers. I found it was a great experience to develop a smooth, efficient testing routine aided by a pre-screening process where the front staff conducts retinal photographs, autorefraction and non-contact eye pressures for every patient before they walked through my door.
I let my employer know before starting the job that I would need time off for studying and he was happy to agree to that so I felt I had a good balance between study and work. The working environment was very fast-paced and at the time my focus was purely on what I was doing inside the exam room and making sure I came out with the correct prescriptions and recommendations.
Before graduating, I had assumed a corporate practice would be slow to adapt and change compared to more nimble smaller practices. Working at Specsavers Hurstville made me realise that the company is constantly adapting and strives to work like a well-oiled machine.
What impressed me at the time was how every aspect of the business was prepared in advance by the store partners and upper management. This included window dressing, in-store signage, short-term promotions, national and local area marketing, staff training from new recruits to senior dispensers, and protocols for everything you can think of at the practice.
It was fast-paced and sometimes that became very stressful, and at times it took its toll on me and the team. However, I am glad I had this experience in corporate optometry and I feel it has taught me a lot of skills that were useful for the future.
My workmate Jed letting off steam
Masters of Optometry: UNSW
I was able to balance work and study and commenced the Masters of Optometry straight after graduation. It was my way of trying to figure out what I’d like to do in the long term as I didn’t have a clear idea at the time.
My favourite subjects of the Masters program were the Advanced Contact Lens course and the Behavioural Optometry course. In both courses we were given the opportunity to connect with practitioners in those respective fields and visit them at their work for an externship.
For the contact lens course I was fortunate to observe the contact lens guru Damon Ezekiel in Perth. He was very accommodating and offered an insight into how a contact lens based practice can run; it was a great opportunity to visit Perth for a holiday at the same time. It was an amazing experience and opened my eyes to the advanced treatments that specialised contact lenses can offer patients.
For the behavioural optometry externship we were hosted by Bev Roberts in Brisbane and given theoretical and practical experience of how a behavioural optometry practice can work.
I recommend the Masters program for those who, like I was, are unsure of what they want to pursue in optometry. For optometrists who have a specific interest in a particular area offered in the Masters program, for example, Public Health Optometry, then I recommend just doing the individual papers.
Bev Roberts showing us a behavioural optometry routine
Going rural: Upper Hunter Valley
After leaving Specsavers Hurstville and doing a short stint locuming at North Rocks, I worked as a solo optometrist practising between two independent practices in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was a big shock moving three hours away from Sydney and it made me really respect colleagues who made the jump to practise in rural areas straight out of uni.
At Eyecare Plus Muswellbrook and Eyecare Plus Scone, I was given freedom to practise and pursue my professional interests without limitations. The environment was much more relaxed and the variety of patients was amazing.
I was seeing ocular pathologies that I had never encountered in my time at Sydney and had to make full use of the ocular therapeutic knowledge we were taught at uni. During my time there I developed my clinical skills further and became a lot more confident about practising independently and comanaging with ophthalmologists and GPs.
Although I enjoyed playing squash outside of work and made friends with some very friendly locals there, it was too isolated to stay long term.
Becoming a manager: Warilla NSW
I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to manage one of three independent practices owned by my current employer Susan Ang at the Eyestore Warilla. I was excited by the prospect of doing something out of my comfort zone, and developing business and management skills with a great mentor.
During my time working in previous practices, I had been concerned mainly about what happens within the four walls of the optometry room, and becoming a manager meant learning about all the tasks involved with making the whole practice run smoothly. From frame buying to local marketing, to staff management, I had to learn very quickly to keep up with the demands of the job.
I am constantly learning new things every day. The most recent challenges involve incorporating my particular clinical interests alongside developing business and management skills to further the business as a whole.
My work experiences so far illustrate just one of unlimited paths that young optometrists can take to pursue their interests. I hope it has given you a small insight into some of the opportunities out there.
Fitting my first bandage scleral lens for CN VII palsy
Young Optometrists NSW