26 June 2024

Glaucoma research poster wins College competition

Deborah Bott is the first author of the winning entry of the 2024 College of Optometrists Early Career Researchers Poster Competition.

Judging took place at this year’s College conference, Optometry Tomorrow.

Her poster was entitled Barriers and Enablers to managing glaucoma medication adherence: An interview study with UK specialist Eye Care Professionals. It described how she and her research team explored factors that influence how practitioners identify and manage patient non-adherence in the long-term treatment of glaucoma. 

There can be many reasons why patients find it difficult to keep to a treatment plan. They may not fully understand the disease and the purpose of the treatment. They may face challenges in administering eyedrops, or encounter difficulties in obtaining medication. 

Supporting patients with medication adherence will therefore require many approaches, so the impact of this research could be sight-saving for many patients.

Deborah’s research will feed into the development of new methods of patient - and clinician - support, reducing the sight loss that results from non-adherence to sight-saving medications. 

Deborah Bott's career

She is a mature PhD student at City, University of London, and a great advocate of life-long education and the rewards and opportunities it brings. She had originally planned to read medicine and had a conditional offer to study in London. 

When her A-level chemistry result meant that she would need to re-sit to move up one grade, she decided to explore other science-based careers. She chose optometry, and embarked upon the degree still not completely sure of what it would involve or lead to.

After thoroughly enjoying her undergraduate years at Aston University, Deborah practiced as a high street optometrist for several years. She then moved to Yorkshire, where she quickly advanced to the position of pre-registration supervisor while also working as a visiting clinical supervisor at the University of Bradford.

It was during this period that her interest in ocular conditions developed, and when an opportunity to join the glaucoma service at the local hospital in Yorkshire presented itself, Deborah seized it. 

In 2009 Deborah undertook a modular MSc in clinical optometry at City, University of London, which deepened her interest in and knowledge of glaucoma. She has since gained the College’s higher professional certificate in glaucoma and independent prescribing qualification.

She became a specialist glaucoma optometrist and later, as head of the optometry-led glaucoma service for Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, worked closely with hospital ophthalmologists, while managing and teaching other hospital optometrists and nursing staff - and bringing up her son. Coincidentally, as Deborah’s son graduated from university, she herself returned to academia as PhD student.

Throughout her sixteen-year career in glaucoma care, Deborah had become acutely aware of the issues facing patients and clinicians in treatment adherence. So, when a PhD was advertised that sought to research technology-based ways of helping patients in maintaining ongoing treatments, she could see the way this could potentially impact on everyday practice.

I have always had an interest in evidence-based research in healthcare and having worked in glaucoma care for almost sixteen years, I saw the difficulties patients had in using their eye drops. I also understood the difficulties clinicians experienced in trying to establish whether patients were adhering to their treatment, and the difficulties in offering effective solutions.

The postgraduate post was funded by The College of Optometrists, and Deborah describes applying for it as:

“Probably the best decision that I’ve made.”

Now in the final months of her doctoral research, she recently spent four weeks in India at the L V Prasad Eye Institute, ranked eighth among the world's top eye research institutions, conducting an extension of her study. She hopes to take up a post-doctoral research position next year.

When asked whether she regretted not going into medicine, Deborah had this to say:

“If you had asked me that twenty or thirty years ago, I might have said ‘Yes’. Now though, I’d say ‘No’.  With the benefit of maturity, I can be philosophical, and I believe everything happens for a reason. Had I gone into medicine, I wouldn’t have had such a varied career. There are as many, if not more opportunities within the world of optometry, and I can be flexible. I can still do clinical work while exploring research. It has definitely worked out for the best.” 

Deborah still lives in Yorkshire, and in her spare time enjoys outdoor pursuits in the beautiful West Yorkshire countryside, along with CrossFit and yoga. Her philosophy of life is to try anything once, and when asked what advice she would give to a mature clinician thinking of trying research, she said:

“When an opportunity presents itself, go for it. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. There are no limits to what you can learn, and the skills can be transferable to your career - and life. Age is by no means a barrier.”

Deborah feels that having years of experience in clinical practice has been an asset throughout her PhD, as she has been able to envisage the applications of the research in everyday practice. 

She plans to continue researching in the field of glaucoma, and in developing tools and support for glaucoma patient adherence, while maintaining a foothold in clinical practice. 

A skilled science communicator, she also wants to build this into her future career - supporting patients, carers and other healthcare stakeholders through the provision of relatable and understandable academic information. 

A very worthy winner of this year’s College of Optometrists Early Career Poster Competition, we wish her the best of luck.

Related further reading

This online peer review session is open to College members and will cover your GOC peer review requirement.

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The clinical figures that count.