Jottings: Have passport, will travel

Nancy Hunter FBDO

The 30th anniversary of my career in optics, which began at Dollond & Aitchison in Chichester, occurred in 2018.

After 30 very happy years in my chosen profession, I made a promise to myself that I would explore new avenues. So in January 2018, I did just that. Brave you might say – or short-sighted perhaps. How did it all turn out? Read on to find out…

Cast your mind back to your student days. I spent mine at City & East London College. All the big names were there; Mo Jalie and Jo Underwood to name but two. I clearly remember my first lecture about how axial length determines ametropia, delivered by Trevor White. However, the highlight of my studies were the visual optics lectures taught by Mr Pipe of Pipe & Rapley fame. Surprisingly, it was these early positive experiences that shaped my next move. I knew I wanted to stay within my chosen path of eyecare, so I signed up to the NHS jobs website.

They say fortune favours the brave so perhaps fate intervened when I saw a job advertised with Care UK, one of the largest providers of cataract surgery in the UK. The role was to carry out biometry measurements for cataract patients. These determine which artificial lens replaces the cloudy crystalline lens; it has a lot to do with axial length funnily enough. Most DOs are pretty interested in lenses and I am no exception, so I applied immediately.

What a great opportunity this was to transfer my existing skills to a new setting. As Emma Knowles suggests in her Prospects article (2019), Make a career change, “challenging yourself by putting your skills to use in a different setting is one of the common motivators for career changers”.

Expanded clinical skills

Although some might say this was a retrograde career step, it has paid dividends by introducing me to a hospital setting. This is quite an education in itself, and very different from optical retail. I have learnt so much about infection control, patient dignity and confidentiality, not to mention the rigours of a clinical routine.

Through my work in hospital eye units, my knowledge and compliance in issues relating to clinical governance has increased tenfold, which has been a revelation, especially when coming from a sector where the Care Quality Commission has no jurisdiction.

I am now part of the diagnostics team at Optegra, a designated private eye hospital. I have certainly broadened my clinical experience. I’ve measured intraocular pressures as low as one and as high as 65; photographed full depth macular holes; seen a cataract so advanced it was visible to the naked eye; and observed ptosis surgery, basal cell carcinomas and end-stage glaucoma to name just a few.

Coming full circle

But the story doesn’t end there. An important part of my career development as a DO was when I became a supervisor for student DOs. If you’ve never done this, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Not only can you be an invaluable ally to your student, being a supervisor re-invigorates your own interest in your subject and re-engages your academic mind. This led to a role as a professional development tutor, looking after a small cohort of students.

Little did I know that this path would facilitate my next career change in 2019. My supervisory experience encouraged me to apply for a part-time, hourly paid role, lecturing in dispensing and ophthalmic lenses at Portsmouth University. I was recruited to teach my favourite subject, and so began another steep learning curve.

I am now part of the vision science team at Portsmouth University, whilst continuing my work at Optegra. I split my time between these two roles – one complementing and informing the other. In such uncertain times, I can feel optimistic about my employment options.

One final thought: as a new student of optics in 1988, I remember what a strange and foreign language optics seemed at first. And yet, understanding this rather niche language has given me a passport to other optical fields and enriched my working life.

If you have any similar experiences to share or have any questions to ask, I am contactable at my Portsmouth University address – 

Nancy Hunter FBDO is diagnostic technician at Optegra Eye Health Care, and lecturer in vision science at the University of Portsmouth.

This article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Dispensing Optics.