Having commenced her career in Katherine, Jasmine Alm planned to re-establish her life and her practise in her home town of Darwin. Then COVID-19 came her way.
My journey in optometry began as an eight-year-old myope selecting my first pair of glasses, having recently been fitted with contact lenses. I was a reluctant glasses wearer but finally came to accept that vision correction and optometry visits would become part of my life. Looking back, there was little hope of avoiding either as both of my parents are moderate myopes.
Those initial experiences with contact lenses and glasses introduced me to the world of optometry and the power of early refractive correction. I quickly realised that one day, I also wanted to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to help people in the same way that my optometrist had helped me.
With no optometry courses on offer in the Northern Territory, I made the hard decision to leave Darwin to pursue my tertiary studies as soon as I finished my high school education. I completed my Bachelor of Medical Science (Vision Sciences) and Master of Optometry at Flinders University in November 2017 then moved straight back to the Northern Territory.
in Katherine… I was challenged daily, both professionally and personally, and I found my clinical confidence as a young optometrist
I wanted to begin my optometry career in the Territory for two reasons: the Northern Territory is underserviced with respect to optometry – there are only approximately 30 registered optometrists living here, and additionally, I wanted to give back to the community I had grown up in.
I began working for Luxottica in January/ February 2018, spending two years working as a new graduate in a single optometrist practice at OPSM Katherine, 300km south of Darwin. Katherine is a small town with a population of approximately 6,300 people (2016 Census). It has a Royal Australian Air Force base 20km from the town centre and many surrounding Aboriginal communities.
I was the only optometrist available to the general public for over 300km, depending on which way you travelled, and it was not uncommon for patients to travel the 1,240km round trip from Borroloola to Katherine and back to see me. Vast distances create unique challenges when providing optometric care, as reviewing patients in-person and in a timely fashion is not always possible. To make things more challenging, Katherine only receives a few days of visiting ophthalmology services (from Darwin) each month.
The variety and complexity of local patient cases, and the influx of tourists/travellers into Katherine during the dry season made it hard to maintain a work-life balance in Katherine. However, my time there was extremely rewarding as I got to know my patients, their families and friends, on a personal level – most people in small towns are incredibly friendly, welcoming and thankful for the care you provide.
I was challenged daily, both professionally and personally, and I found my clinical confidence as a young optometrist. Ocular pathology, therapeutics prescribing and foreign body removals were the everyday normal.
At the end of January 2020, I moved back to Darwin having bought my first house with my partner. My plan was to work at OPSM in Darwin full-time for the foreseeable future, however, life is unpredictable. COVID-19 took hold of Australia and the world, and with locum optometrists no longer able to travel from interstate to work in Katherine, there was an unfortunate shortage of eye care professionals in the region.
As a consequence of this, I have been back working three days per week at OPSM Katherine since the end of March 2020, and the remaining two days of each week at OPSM in Darwin, which involves a 600km round trip each week.
Some would see this as a major inconvenience, but it has given me the best of both worlds – the ability to spend time with family and friends in Darwin after work (for half of my week) and to continue experiencing the clinical variety and ‘uniqueness’ that is Katherine.
Jasmine Alm qualified as an optometrist at Flinders University in 2017. She practises as an optometrist with OPSM in Darwin and Katherine in the Northern Territory.