It’s up to young optometrists to push the profession into bigger and better things and to shape the future. That means getting involved at a grassroots level.
I have always found it difficult to answer the question of why I decided to study optometry. Like most 17 year olds finishing high school, I had no real idea of what I wanted in a career, nor did I fully understand what optometry was all about. I started studying optometry with the intention of sticking it out for a few years before deciding whether to continue with it or transfer to something else. Ten years later I am still going – in fact I am building on my professional knowledge by undertaking a PhD – so I guess that says it all.
I grew up in a small country town in NSW, so after graduating from UNSW in 2013, I decided to start my career in a regional practice. I worked for EyeQ Optometrists in Young and Cootamundra for just over two years. Working in a country town was exactly as it is often described when attempting to entice new graduates to regional areas – the patients were friendly and appreciative and the clinical experience I gained was invaluable.
If you are willing to extend yourself beyond what is comfortable and familiar, optometry has the potential to be a very rewarding career
From there, I accepted a role as a clinical supervisor at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). At first I had some reservations about whether I really knew enough to be teaching students; after all I only had two years of clinical practise. But I soon realised that working in a regional town had prepared me with such a wide range of experience, particularly in prescribing for anterior disease.
At QUT I have been lucky enough to supervise a number of different clinics including primary care, therapeutics, paediatrics, low vision, contact lenses, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach clinics on the Sunshine Coast. After having this type of experience in each area of optometry, I have found both paediatrics and outreach clinics to be the most rewarding, so I guess it is no surprise that my PhD incorporates both.
If you had asked me five years ago where I would be today, beginning a PhD would have been the furthest thing from my mind. During my undergraduate degree, like most others, my goal was simply to finish studying so that I could enter the workforce and never have to sit another exam. Six months into my PhD, I am really enjoying the research side of optometry… but ask me again in two years’ time and I may have a different response.
Over the past two years I have also been on the board of directors for Optometry Queensland and Northern Territory, and am currently chair of the Early Career Optometrists committee (ECO). I feel strongly that optometrists need to be in control of the future of our profession. It is all too easy for us to sit in our consult rooms, and ignore the forces driving our profession in a certain direction. For young optometrists with 30+ years of optometry still ahead of us, we need to be the ones driving change – and driving it in a direction that will both benefit us, and our patients. I believe we need to challenge ourselves – to develop our skills beyond just refracting – and push the profession into bigger and better things, whether that be prescribing oral therapeutics, collaborating more with ophthalmologists, or establishing defined specialties within optometry.
If you ask me where I see my career going into the future, I really have no idea. But I know, and I hope other young optoms do too, that there are many, varied opportunities out there. If you are willing to extend yourself beyond what is comfortable and familiar, optometry has the potential to be a very rewarding career.
Rebecca Cox is a clinical supervisor at Queensland University of Technology and is six months into her PhD on Ocular changes associated with type 2 diabetes in Indigenous Australian adolescents.