Starting a course in optometry?

Second year student, Suzan Kisin, provides an honest account of what it's like to study optometry - and what she would do differently if she knew then what she knows now.

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Why should you do work experience? 

I started my optometry course without any experience in optics at all. Most of my peers had experience from working at their local opticians or were qualified DO’s (dispensing opticians), and I felt like everyone had a better understanding of optometry than me. So, during my first semester, I applied to an independent near my university, and I got a flexible job which really helped me with the dispensing side of optometry. During the first six months as an optical assistant, I was learning of what types of lenses were available, how to interpret prescriptions and how to actually reach the financial target you were set daily. 

TIP: If you are thinking of applying for optometry, make sure you get some experience or work shadowing at your local opticians (independent or multiple chains). If you have the opportunity to get a summer or weekend job as an optical assistant, then this will make your life so much easier when it comes to the dispensing aspect of optometry. Furthermore, it helps you develop your communication and interpersonal skills. As an optometrist, dialogue and conduct with patients are a crucial part of your career. 

I wish I had known about this before… 

During my first year, I had to do exams in optics, and I believe most UK optometry courses have optics integrated into the first year. I remember my first lecture in fundamentals of optics, which felt like a nightmare. I struggled with the complex equations and complicated terminology in optical physics. If I had researched which modules I would be studying, in the summer before I started university, then I would have found it less terrifying. If you have studied A-level physics, then this module will be no problem for you!

TIP: Make sure you find out which modules you will be covering, and study some of the basics in the free time you have. During your first semester, you will cover a lot of human anatomy and biology theory. So, if you are doing A-level biology, make sure you don’t forget that knowledge, and if you didn’t do A-level biology, then it’s a good idea to read about how human mechanisms, organs and muscles function. 

University vs sixth form

There are various differences between university and sixth form college. In sixth form, there is a lot of monitoring and support from your teachers/tutors; a lot of mini progress tests, quizzes, and exams. On the other hand, at university you have a whole semester of lectures and it’s up to YOU to test yourself. There’s a lot of independent studying and reading around the subject. When I was a sixth form student, I remember I would mainly revise and learn from past paper questions. However, at university there’s a limit to the number of questions you can access, and you need to make sure you know every detail because there’s an immense variety of questions that could be asked. In summary, when you become a university student you need more self-discipline, effective revision techniques and great time management skills. 


As I am approaching the end of my second year, I can say the workload compared to the first year is so much more intense! Every semester the workload doubles - you have so much to do in so little time. The theory you learn along the way needs to be applied to patients, and you need to be able to distinguish between so many symptoms, signs and clinical findings. It’s not only revising for written exams, it’s also about revising for OSCE’s (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). OSCE’s are practical clinical exams where you perform your optometric techniques on surrogate patients with an examiner assessing you. The best way to revise for them is to practice your techniques on a wide range of people, including all your friends and family. Also, the universities have a lot of extra clinical sessions to enhance your skills, with a supervisor there to help you. The real fun optometry starts when you learn to do retinoscopy and ophthalmoscopy. The back of the eye has so many features, and it’s very interesting to learn about it. 

Overall, optometry is fascinating; from the intricate biology of the eye and the engaging concept of binocular vision to helping and supporting patients. 


Suzan Kisin
Student rep, University of Hertfordshire

Suzan Kisin is a second year student at University of Hertfordshire. Her favourite things about optometry is the intricate, yet fascinating science behind all the eye diseases and condition, and how it unifies anatomy, practical skills, communication all in one great profession. The least favourite is trying to maintain an equilibrium between workload and student life. If Suzan  wasn't studying optometry, she would probably be studying something related to science and healthcare. You can usually find her in the library or drinking coffee at Starbucks! 


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