More than a DO

Jessica Gowing

Paediatric Dispensing Optician at GOSH

How long have you been a Dispensing Optician?

I started as a trainee Dispensing Optician in 2008 so about 11 years.

What made you decide to be a Dispensing Optician?

I had just finished a degree in Biology, and I knew I wanted to do something in health care which entailed working with people. The course in Dispensing Optics, really appealed to me as it meant I could work and train at the same time and it also combined my love of science with my desire to help people.

You specialise in Children’s dispensing tell us more

I work in the Ophthalmology Department at Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is a tertiary referral centre seeing and treating paediatric patients with a wide variety of complex and rare eye diseases and conditions. The Ophthalmology department sees over 20,000 patients every year so is very busy! There are a number of specialities within the department including electrophysiology, orthoptics, optometry, ophthalmology and an eye clinic liaison service. It is amazing to be part of such a brilliant team.

I set up the dispensing service at the hospital in 2013 and it has continued to grow – we now have a team of three dispensing opticians seeing around 2500 patients a year. Many of the patients I see have very complex prescription and fitting requirements, for example craniosynostosis (a condition affecting the growth of the skull and facial bones), epidermolysis bullosa (a genetic condition that causes painful blistering of the skin), and microtia (a congenital deformity where the ear is underdeveloped). A standard pair of glasses for these patients do not provide an adequate fit and so I am often required to think outside the box, modifying and adapting glasses for each individual patient’s specific needs. More recently, we have been working on 3D printing of glasses designed around a 3D scan of a patient’s head. We hope that this will allow us to provide a bespoke service and glasses designed perfectly for patients with special fitting needs.

What's the best part of being a Dispensing Optician?

I love every aspect of my job; managing the business side of the service, the many challenges that present themselves on a daily basis and innovating new frame fitting techniques, but without a doubt the best bit is working with the kids. They make me laugh every day and are so inspiring.

I feel very lucky to be able to witness and help a child to see the world clearly for the first time with their new glasses, especially congenital cataract babies when they try on their first aphakic specs after surgery! I am very passionate about paediatric dispensing – It is really rewarding to feel I am helping, if only in a small way, to give them the best fitting, most comfortable pair of glasses possible and to help them to achieve the best possible visual outcome.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about training to be a dispensing optician?

For anyone thinking of a career in dispensing optics, I would really recommend it. I have found it to be a totally absorbing and rewarding profession. It helps to have a good grasp of mathematics, excellent attention to detail, an interest in fashion and, very importantly, to enjoy working with people. It may be possible to get experience by checking with your local optician to see if you could have work experience there which would offer a great insight into the role and what’s involved.