Written by: Abeeda
I have been working as an optometrist in Scotland for almost 13 years. After starting my career in retail practice and continuing on that path for 10 years, I opted for a new role that allowed me to be a locum clinician (in other words, testing when I wanted to). I was fortunate enough to secure a role with the university I graduated from, where I began supervising students in the clinical environment. Since beginning at the university, I have entered into a full-time role as a researcher in the Vision Sciences department.
Optometry in the UK allows you to take various paths, depending on where you wish to practice. Unlike many health professions in the UK, the retail aspect to optometry is very apparent, with practices situated in shopping centers and high streets. The market is very much dictated by multiple large corporations, who also happen to be the highest employers in the industry. There is decent job availability within the profession, but not everyone adjusts well to the fast-paced life of optics! My work life has been based in retail optometry and I have benefited immensely from the exposure to patient diversity. I also appreciated the structure and fast-pace of the working day; it certainly kept me on my toes!
If you are more inclined towards an intensely clinical role, there is the option of hospital practice, where optometrists have the opportunity to work alongside ophthalmologists and gain greater exposure to eye disease management and treatment. However, such jobs are very competitive and are usually snapped up very quickly.
If you want to mix things up a little, you could explore the world of business ownership and consider opening your own practice, dictating how your own clinical environment works and deciding how much retail focus you’d like to have.
In Scotland the Bachelors of Science with Honors (BSc(Hons)) takes 4 years to achieve. If opting for an English institution, then the BSc(Hons) takes 3 years.
With the honors degree attained, all graduates are expected to complete a pre-registration year, which is a year in clinical practice where an external assessor from the College of Optometrists visits the student in their work environment in order to ascertain their safety as a clinician.
Once all competencies are achieved and the assessment stage has been passed, the student is fully registered as an optometrist and can practice the profession independently without ongoing supervision.
These will vary from institution to institution. Keep in mind that the Scottish and English education systems are different and so the requirements vary depending on where you graduated from high school.
If the world of academia tantalizes you, there is the option of earning a Master’s degree or PhD within optometry. However, if you want to enhance your clinical skills, consider Independent Prescribing, which allows for an optometrist to prescribe eye drops and treat specific conditions in-practice, rather than referring them into the hospital.
The Good Stuff
Optometry offers great job opportunities and a decent salary. The pay scale varies depending on who you work for but can range from £27,000 – £40,000 for full-time roles.
What Makes it Worth It
I have always valued interaction with patients. No two patients are the same, and they all challenge you as a clinician. We learn basic skills to detect eye conditions and prescribe appropriate glasses, but you’ll certainly need to be a good communicator and a “people person,” as more often than not, it’s a one-to-one with you and the patient.
It is only when you venture into the real world that your realize every eye test comes with its own unique experience, thanks to the individual that graces your patient chair.