How has my experience in practice helped me in my degree?

My experience in optics began when I was sixteen. I was simply looking for a Saturday job in my local town, I had no idea it would influence my future career so significantly.

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I was offered weekend work at a well known multiple, and distinctly remember my first day being very overwhelming. My only experience of an eye test had been at least 10 years previous and was simply a case of identifying some pictures and seeing letters on a chart at my primary school.  I had no idea that optometrists assessed eye health. I thought spectacles were available as simply +1.00, +2.00 or +3.00. My new job opened my eyes to a whole new world of optometry, ophthalmic dispensing and patient care.

Over the next two years, I worked at the weekends whilst studying my A-Levels. During this time I steadily built up my knowledge on types of refractive error, what the components of a prescription were and what they actually meant and some basic ocular anatomy. I also became proficient at using the pre-screening equipment, particularly the fundus camera which continues to fascinate me even now.  This experience has definitely helped me settle into the optometry degree, as I started with a good understanding already of the basics and was familiar with the terms used, and even some of the equipment.

I finished my A-Levels and opted to work full time in practice. During this time I noticed a huge change in my development. My communication skills improved rapidly and I quickly learnt to conduct myself professionally and with confidence, to patients and also other staff.  I was able to operate using my own initiative, but also became a very good team player.  Having worked in practice, I can really appreciate the importance of team work – the optometrist is far from the only one involved in patient care. Good communication between practice staff can only better the care provided to the patient. The ability to converse with patients confidently in this way has helped immensely in the clinical skills modules and has made practical examinations a lot less nerve-racking.

I learnt how to dispense spectacles, and furthermore had a year of lab experience where I learnt to glaze lenses. This significantly developed my knowledge about lenses and refraction – something that has helped directly with the modules ‘Geometric Optics’ and ‘Visual Optics and Ophthalmic Lenses’ that were covered in the first year of the degree, and will no doubt prove valuable during the dispensing module I will start shortly.

I would whole-heartedly recommend gaining adequate experience in a practice prior to starting the degree. The main aspect I take from my personal work experience is the ability to communicate effectively and professionally with patients which is something that cannot be truly taught in a classroom, it has to be developed individually. The familiarity of the language you hear and the environment you learn in are also major factors that contribute to the ease of settling into the degree course. 

Melissa Nelson
Plymouth University