January 2024 - Supporting learner wellbeing 

Mental health conditions and burnouts are high amongst the student population and there is a specific need to focus on wellbeing, particularly since the COVID 19 Pandemic. Failure to address this can result in poor academic performance and risks to patients. A General Medical Council review found that “patient satisfaction is markedly higher in healthcare organisations and teams where staff health and wellbeing are better” (West and Coia, 2019). 

Promoting wellbeing can lead to improved communication with patients and thus ensuring the delivery of best practice. Furthermore, it can benefit colleague relationships and engagement, resulting in a more positive working environment. 

ABDO's sector skills development officer, Nick Walsh FBDO points to the Workplace Wellbeing Toolkit  from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England in his article regarding the reintegration of teams following the COVID-19 pandemic.  

BScOptom and accredited Rapid Transformation Therapy Practitioner, Life Coach, Nutritionist, NLP, Mindfulness and Meditation Practitioner Sheena Tanna-Shah discusses why wellbeing really matters. 

As a profession, it is essential that we look at causes of stress in the workplace. It is also vital for individuals to acknowledge their wellbeing, get support and take steps to ensure their mental wellness is at the forefront.

How can the profession support learners’ wellbeing? 

  • Mentoring 

Mentoring is important in strengthening social wellbeing. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists highlight the value of mentoring programmes to enhance the sense of belonging to an organisation which is key to progression, sense of fulfilment and motivation. 

The Association of Optometrists also advocate having a mentor to help navigate students through challenging situations with their mentor service.

  • Mindfulness 

Mindfulness has widely been praised as a tool for stress reduction and to aid positive mental health. David Rahman discusses how to achieve mindfulness in a busy optometry practice.

  • Utilise wellbeing programmes and resources

The profession is already responding to the need for increased attention on wellbeing and learners should be encouraged to make use of support available to them. Following the experiences during the pandemic, this article explores the increasing pressures on optometrists, and the various considerations for maintaining good mental health. In particular, it highlights the benefits of wellbeing programmes and initiatives such as a ‘wellbeing room' which have been adopted by some NHS trusts. Rachel Pilling, Professor of Special Needs and Learning Disability Eye Care, and a paediatric ophthalmologist, who helped develop the initiative, says: “The wellbeing room is a place to go for a few minutes to share worries, shout out loud, have a little cry, scream, or just sit quietly.”

Aston University has invested in this area through offering learners a range of counselling and mental health wellbeing services and similarly, Ulster University have embedded wellbeing initiatives into their undergraduate curriculum with success. View their case study here

Furthermore, Dawn McIntyre, UK HR Director at Specsavers explains how their “assistance programme includes confidential counselling and free specialist advice helplines.” 

These blogs and student rep tips from The College of Optometrists can help learners manage stress and wellbeing whilst studying. 

Association of Optometrists have put together their stress management tips and advice for optical professionals (aop.org.uk)

  • Compassionate practice 

Rima Evans highlights that compassion can bring about significant improvements in treatment, optometrist and dispensing optics' wellbeing and business outcomes.

Optometrists often give a lot of themselves to patients and their jobs, sometimes to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. In fact, the NHS annual survey for 2022 showed that 44.8% of staff reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress (NHS Employers, 2023). Compassionate leadership can help staff replenish their energies and avoid stress and burnout. For ways to lead with compassion, see Denise Voon's article here.

These videos provide an overview of compassion in practice, and are also available on the College of Optometrists' Youtube channel 

  • Encouraging physical wellbeing

Maintaining physical wellbeing is as important as mental and social wellbeing. Getting adequate nutrition, physical activity, sleep and rest all contribute to supporting overall wellbeing Optometrists are largely sedentary whilst at work and this can negatively impact health and wellbeing. Clinical Adivsor, Daniel Hardiman-McCartney FCOptom discusses how optometrists should attend to their health and wellbeing to mitigate the effects of sedentary clinics. Sheena Tanna-Shah BScOptom advocates “a five-minute stretch in the morning, a walk during your lunch, an online workout video, to organising a sporting event with your work team or friends.” 

  • Building resilience 

Resilience is intrinsically linked to mental health and wellbeing. Acknowledging and taking care of mental health is fundamental to ensuring resilience when faced with challenging situations. Dr Anthony Rostain refers to the “7 C's” of resilience. 

Please refer to December’s feature for further resources on resilience. 

  • Manage workload

Managers need to have regular contact and control over workloads with regular check ins, incorporated into weekly 1:1 sessions. 

Strong mental wellbeing does not mean that leaners will never experience difficult situations, but it does ensure resilience when confronting challenges.

Have your say

We welcome contributions to Topic of the month and would love to hear your views. Please email spokehub@college-optometrists.org with suggested themes you would like covered.

Bibliography and references 

Jessica C. Babal et al look at factors influencing student pharmacists' wellbeing Student Pharmacist Perspectives on Factors That Influence Wellbeing During Pharmacy School

The British Medical Association has produced these reports in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to support the medical professions' wellbeing  COVID-19: The impact of the pandemic on the medical profession and Improving the mental wellbeing of doctors and medical students (bma.org.uk)

Home - Mind charity provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

Pharmacist Support provide a range of assistance to those in need of support https://pharmacistsupport.org/support-for-students/

Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, and John H. Noseworthy look at Executive Leadership and Physician Well-being: Nine Organizational Strategies to Promote Engagement and Reduce Burnout


Imrana Siddiqui et al’s research confirms the need to prioritise healthcare learners’ wellbeing, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pamela van der Riet et al's review attests to the beneficial outcomes of mindfulness meditation for nurses and nursing students.

Michael de Vibe et al’s study highlights the value of mindfulness-based interventions on medical and psychology students.

Anne Vorster et al An investigation into the wellbeing of optometry students | medRxiv

Professor Michael West and Dame Denise Coia provide practical proposals in their review into the factors which impact on the mental health and wellbeing of medical students and doctors