The moment I realised... I wanted to be an optometrist

Luke McRoy-Jones worked as a domiciliary optical assistant in the final year of his degree, which changed his outlook on the importance of optometry

2 min read

Optometry is a really unique profession and the difference we can make to our patients is life-changing.


 

I would say I knew I wanted to be an optometrist since before I started university. However, a recent experience really highlighted the difference we can make as practitioners.

Alongside the final year of my degree, I was working part-time as a domiciliary optical assistant on weekends. This essentially involved visiting those who cannot make it into the practice due to a mental or physical disability.

This, in itself, was an amazing experience, and I met some very interesting people and expanded my skill set.


During one of my first home visits, I visited an elderly gentleman who had terminal cancer. He was bed-bound and was severely unwell. When I fitted his new spectacles, he was extremely grateful. He could now see his television and his books, which he had unable to before the visit. His family informed me that he had been looking forward to having new glasses for this reason and the look on his face when he could see these things was touching.

Prescribing spectacles is something that an optometrist does daily and many view having glasses as a relatively simple solution. However, this experience showed me the lifechanging element of correcting someone’s vision. Moments like these have made me proud to be an optometrist.

Read the full interview

Why did you decide to become an optometrist?

While I was growing up, both of my parents worked in the optical industry. My father was a Practice Manager of a busy city centre opticians and I remember spending a lot of time in this environment. I would go to work with him during school holidays and I remember being amazed by all the equipment. As I learned more about health, vision and science through my GCSEs and A levels, Optometry stood out as a career option for me. It combined my love of interacting with people with science and some work experience with a local opticians cemented this for me!

What makes studying with the University special?

The optometry team at the University of Plymouth is second to none and everyone involved is committed to delivering a high-quality programme.

Your years as a student optometrist can be challenging at times! However, the team is really supportive and helpful. We are on first-name terms with our lecturers and this gives the course a community feel.

As a research-led department, lectures are delivered by academics who have conducted research or are specialists in their field. This really comes through in the quality of the teaching.

The team at the Centre for Eyecare Excellence is also excellent. The clinical tutors (made up of qualified optometrists, contact lens opticians and dispensing opticians) have a wide array of experience in different areas of the profession and are keen to support students both professionally and clinically to ensure that they leave the university as well-rounded optometrists.

However, I think the most pleasing thing is that the team listens to the students and sees them as partners. Since joining the programme, I’ve seen several changes made to enhance the student experience, all due to feedback from the students.

Aside from the university, the city is lovely (particularly on a sunny day) and there is always something to do!

I will be proud to call myself a graduate of the University of Plymouth.

What do you love about the optometry profession?

I think optometry is a unique profession and the difference we can make to our patients is life-changing. I’d be fairly confident in saying that sight is one of the most valued senses and as an optometrist, the techniques we learn not only correct vision but can identify potentially life- or sight-threatening problems. The work we do is, therefore, of vital importance.

As an optometrist, you will have several potential career routes depending on your professional and clinical interests. The role of an optometrist is growing with some very interesting developments in optometry, as well as demographic aspects, such as an ageing population. For example, optometrists are now the first port of call (over GPs and other professionals) for minor eye conditions in many parts of the UK.

What was one of your most challenging placement moments?

The Centre for Eyecare Excellence (CEE) is our on-campus eye clinic, where third-year students conduct eye examinations, dispensing and specialist clinics with real patients. The first two years of the BSc (Hons) Optometry programme are highly theoretical while students learn the core clinical skills.

My transition from the first two years of the programme into being in the third year eye clinic was challenging at first. Seeing real patients every day and bringing together all of my clinical skills was daunting at first but due to a supportive environment, my confidence has grown and I’m really enjoying my third-year experience.

How did this experience develop you as an individual and a professional within your field?

I think the structure of the programme is excellent as it means the third year is all about students honing their clinical skills and building their eye examination routine.

The third year is designed to help students transition into the pre-registration year, a placement under the College of Optometrists, where students work towards full registration as optometrists. Therefore, even though transitioning into the clinic was challenging at first, this has helped immensely ahead of starting my pre-registration year.

What are your long-term career ambitions for the future? Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Ultimately, I would like to have my own optometry practice where I can lead a team to offer excellent eye care in the community.

I’m also keen to obtain some further qualifications, such as the Low Vision qualification, and potentially to study for a masters/doctorate to further expand my clinical skills and knowledge within the field.

Furthermore, I am currently working with one of the University of Plymouth’s professional organisations, the Association of Optometrists (AOP), on their Council and Policy Committee. I’d also like to continue my involvement with the AOP and other professional organisations to help shape my profession and drive some significant developments.

What has been your proudest achievement on your course so far?

My proudest achievement has been winning the prestigious Association of Optometrists’ “Student of the Year 2019” award.

I was shortlisted by a panel of experts in the field and won the public vote to be named “Student of the Year”. Being presented with the award in London was a particular moment that will stick with me throughout my career.

What would you say to somebody who’s thinking about pursuing a course and a career in optometry?

I think work experience is really important for optometry. As it’s a professional degree, an understanding of the profession and the potential career pathways is essential. To gain this, you should ask a local opticians or hospital eye department if you can shadow the team for a week or if you could take on a Saturday job alongside your A levels or other studies.

I think optometry is a fantastic profession, but it won’t be for everyone and it’s really important that you are sure it’s for you.

Once you know it’s what you want, be sure to visit open days and speak to current students! For example, visiting the University of Plymouth’s open day ahead of applying was massively helpful, as it highlighted the excellence of the BSc (Hons) Optometry course here and allowed me to visit the city!

 

Do you want to pursue a career as an eye-care professional?

Here at Plymouth you can benefit from a pioneering clinical degree – the first to bring optometry to the South West. Our course has been built in consultation with experts in the field and has been carefully designed to equip you with the core clinical skills, professional training and confidence required for a successful career as a General Optical Council (GOC) registered optometrist.

Study BSc (Hons) Optometry