Sarah Park (L) and Laura Reale
By Ashleigh McMillan
A mentoring relationship has enriched the working life of 2015 UNSW graduate Sarah Park.
When she was employed full-time in one of Lifestyle Optical’s four practices in the Sydney CBD, she was soon taken under the wing of Laura Reale, an optometrist with 23 years experience.
Sarah says an ideal mentor will support you through your optometric journey and assist you in achieving good patient outcomes.
‘A mentor always needs to be present and very supportive. I can easily access Laura or any of the other optometrists at Lifestyle Optical anytime. When I give her a call she’s always happy to help. Look for a mentor based on their willingness to help you and someone who is always checking on you to see how you’re going, because sometimes they may employ you and then not really be there to support you. You can kind of tell if they’re very interested in you and they want to invest their time in you,’ Sarah said.
‘When I first started, everything was new and different, and being in practice day to day is very different from just studying. Sometimes those differences can be a challenge, but I think it’s so valuable to have a mentor there who can guide you.’
Laura says experienced optometrists need to be available to their mentees and give them plenty of support in different ways.
‘Firstly you need a plan if you’re going to take someone on, you can’t just throw them in the deep end. You need to commit yourself as a mentor, you have to be present,’ Laura said.
‘One of the things that we need to teach young optometrists are the basics of the business, so I introduced her to the staff, I introduced her to the lens representative, I introduced her to some of the ophthalmologists and took her to a pharmacist around the corner who has 40 years experience.
‘What I’m giving her are safety nets for diseases, for therapeutics, for lenses so she doesn’t have to scratch her head. She can troubleshoot using someone else’s experience and I have chosen very well-established, very experienced people as her safety net,’ Laura said.
Sarah says the added support and networks formed around her have improved her clinical practice, giving her confidence when cases are more difficult.
‘I had a patient with really high pressures and I knew I had to refer this patient for further management, but I was unsure about the time frame of when to refer and whether this needed an immediate referral,’ Sarah said.
‘As a new graduate, I hadn’t had this experience before so I was kind of worried. I picked up the phone, called an experienced optometrist and he was able to talk me through it.’
Laura says their relationship is symbiotic, with Sarah’s sharp clinical skills being a reminder of old techniques that might have gone by the wayside over time. She says it’s important as a mentor to give graduates the space to learn and grow, without someone looking over their shoulder.
‘You can’t be a standover person watching everything they do; you’ve got to give them some space so that they can breathe.
‘I’ve given Sarah a practice and I’ve kind of said: “Go ahead, make your own fan club.” It’s really good to give them some space because I think she’s responsible enough and I trust her to do the best thing for that practice.’