The life of a regional practice partner and associate director of Optometry Victoria throws up new challenges every day. But why wouldn’t you embrace the opportunity?
I decided to move to Wangaratta on my second visit to the town. I thought to myself, “even if I don’t like it, I can play lawn tennis on the weekends and get away from Melbourne for a couple of years”. Five years on, I’m still leisurely working on my serve and Kooyong Stadium will have to wait. When asked why I chose optometry I’m sometimes guilty of giving different responses, depending on who’s asking and how long I want to talk to them for. The reasons behind the decision, noble (or naïve) as it may have been at the time, are not the same as why I choose to stay in the profession now. It’s a tricky thing to extrapolate your preferences and decide what you may or may not want years into the future. I’ve come to realise that putting yourself in a position to choose, and having that power, is more important than the individual choices.
Like other professions, ours is going through changes now that have far-reaching consequences for both members and the public
When moving to North East Victoria in 2013, fresh out of university, I craved freedom, experience, and flexible hours. The compromises I made knowingly were to family, friends, and the city lifestyle. The benefits soon started to outweigh the drawbacks, both tangible and intangible. Clinically, the range of pathology walking in on a daily basis coupled with the satisfaction of applying and furthering one’s learning meant it was never boring. There is an invaluable debt here to the teachers, instructors, lecturers, and mentors along the way who wisely equipped me for these situations. Outside the clinic, the ability to recast yourself, and reinvent your persona in a town where no one knows you, is a liberation to be experienced at least once in your lifetime.
I was fortunate to be selected for the Health Sector Leadership Program in 2014, which opened doors I had not foreseen. My appointment onto the committee of what is now the Early Career Optometrists VIC (ECOV) was one of them. Engaging with this rapidly growing demographic within our profession, navigating our shared struggles, and helping to shape conversations around these topics was what drew me to this role. In 2015, I also became chair of the Wangaratta Young Professionals, a local social group. Being able to talk to other professionals and health practitioners in the group, who had also moved regionally, helped form my opinions around issues not unique to optometry. The elusive work-life balance, employment negotiations, market supply and demand, and the dreaded key performance indicators – what answers did they have for these universal factors that might play a much larger role outside of our increasingly less cosy, less cottage-like industry?
The chance to implement some of these burgeoning ideas arose upon entering into partnership at my clinic in Benalla in 2017, having worked there for a year before making the decision. As regular mivision readers would know, the partnership process is not an easy one and I certainly didn’t relish learning legalese or mulling over motives that drove company executives. The introduction to business administration and the world of balance sheets and income statements amounted to a daunting initiation – it managed to make foreign body removals appealing in comparison.
In early 2018 I stepped down from the ECOV committee, keen to make room for new blood and new ideas. A few months later Optometry Victoria’s CEO, Pete Haydon, presented an offer to become an associate director on its board. It made me revisit my reasons for choosing optometry. Like other professions, ours is going through changes now that have far-reaching consequences for both members and the public. Questions around sustainable revenue, workforce supply, remuneration models, scope of practice, standards of care, and disruptive innovation – these are challenges ahead for all of us, why wouldn’t you want to be in the front seat?
Living in the country offers up a myriad of opportunities to be more involved. Those compromises I made in moving rurally? Turns out it’s not so hard to make new friends or trade in your weekend brunches and cinema outings for wine tastings and scenic hikes. Who knows, you might actually enjoy the latter more.
Jason Tan graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2012. He is the optometry partner at Specsavers Benalla and an Associate Director of Optometry Victoria.