Taking a career break

Career breaks are becoming more common as many optometrists take on family responsibilities or recuperate from illness, take time out to travel, or focus on learning or other interests and projects. 

We have developed some guidance for those planning a career break, and preparing to return to work afterwards. 

Guidance for a successful career break

When you are preparing for your career break, consider the following: 

GOC registration - If you want to remain on the GOC register during your break, you must meet all your CPD requirements.  If you allow your GOC registration to lapse, you must re-register before practising again - this is called restoration. To be restored to the register, you must make sure that your CPD is up to date, including any CPD relating to specialist registration such as prescribing. When you restore to the register you will be given a new GOC number.  

NHS Ophthalmic Performers List - To remain on the NHS Ophthalmic Performers List you will need to do at least one NHS sight test per year. If you are removed, it can take some time to be admitted because the NHS will ask for checks such as DBS, and may need clinical referees to support your application.  

College membership - Updating your membership to non-practising member will enable you to stay in touch with your profession, maintain your skills and knowledge through our CPD provision and events, access Acuity and OiP online, and contact our clinical advisers for one-to-one advice.  

Professional insurances - Make sure that your indemnity cover, whether provided by your employer or by you, will continue to cover you during your period of absence from work. Claims can be made many years after an event and so you must make sure that cover continues in circumstances where you change insurers, take a career break or retire. Follow your insurer’s advice on the appropriate arrangements.

Maternity and parental leave  

  • Maternity leave: To qualify for statutory maternity leave you must be an employee and you must tell your employer at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the week that your baby is due (unless this is not possible because, for example, you didn’t realise you were pregnant). Your employer may have their own maternity leave scheme which could be more generous than the statutory scheme.
  • Parental leave: When you take time off because your partner’s having a baby, adopting a child or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement you might be eligible for one of two weeks’ paid paternity leave, paternity pay and/or shared parental leave and pay. Gov.uk has more information.

Returning to work

It can be daunting going back into practice after time away. When you are considering where to work make sure that: 

  • You know what tasks you will be expected to undertake and whether any tasks will be delegated to non-registered personnel.
  • You have time to familiarise yourself with the practice environment, and know where everything is and how everything works.
  • You know whether or not you will be supervising any non-registered staff, for example if they are dispensing to children under the age of 16, and how much oversight they need.
  • You know the local protocols for referrals, such as how urgently various conditions should be referred, and where they should be referred to.

If you have been on an extended break, and If time permits, you may find it helpful to sit in at the practice in which you intend to work before you actually work there, or shadow a colleague in another practice, or even work on a voluntary basis to help you to get your confidence back.  

Remember, however, you are not allowed to undertake a sight test or fit contact lens– even under supervision – if you are not on the GOC register. And you are not allowed to perform GOS sight tests, unless you are on the NHS Ophthalmic Performers List.