Meet the College’s new Clinical Adviser

The College’s new Clinical Adviser explains how he hopes to bring a blend of clinical experience and research to this essential role.

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Dr Paramdeep Singh Bilkhu MCOptom has a background that will set him in good stead in his new role as Clinical Adviser for the College. He has 10 years’ practical knowledge as an optometrist, five years as an independent prescriber (IP), a period as a research and teaching fellow at Aston University, and specialist interests in contact lenses and the diagnosis and treatment of ocular surface diseases. 


But for all his specialist knowledge and professional achievements, Paramdeep’s interest in optometry began in the most simple of ways.

“I started to wear glasses from a young age. It was fascinating to have my eyes examined by an optometrist, and it was great that I could finally see the board at school. That was when my interest was sparked,” he says. 

“As I grew up, I really felt a passion for helping people, so it was quite natural that I would go into this sector. I decided to take a degree in optometry and qualified in 2009, and I have been in practice – as a resident initially, and as a locum ever since. 

“In 2010, I undertook a PhD research position at Aston University. There, I became involved in presenting publications, writing articles and attending events. I have also trained and qualified as an IP. So I have gained a lot of learning and experience, which I feel has really helped with my practice and I hope can also help me give something back to the profession.”


Taking stock

For Paramdeep, it was the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that motivated a refocusing of his goals and aims and, ultimately, his decision to apply for the role of Clinical Adviser. 

“During lockdown, I had time to reflect and take stock of what I wanted to do with my career and my life. The combination of my passions for effective communication, evidence-based practice, and as someone with experience as an IP, meant I felt I really could bring my expertise to the role,” Paramdeep says.

“Bringing my background as both an optometrist and a scientist, and the ability to combine the two elements so I can provide advice that is evidence-based – particularly for conditions affecting the front of the eye, which is my area of expertise – will be important. As an IP, I can also bring a clinical therapeutic perspective of the best treatment options.”

Paramdeep’s specialist interest in ocular surface diseases – including allergic conjunctivitis, dry eye disease and meibomian gland dysfunction – may prove to be particularly effective and supportive to fellow optometrists. 

“Those conditions are so common in practice, but a lot of the treatments that are offered at the moment are done so on a trial-and-error basis, or they’re not very effective when used in isolation. When optometrists first qualify, there is quite a limited scope of what can be prescribed to treat them,” Paramdeep says.

“So my research work has helped fill in some of the gaps in the evidence bases, particularly around non-pharmacological treatments that are more pertinent to optometrists in high-street practice, where they can manage those conditions safely but also with a strong evidence base. Huge steps have been taken to help address some of the gaps, such as better criteria to help diagnosis, primarily using instruments that are already available in optometric practice.”


Prescribing experience

While Paramdeep is committed to helping optometrists at all levels, he is quite clear that his experience as an IP has had an enormous influence on his own career.

“Being an IP provides a new perspective in how to manage patients, because you approach your practice with a medical management point of view. So you can treat your patients more fully and frequently without the need for referral in most cases. Ultimately, that benefits the patient because they can access their care straight away, without having to wait for a hospital appointment or to see their GP,” Paramdeep says. 

“But the most rewarding part is that it allows me to manage patients all the way through, from initial diagnosis to resolving their condition. You can see the journey that patients take, and you can then put forward that experience to reassure other patients who may have similar worries that their conditions can be managed safely in community settings, such as optometry practices.”

Paramdeep’s practical clinical experience working as a locum for large multiples and small independent practices, along with his academic work, form a strong knowledge base.

“As a College Clinical Adviser, I will be drawing on my experience in practice and research. Those two elements complement each other very well. My science background helps me to interpret the latest evidence and the guidance to treat eye conditions better.

“In terms of my own clinical skills, I will maintain regular patient interaction, to utilise my prescribing in the most effective way, and also to identify areas where I might need more experience or more learning to develop as a better clinician. Being a clinician also helps me to look at areas of future research; this ultimately allows me to give back to the profession by publishing articles that inform clinical practice.”

A message to fellow optometrists/eye care clinicians

I will continue to strive to provide better support for optometrists and to reassure them that the College’s number one priority is that they and their patients are safe in practice while providing the best eye care possible. 

Immediate goals

So, with such a rich source of knowledge and experience to draw on, what does Paramdeep want to achieve in his first year or two as College Clinical Adviser? 

“I think the main current concerns still revolve around the pandemic, so the first priority is that all advice relating to clinical practice is evidence-based, in order to reassure optometrists that they can practice safely, while giving the best care for their patients,” he says.

“Number two is to communicate the latest changes in eye care and management strategies in the most effective way. We know that members are really busy and may not have time to read everything, so they need that information presented in the most appropriate and timely way. I also really want to encourage optometrists to enhance the care they offer by undertaking the College’s higher qualifications. This means they demonstrate their commitment to self-development and have a much wider understanding of their role as a healthcare professional.

“Optometrists have done a fantastic job establishing and continuing the use of infection and prevention control measures, and I believe some of the lessons that we’ve learnt from managing patients during the pandemic will continue. The services we provide have also been really enhanced by the adoption of technological advances such as telephone and video consultation and making better use of new and existing pathways to manage patients with urgent eye symptoms or concerns. It has all served to highlight how important and well-recognised optometrists have become. I look forward to supporting optometrists in all they do in the years ahead.”

Top three takeaways from Dr Paramdeep Bilkhu 
  1. Take every opportunity to learn and understand, and to provide better patient care.
  2. Reflect on your practice regularly to identify areas that need improving.
  3. Communicate the rationale for treatment decisions in the most appropriate way for your patients.
Member resources

Guidance for Professional Practice