Max and Stuart Pell catch up with members at 100% Optical 2020
Given Max Halford’s credentials in dispensing optics, you wouldn’t imagine that he began his career within the finance sector.
After completing his A levels, Max joined Barclays Bank on a management training programme, which saw him taking exams in accountancy, economics and banking-related law. “I actually found the world of finance really interesting – and still do,” says Max, “but the financial crisises of the late 1980s was nothing if not career limiting – and it eventually led to me taking a new path.”
When Max saw a job advert for a trainee dispensing optician and manager at Dollond & Aitchison, he confesses he knew absolutely nothing about the subject: “However, I did some research around the qualifications and was hooked,” he says.
Max was subsequently offered a job in Devon. At the time, he was living in London with his fiancée – but they decided to up sticks and start a whole new life. “I had amazing support from my supervisor, and started in a Keeler’s Medical Eye Centre working with ophthalmologists,” recounts Max. “Mine was a very different start to everyone else’s on the course, and I saw some amazing clinical practice in action.”
“I loved the distance learning study and was lucky enough to win a few prizes in my exams,” Max continues. “The team at D&A were great and really encouraged DOs to continue on to the contact lens course.”
Max subsequently began his contact lens studies with D&A before moving across to Boots Opticians. “I ended up being looked after by the great Rosemary Bailey, former ABDO chief examiner for contact lenses, who was the font of all knowledge and a superb tutor,” says Max.
On joining ABDO, Max became very involved with his local optical committee (LOC) in Devon. “I realised I was doing a lot of work that directly benefitted some eyecare practitioners, but I wanted to try and support DOs and CLOs more – so I applied for a position as ABDO regional lead for the South of England. This enabled me to provide greater support for colleagues across the region.”
When the clinical lead role at ABDO came up, Max decided it was too good an opportunity to miss. “Standing in the ABDO National Resource Centre [NRC] on the day I was appointed ABDO clinical lead, I realised I was looking across at the old D&A building where I had attended my interview for a student dispensing optician role more than 25 years previously. It was quite a poignant moment,” Max recalls.
Helping to extend opportunities
Max took on the role of ABDO clinical lead in April 2019, and has since handed over the regional lead reins for the South of England to Stuart Pell.
As clinical lead, Max steers the Association on all things clinical. He also works for the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) so is very involved in eyecare restoration and transformation. “Helping to ensure continued opportunities for dispensing opticians as our sector recovers post-pandemic is a crucial part of my role,” he explains.
Aside from the everyday tasks of emails, reports and internal and external virtual meetings, Max leads on ABDO’s extended services programme. He says: “I am really privileged to lead the extended services offer from ABDO, working with members up at the NRC and helping progress their careers the way other ABDO staff and members did for me in the past.”
Sometimes, Max says he hears from members who want to do their best within their roles but are coming up against work practices they are uncomfortable with. “Being able to give advice as to what is and what isn’t acceptable in practice, along with some moral and practical support, is vital. In short, letting them know that ABDO is there for them.”
Max continues to work in practice part-time, as he explains: “Working in clinic is important for my role, so I can continue to offer best-practice advice based on two decades of being a clinician and manager at grass-roots level.”
With his children now teenagers, working from home can sometimes have its challenges: “My main issue is keeping the kids off Fortnight so I have some bandwidth to join meetings. It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day – but you just get on with it and do your best to prioritise.”
In the 25 years plus he’s been in the profession, Max believes there has never been more opportunities to progress than right now. “It is my goal to ensure that every DO and CLO is given the opportunity to work to the maximum of their clinical ability if they wish to, and to open as many doors for them as I can.
“Personally, I find OCT [optical coherence tomography] imaging fascinating, and would like to see how we can develop courses for our members to upskill in OCT. A few years ago, I became heavily involved in delivering a diabetic retinal screening service and then a minor eye conditions services scheme, so if it’s clinical it interests me.”
But what drives Max the most as ABDO clinical lead is the ability to support individual members, help develop their careers, and try to create new pathways of care they can become involved with. “It’s a real pleasure and a great honour,” he concludes.