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Optometry in the real world


By Lindsay Bloch


When I was studying optometry, I had planned to graduate, work for others for a few years and eventually open my own practice.

From my fourth year of study, I watched Specsavers stores increase in number while private and chain practices closed. Because of this, I wanted to make sure that I became the best optometrist I could be before I opened my own practice.

After graduating, I joined a Specsavers graduate program where I stayed for two years. I also worked part-time or casually in independent practices in the CBD and in Warilla, as a locum, and for an ophthalmology company with multiple practices. Currently, I work three days a week for the Centre for Eye Health and two days a week in a private practice.

My goals and interests have changed somewhat during my five years. I didn't realise it at the time but when I started working, I saw work as a means to earn an income. If you become more efficient at a certain job and make more for your employer, you should be entitled to more income.

But you are also spending a minimum of 38 hours in one place every week for a substantial period of time. If the work environment puts you under some form of stress, it can affect your mood, health and attitude towards the place you work in. 

In my first postgraduate job, I was focused on improving my optometry skills. For the first few months, I took really short lunch breaks so I would have time to see more patients, but then I’d get really hungry, so I kept a bucket of Maltesers in the cupboard at work to snack on. After 18 months of this, I had put on about 10 kilograms and four patients had asked me if I was pregnant. I wasn’t. 

At this stage, I decided to work on my health. Since mid-2011, I have been making a point of taking a proper break while at work and pre-making lunch, and I have taken up fitness-related hobbies like flying trapeze and touch footy. Having a hobby unrelated to optometry allowed me to focus on something else, which meant less stress at work.

It is important to discover what you want out of optometry. Working in multiple practices during the week will quickly improve your knowledge of lens types for patients and different work practices, as most places will have protocols for their own practices.

If you are planning to open your own practice, working in one single practice will give you the opportunity to see how your employer does it. From my experience, small practices are more likely to let you try new things in an attempt to build the business.

Are you having problems with looking too young to be an optometrist? I must admit, I’m 27 and look 17. When I started, I got a lot of, ‘Are you sure you are a real optometrist?’ and ‘Are you doing work experience?’

I found that wearing suits and brown, grey and black clothing help to combat this. Ironically, so does an engagement ring. As soon as I got engaged, significantly fewer people were asking me how old I was.

Currently, I enjoy working for Centre for Eye Health. The staff members work well together and there is always something new to learn. Participation in longer-term projects is encouraged. I am able to draw on my experiences there and apply them to regular practice in management of more tricky cases.

Whether I end up opening my own practice, we will wait and see.

Reproduced with permission from YO NSW

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