Is an optometry degree the right choice for me?

Sohail Ramzan is a second year optometry student at the University of Bradford. Here, he gives an insight into being an optometry student, the degree course and university life.

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I didn’t really know what exactly to expect when it came to doing optometry at university. The course websites only said so much and researching it made it more confusing because there are so many optometry-related professions. I think the best thing to do is to just book an eye test and ask your optometrist what they do every day.

At university, you’ll be learning practically how to find someone’s correct prescription, check the health of someone’s eye (front, back and everything in-between). The lectures/other labs revolve around learning why we test patient’s the way we do and what it all means. There is a lot of every kind of subject in some form in each module, but it is different to school because everything is linked in some way and it all helps your understanding of what is going on. There is physics for looking at contrast sensitivity, maths for lens optics equations, English for interpreting information and so much more. It is a lot of work trying to keep up with everything because it is all useful information that you need.

School is very different to university in the sense that nobody really checks what is going on with you unless you schedule a meeting with a personal tutor or something. The idea is that you are an adult now and that you are in charge of your own learning. Related to that, is a big aspect of optometry courses which is independent learning. There is only so much time that university professors and lab supervisors have – so you will have your scheduled lectures and lab sessions where you learn techniques for the first time or practice them. As well as that there is an expectation that you will go into the lab rooms and just practice techniques for, what adds up to, dozens of hours. So in total there are a lot of ‘non-contact’ hours because, for optometry you have the duality of being practically competent but then you have to revise to be theoretically competent. There is no point learning how to flip or orientate a lens in a certain way if you don’t understand what that means or what the patient sees when you do that and vice versa.

Because you spend a lot of time practising with people and revising or learning together, you end up being really good friends with people.

Because you do have to spend a lot of time revising and practicing, especially if you want to do really well, it can take a bit of a toll on some of the social aspects of university. It isn’t super difficult or anything, but you have to get good at being realistic about how much time you have and getting work done before it piles up. The way optometry courses are set out though, balances that factor by circumstance. Because you spend a lot of time practising with people and revising or learning together, you end up being really good friends with people. It is different to other courses because you end up knowing everyone’s name and speaking to everyone, which, for my friends on other courses, sounds impossible. There is also the Optometry Society (for my university at least) which really solidifies that relationship between you and everyone else. Social events like the Eyeball or just random ones like laser-tag just reinforce the fact that everyone in your year is going through the exact same struggles and experiences.

In terms of preparation for the course, a lot of people recommend getting a weekend job or summer job as an optical assistant at an opticians. That is because your fourth year at university is effectively a placement year where you do everything an optometrist would do and get assessed. But as well as that you will also do some things that a dispensing optician or optical assistant would. It also looks really good on your CV, which is important because you have to secure your placement yourself and they do look at that. It’s not mandatory but just like applying for university, they want to see that you are more than just your results and have actual communication and customer service skills. It is a field where you deal with people constantly so if it something you are interested in, then you need to be able to show that you can talk to a wide variety of people. You can do that before university or during it too, there are a lot of opportunities to showcase yourself. You can become your student representative of the year, an executive of a society or just get a weekend job while you’re there.

My biggest tip before going to university is probably just using your time in the summer beforehand wisely. Have fun and enjoy yourself lots but also think about the little things other than optometry. People get really bogged down on just the course, the societies they are going to join or what events they are going to attend at Fresher’s Week. No one really pays attention to the boring stuff like what supermarket is the cheapest for certain items, how long it takes a chicken to defrost or how to fill out tax forms for housing. You don’t really have to learn anything before the course because that’s what your professors are for, so make sure you prepare yourself for those little things to make the transition to independence a lot easier.

Sohail Ramzan
Student rep, The University of Bradford

Sohail is a second year optometry student at the University of Bradford. He’s always been interested in optometry and his favourite part about studying it is learning about all the eye-related problems and quirks that people don't even realise they have. His least favourite part is the fact that he doesn’t get to see many people from other courses. But that's offset by the fact that he spends most of his waking hours with other optom students in the library or in the labs. If he wasn't doing optometry, he would definitely still be doing something medical related, working alongside people and trying to make them better.


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