Considering optometry? Here’s what you need to know

Our student rep, Euan Brown, gives an honest account of what studying optometry is really like.

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If you’re looking at university and future careers and considering optometry, I’d definitely advise going for it. Optometry as a career has many benefits but I’d like to give an honest brief overview of what studying optometry is like from the perspective of a 3rd year GCU Optometry student.

Who would suit optometry? 

I have to admit my perception of optometry before starting my studies was sitting in a cramped, dark room all day flipping lenses and repeating until retirement. However my time at university and working weekends in practice have shown me this certainly isn’t the case! It’s a dynamic, social career full of new experiences every day and constantly evolving roles and responsibilities. There is an ever-increasing priority given to ocular (and in some ways general) healthcare, so anyone interested in a healthcare position is definitely well-suited. You’ll meet new people every day and will spend time with each of them, so those who love working with people will definitely enjoy optometry. The course itself has a lot of work involving maths, physics and biology- so if you’ve enjoyed these, you’ll be off to a good start. Also worth mentioning is that you have the option to work in hospitals or as a locum- travelling around providing cover at practices who need it and also domiciliary work- travelling to people’s homes to provide sight tests. 

What will I get out of it?    

One of the first things that any optom student would tell you that it’s a stressful and time-consuming course with great responsibility attached. However this is true of most degrees, and while it certainly is a challenge, it is a well-rewarded challenge. 

There is, of course the amazing career which you’ll earn: a well-respected, well-paid, highly social position at the heart of your community; helping thousands with their visual and ocular healthcare needs. You’ll also be desirable anywhere in the country and can earn and progress particularly well in rural areas. You’ll also be choosing a career which isn’t threatened by future automation.  

But by studying optometry you’ll also earn many personal benefits and have a truly great time. You’ll find that you will develop greatly as a person during your studies. Your communication skills, personal confidence, time management, teamwork and decision-making skills will improve greatly as they are essential to success.

Another thing to mention is the amazing social element.  Everyone who enrols in optometry will be very nice and easy to get along with (most will like working with people and will be doing it for that reason). And even if not, hours spent within centimetres of each other’s faces in clinics will get you well-acquainted and remove any awkwardness you may have with someone. You’ll end up knowing everyone at your level very well and other students of other levels will be equally nice and ready to socialise on night out and other social activities.

But the students aren’t the only ones who you’ll spend four years with. Lecturers, tutors and other faculty will be with you throughout your time at university and many will become very close to you - especially if you see them regularly in clinics. And a few are also just as up for the social events as the students and in general are fantastic people.

How is the course structured?

At GCU, Optometry is a four year honours degree, unlike other university courses, which are usually three years. The full breakdown of the years can be found on the uni website however the basics are as follows. First and second year are mostly theory with some practical elements practiced on other students. In third year you have clinics with mostly elderly volunteer patients and you begin supervised full sight tests on the public in fourth year. Each year consists of modules and you must pass all to proceed to the next year. Module coursework usually involves written class tests, essays, practical exams, presentations or lab reports. Then each January and April, you have your final exams for the modules. It can be hard to balance elements, particularly as the years progress, but if you manage yourself well you can do it without too much worry.

Honestly; are there any negatives?

There are a few tough modules and a lot to learn in general. Remember, you’ll be responsible for the public’s health so you have to know what you’re doing. Also, having full-time uni with a weekend job (the best way you’ll learn) can be challenging for many to manage, so you have to be willing to sacrifice some social time for your degree. But overall I’d say no – there aren’t any negatives. These aren’t big things and the benefits are well worth any sacrifices.

What to do now    

So if you’re still considering studying optometry (which again I’d highly recommend) what should you do now to give yourself the best start? 

The biggest possible help is finding work experience, or even better a part-time job, in practice. Firstly- it will it look great on your application.

By working in an optometry practice you’ll be able to practice dispensing and repairing glasses, and also solving problems people are having with them- all of which are examined throughout your degree and will be necessary for your pre-reg year after uni. You’ll also have access to a test room and qualified optometrists who can help you to practice clinical tests or give tips on how to improve your routine. If you’re in a larger practice, you may also work with dispensing opticians who can help with understanding of dispensing and problem solving - and potentially other students who can share their experience and give tips on how to do well throughout uni. 

But the biggest advantage to working in practice is how much it will improve your communication skills and confidence. These will be key to your success at uni and beyond -and the earlier start the better. When in clinics you have to effectively communicate your entire routine to every patient, including those with communication difficulties, so having prior experience while working will benefit you greatly. Also remember that in your career you’re working in a competitive market and good communication is expected by any employer.

Euan Brown
Student rep, Glasgow Caledonian University

Euan is a third year optometry student and one of the COO student reps at GCU. If you need to find him around uni, and he’s not in a lecture/clinic, he says he’s likely be in an area which serves food :) or you can always get him on Facebook. Euan’s favourite aspect of studying optometry is the social side of it - getting to know new patients in clinics and customers in practice at weekends and of course all the great students and faculty at GCU. The least favourite aspect of studying optometry is the thought of pre-reg year.  


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