How my experience as a patient sparked my interest in optometry

Emma Dow has been visiting the optometrist from the age of seven and she's been curious about eyes ever since.

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I’ve worn glasses since the age of seven, and even at this age I really enjoyed my annual visits to the optometrist. Back then, going to the opticians was like an adventure, filled with interesting games and pictures and having fun trying to choose a new pair of glasses. The whole experience was fascinating to me and prompted so many questions: How do they know what lenses to give me? How can they see the back of my eye? What do all these tests mean?

As my curiosity about eyes and vision continued to grow, I would start to ask my optometrist more questions during the eye test and read through the patient information leaflets in the waiting area. One year, as I attended a routine appointment, my contact lens optician began to ask me about school and what I wanted to do when I left. Being 13 at the time, I hadn’t thought too much about my options after school, but the optician suggested that I might be interested in studying optometry. Despite having spent so much time at the opticians and being fascinated by the world of optics, it wasn’t something that I had considered before. However, the idea stuck with me, and after doing some research it seemed like a natural career choice for me.

Later, as I finished my fifth year of high school, the contact lens optician helped me to arrange work experience in the same Boots Opticians practice that I attend as a patient. I spent my weekends shadowing the optometrists and dispensing opticians, learning more about the skills involved for each role. The staff were all very friendly and encouraging, talking me through many of the everyday tasks involved in high street practice. As well as this, I was shown how some of the machinery works and what it is used for; such as the NCT and fundus camera. Luckily, as I approached the end of my time shadowing at Boots, a part time job became available at the store. Only a few weeks later I started working there as an optical consultant!

The practical skills that I learned on the job have been invaluable, especially when I first started university. In particular, having a job in practice is really useful to develop good dispensing skills. Although we are taught some dispensing theory in our first year at university, we don’t get any practical experience with patients until third and fourth year, which can make it a bit tricky to apply your knowledge. However when you work in practice every weekend you end up seeing a wide range of patients with a variety of prescriptions and different needs. Working in Boots has also given me the opportunity to develop good communication skills, which is necessary for a career like optometry where a large part of the job involves listening and talking to patients to find out how you can help them.

I realise now how lucky I was to have been working in an opticians for a year before I started studying optometry; as it allowed me to familiarise myself with some of the skills involved in optical practice, such dispensing and fitting glasses, and contact lens teaching. It really helped boost my confidence, and I would definitely recommend work experience or a job in optical retail for anyone who is interested in studying optometry.

Emma Dow
Student rep, Glasgow Caledonian University

Emma Dow is a third year optometry student at Glasgow Caledonian University. She loves being able to study something she’s passionate about, and meeting new people who share the same interests. Her favourite thing about studying optometry is the fact that the course is a mixture of both academic work and practical experience, which keeps timetables varied and more interesting. However, this has its downsides too, as it can be really difficult trying to balance studying for practical assessments and revising for written exams. If she wasn’t studying optometry, Emma would probably be studying for another career in the healthcare profession, as she’s always been interested in science and enjoys helping people.


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