Right now, there are plenty of young graduates emerging from university ready to immerse themselves in the profession of optometry. Ensuring their transition into clinical practice is as smooth as possible is essential to help them form the foundations of their early career.
By supporting your new graduate through mentorship, bolstering their sales and interpersonal skills, building their confidence, and inspiring them in their newfound role, optometrists can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with the on-boarding experience.
The smoother the transition for your new employee, the more likely you will benefit from their hard work and positive contribution to your practice. mivision spoke to industry experts to find out their tips and tricks.
Graduating university and leaving behind the disciplinary setting that’s remained in place since the beginning of their schooling lives is undoubtedly a confronting transition for young adults entering the workforce. While excited and ready for the next chapter, these graduates need all the support they can get to familiarise themselves with their new responsibilities.
Recent Queensland University of Technology graduate Suhyun Kweon is familiar with this transition. She says that thanks to university, where she dealt with many different cases, she felt prepared for clinical practice. However certain anxieties remained.
Ms Kweon said her confidence grew over time as she began focusing more on herself and her ability, rather than worrying about patients’ perspective of her
“As a recent graduate I was nervous to examine patients who were not in my age group. I felt like I was examining one of my clinician’s eyes because I was so used to being supervised by a senior optometrist,” said Ms Kweon.
“My employer is an optometrist who has more than 25 years of experience and I asked her if I could sit in her room during her consultations. She was so kind and formerly introduced me to her patients so I could shadow her work. She was confident and friendly to patients, and made me realise after studying for five years I could be confident to help others by sharing what I had learned at university.”
Ms Kweon said her confidence grew over time as she began focusing more on herself and her ability, rather than worrying about patients’ perspective of her. “I reminded myself of people who worked so hard to help others, and I promised myself to try my very best to do the same for others in return,” she said.
“Whenever I feel uncertain, I ask a patient to come back for a review and once you build rapport, they definitely come back and they even come back for small chats.”
TIME TO GROW
Similarly, Catherine How, an optometrist with Eyecare Plus in Mulgrave, Victoria, relied on the support of her practice owner and colleagues to build her confidence in the early stages of her career.
“As a graduate optometrist, there were times when I faced challenges in developing trust and rapport among patients. Without enough practical experience to reassure patients of my ability, it was often difficult to build their trust, but my practice owner – Glenn Vessey – helped me by providing a lot of support.
“During the early months, he gave me a decent amount of time to conduct eye exams. This allowed me to work on developing my clinical decision making skills, and my interpersonal communication skills.
“I was also made responsible for pretesting, intense pulse light therapy, contact lens teaching and follow-up care, as well as glaucoma and macular degeneration assessments and reviews. Over time, regular patient reviews for macular degeneration and glaucoma enabled me to get to know patients, earn their trust and develop positive relationships with them.”
Ms How said her practice owner also helped her gain more self-confidence by offering useful clinical advice, and “always being there to assist me whenever I needed help. As I developed more confidence in myself, patients naturally felt more confident in my abilities too.”
Optometrist Nick Stanley says the opportunity to develop his clinical, interpersonal and communication skills was triggered his decision to join Peter Hewett George & Matilda, in the Sydney suburb of Mosman.
“Fundamentally, a career in optometry will be unfathomably monotonous and fleeting if you cannot immerse yourself into a practice and truly enjoy interacting with your patients.
“Mentally, professionally, and financially, we are rewarded when our relationship with patients is reinforced directly from communications with them. Unlike practical optometry skills, the skill of communicating as a trusted practitioner cannot be learned in a course and patients will remember what you said and how you interacted, not your fundoscopy technique. Treating each patient as an individual, being perceptive to their particular issues, and tailoring your communication to each person will help strengthen this connection.
“George & Matilda has partnered with independent practitioners who have established themselves in their community as a trusted eye care destination. They offer training modules in relation to certain products, treatments or testing that is broad and can be refined in practice and tailored for your particular community.
“But it was Peter and Carolyn Hewett who instilled the notion that a successful practice is made or broken by how you treat and interact with your patients. They have earned a reputation with their patients that I have been fortunate enough to inherit by association. This same sense of spirit, about looking after patients and contributing to your local community, also defines all our George & Matilda Eyecare practices.
“Exposure to a wide variety of patients, and their needs, allows us to carve a unique communication style. We have an open-door policy when I want to confer before discussing something with a patient or if I feel the patient would benefit from Peter’s experience and enduring relationship. My colleagues welcome discussion at the end of the day, and we regularly debrief on consultations where communication has limited a patient’s understanding or experience. In this way we can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Fundamentally, it is ongoing learning, experience, and patient feedback that will help us all to further develop our communication skills. Of course this needs to be coupled with selfreflection and the realisation that there is always room for improvement.”
WISDOM IN EXPERIENCE
The experiences of these three young optometrists, as they transitioned from university to clinical practice, highlight the valuable role of colleagues who encourage and enable recent graduates to grow and flourish.
Considering the workplace and patient engagement from a graduate’s position can help you tackle the on-boarding of your youngest employees with a thoughtful, well-intentioned approach. But let’s hear from those who are involved in bringing young graduates into the workplace.
FEELING PART OF THE CULTURE
Eyecare Director for Bailey Nelson
Q. When you employ a graduate optometrist you want them to feel part of the culture of your practice, immerse themselves in the environment and take on the brand as their own. How are graduate employees at Bailey Nelson made to feel part of the culture?
The Bailey Nelson graduate program has a traditional purpose of helping graduate optometrists settle into their role as full time clinicians. Facilitated by a group that includes fellow Bailey Nelson optometrists and the retail team, our difference is that the program is delivered with a strong focus on team culture and company values that we are proudly known for.
The program consists of three parts; induction, development, and connection.
Here, the graduate is introduced to our origins, values, culture and people, delivered by a mentor who works by their side for the duration of the week-long orientation. While the focus of this induction is on store processes and products, the content is delivered with an emphasis on ‘teamwork’ to show how all staff work together to achieve a common goal.
Fundamentally, a career in optometry will be unfathomably monotonous and fleeting if you cannot immerse yourself into a practice and truly enjoy interacting with your patients
This begins when the graduate steps into their store with the aim of building confidence to make independent clinical decisions, encouraging them to start thinking beyond textbook optometry and how to connect with patients throughout the customer journey. It’s here that our tight knit culture has its biggest impact, with all optometrists in the region working together to ensure the graduate has support if faced with clinical or procedural uncertainty. This network exists to support clinical growth and development throughout the graduate’s first year of testing.
We make a concerted effort to create an inclusive environment. This is achieved through regular catch-ups with store leaders, regional managers and senior optometry coaches from other store locations. The dynamic support network exposes the graduate to different personalities and skill sets, and helps to keep them connected to the company as a whole.
As we expand and bring on new recruits, the graduate program means we’re able to maintain our culture and create a happy, engaged team, both of which form the foundation to our success.
Director of Professional Recruitment, Specsavers Optometry Partner at Specsavers Forest Hill, Vic
Q. Graduate optometrists will often be nervous about their newfound responsibilities and associated expectations. How does Specsavers help build the confidence of new graduate employees?
Firstly, at Specsavers we have our two-year Graduate Program, which is designed to build our graduates’ capabilities and confidence, and to ensure they have a support network available to them throughout the first two years of their career. The program includes a series of tailored workshops and regular feedback sessions to build their skillset and confidence. This is then combined with our Mentoring Program, which is designed to build strong relationships between graduates and the optometry partner in their store.
For us, the key to building confidence is really centred around those relationships and having open communication between the graduates and their partner.
Partners need to understand that when it comes to building confidence in new graduates, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Each graduate will have their own areas of strength, as well as areas that require support and development. It is important that you dedicate time to getting to know your graduate early in their journey so you can tailor the experience to their needs.
Some graduates will seek more direction and their confidence increases by having clarity on expectations, while others want more autonomy and thrive from learning through personal experience and making their own mistakes.
In my own practice, we have an open-door policy. All optometrists in the team are happy to provide reassurance or an alternative opinion whenever needed.
This works both ways, with experienced optometrists also asking the graduate for their opinion which can be a huge confidence booster.
Specsavers uses a range of tools to support our graduates. We ensure graduates and their mentor work the same roster, so they know there is someone there to support them if needed, and this works to alleviate any anxiety they may have, which in turn helps build their confidence.
The new graduate mentor program is equally rewarding to everyone involved and strong and lasting relationships are present long after the graduate program has concluded
Each graduate is provided with a weekly summary of their clinical activity, which gives them and their mentor visibility of their performance against local practice benchmarks. These summaries are discussed on a regular basis to highlight their successes as well as identify areas for development.
Finally, we have a regular development planning process, where we work with each graduate to create a tailored development plan that allows them to focus on areas that are important to them and areas that will improve their clinical skills and confidence.
We also recognise that experience leads to confidence – so we focus on ensuring our graduates have variety through volume. The Specsavers model means there are always a wide variety of patient experiences on offer to support our graduates’ learning and help build confidence.
MENTORING AND GUIDANCE
Group Manager – Human Resources, The Optical Company
Q. Whether through mentorship, peer support networks or development programs, new graduates will often need all the help and support they can get to ensure they feel well-equipped and prepared for the role ahead of them. How does The Optical Company support its graduate employees?
A new graduate program can be likened to building a house. A solid and strong foundation is needed to create stability to the layers and levels that stand above. This formative period often defines the graduates’ career and sets them up for a style of practice that meets exceptional standards, clinically as well as through effective customer communication and relationship building.
Prior to a graduate joining The Optical Company we select a suitable mentor for them. These mentor and mentee relationships are ongoing. Leveraging off the very experienced optometry workforce and the close culture that underpins the store network, the graduate optometrist receives additional support from a strong retail team. Ongoing learning, case study sharing and clinical opinions are at the graduate’s fingertips.
The graduate program is designed and tailored with an individual approach and timelines are adjusted based on the individual needs of the new graduate. In addition to the assigned optometrist mentor, our graduates benefit from having a network of support from operations and learning and development managers. The professional journey is about building confidence within the new graduate to deliver to the highest clinical standards, providing them with access to the leading technology to manage patients’ eye health needs and making available the latest products to fulfil customers’ visual needs.
One often thinks that the mentor program is only about providing support and coaching for the new graduate. What often becomes apparent is the mutual benefit to both mentor and mentee, as the graduate optometrist shares the latest clinical research and information they have recently gained. The new graduate mentor program is equally rewarding to everyone involved and strong and lasting relationships are present long after the graduate program has concluded.
INSPIRING SALES SKILLS
ProVision Member, Eyes and Optics, Victoria
Q. Balancing clinical with sales is important to the success of any practice and making sure graduate employees are fully equipped in both areas of the business is paramount. How do you help graduate employees develop their sales skills?
ProVision exists for independent optometrists and it has always been my mantra to give my new graduates the tools they need to one day start their own businesses. This, in turn, perpetuates the sustainability of the ProVision organisation.
Through ProVision courses, along with support from our business managers and wholesalers, our members are assisted to educate new graduate optometrists on the finer points of the retail side of optics.
This is important because, as an organisation, we have always promoted the customer journey: patients are guided along a process from when they first walk in the door, through to the comprehensive eye examination, followed by delivery of the finished product. The journey relies on staff knowledge at each point of contact and my role is to expose new graduates to all my suppliers, so they find out for themselves why we stock or use their products. Employees are encouraged to have meetings with sales representatives, to discuss the idiosyncrasies of their wares, and enquire about their backup support and warranties.
We make a concerted effort to create an inclusive environment… through regular catch ups with store leaders, regional managers and senior optometry coaches from other store locations
My clinic has its own lens grinding facility and all my graduate optometrists spend time there – it’s all about appreciating the differences, as some spectacle frames have quirky details and certain lens and frame combinations are just not possible.
I also encourage new optometric employees (and indeed all my staff) to attend the biannual ProVision conference. ProVision’s strength is in the comradery among the members and this gathering is an opportunity to brainstorm with likeminded others. The program always features gifted speakers with powerful messages for how things can be done better, which in turn energises and revitalises my staff and really sets the ‘cat amongst the pigeons’ once we get back to work.
ProVision is instrumental in linking optical wholesale with optical retail. The behind the scenes ophthalmic world is foreign for new graduates and there is a plethora of choice in the marketplace. ProVision helps unravel the mystery of the optometry supply chain, and graduates working in our practices are privy to the group’s experience and guidance.
MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Chief Business Development Officer, EyeQ Optometrists
Q. A new graduate’s mental health and wellbeing during the challenging stages of starting a new career is very important. How does EyeQ consider the mental health and wellbeing of their graduate employees and support them in the early stages of their career?
Graduate optometrists aren’t only transitioning into a new job, they’re also navigating changing responsibilities post study and, for some, an entirely different location and lifestyle. When we talk about young graduates, wherever they go, chances are their position will often require them to move away from home. They’re separated from their family and friends and, what’s more, in the current COVID-19 pandemic, they may feel more isolated than ever.
So, how do we help them cope? As an employer or colleague of a graduate optometrist, it’s important to be aware of how your new team member is transitioning into work and, more broadly, consider their mental health and wellbeing beyond the practice.
Firstly, it’s important that there is someone to keep an eye out. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the employer, or someone in a mentor position, it can be a colleague, who, through genuine compassion, reaches out and checks up on the new graduate. They may ask if everything’s going well at work, how are they settling into the area or what their weekend was like. Essentially they become a work buddy and friend. In the early days in particular, graduates have a lot of self-doubt. Just knowing that someone is there to talk to is reassuring and can make a world of difference to graduates struggling with maintaining a happy and healthy work-life balance.
At EyeQ our teams also encourage graduates to get involved in community activities and to pursue new hobbies. Most country areas have a young professionals club and getting involved is critical for meeting others in the same boat and connecting with them through shared interests. Exemplifying the positive benefits of this, Anna Richter, who moved to Nowra, NSW from Adelaide as a graduate optometrist, immediately immersed herself in the community through her involvement in music, sport and church groups. Thanks to her own self-sufficiency, and the support from her team at EyeQ Nowra, Anna’s transition was a positive experience and proof that moving to a new area and getting involved in activities outside of work can substantially boost mental health and wellbeing.