The Monkey’s Paw isn’t always cursed. There are many ways to keep your passion alive by moving within the profession.
At the end of my first clinical placement in fourth year, my mentor said, “I think you might get bored with optometry very quickly”.
At the time I wasn’t sure what he meant. Was he trying to tell me optometry itself is a mundane and repetitive profession? Or did he detect some degree of restlessness in my nature?
I loved the team at this practice, but… I still had two more fingers on the Paw, and so I made my second wish
On paper, my career path seems to confirm his prediction. My resume shows a diverse employment history with relatively frequent job changes. But in my defence, my changes have not been out of boredom, but rather an insidious Type-A tendency to look for my next challenge. In psychology, this trait is associated with an increased likelihood of job dissatisfaction, however, my experience has been the opposite – it has kept my passion for optometry alive and brought me to where I am today.
My first position as a graduate was with the same mentor I mentioned earlier – at a well-established independent practice in rural NSW. Here I immersed myself in full-scope optometry. The appointment books were almost always full, ocular pathology cases presented every day, the practice was well-equipped and brilliant staff ran it like clockwork. The cherry on top: patients were loyal and grateful. To me, it was the unicorn of graduate positions. However, after two years, my Type-A itch started to kick in and I began looking for the next challenge.
Little did I know, I was making my first wish on a Monkey’s Paw.
In my next role I took a leap of faith and joined a greenfield practice on the NSW south coast as the sole optometrist. The saying goes, ‘Ask, and you shall receive’. I asked for a challenge and found myself swimming in the deep end. Over twelve months I experienced the struggles and triumphs of running a practice, from stock control to staff training, from marketing to customer complaints. Every day I gained new-found respect for practice owners; building a successful practice is not easy.
Somewhat traumatised, I sought to return to the comfort of being a clinician. I moved back to Sydney to an independent practice with a focus on paediatric optometry, including myopia control. On some days, 90% of our patients were children. Here I discovered how providing expertise in a specialised area both raises a practice’s profile and ensures optometry continues to evolve.
I loved the team at this practice, but… I still had two more fingers on the Paw, and so I made my second wish.
The following twelve months were a career medley. I asked for more, and the Paw delivered. I was offered two positions and I wanted both, so I took on two days a week with a refractive ophthalmologist, and on my other days I worked for a health fund in Newcastle and Sydney. Needless to say, I was very thinly spread.
It was around this time that another opportunity came knocking – I was nominated for a casual position on Optometry NSW/ACT’s Council. I was humbled and honoured to join a group that shared such drive and passion for the profession. Soon after my interim term ended, I heard that applications for Early Career Optometrists NSW/ ACT (ECONA) were open. I saw this as a great opportunity to support young optometrists, share my journey so far and get the chance to listen to theirs. Today, I’m lucky to be part of the ECONA committee that is working hard to find out what young optometrists need and establish support for the next generation.
The moral of my story? Don’t be afraid of change or to ask for more. Supervise at a teaching clinic if you’re tired of repeating “one or two”, volunteer in Nepal if you’re discouraged by customer complaints, or consider study if you feel your skills are falling behind. The scope of optometry is broadening – make the most of it!
As for me, I’m certainly not feeling bored with optometry yet. But if I do, I’ve got one more wish left.
Margaret Zhong is Chair of the Early Career Optometrists NSW/ACT. She practices at Teachers Health Centre in Surry Hills. She hopes to support young optometrists and work towards a sustainable and rewarding future for optometry.
In the story of The Monkey’s Paw (W. W. Jacobs), three wishes are granted to the monkey paw’s owner, but they come at an enormous price for interfering with fate.