There’s nothing like a point of difference to attract patients, build business and maintain your enthusiasm for life. For Jake Hansen one of those differences turned out to be snake wrangling.
In Orange NSW, the Hansen name is synonymous with two things – being a big family and optometry. Not grasping the finer points of birth control and making a damn good set of glasses is where my family really seems to excel. We have been providing eye care services of some description to our local community since 1886. And now, five generations on, two uncles, a cousin and I are working together as optometrists. You’re probably thinking I must have been pressured by family to study optometry, subjected to Clockwork Orange-style optometry brainwashing sessions as a toddler, and threats of cut-off inheritances. Well not exactly…
It’s not unheard of for people to come into work specifically because they want to have an eye test from the world’s only snake catching optometrist
As a kid, one thing that vividly struck me was how happy my uncles seemed in their practice. Even though I was fairly young and largely clueless about the ways of the world, I knew most people weren’t usually this unapologetically happy at work. I also recognised that practising as an optometrist could afford me the opportunity to help people, and develop close relationships with my patients, all while providing daily challenges and yielding healthy personal satisfaction and financial reward. Ultimately, this and not blind fealty was what motivated me to follow in the family footsteps and study optometry.
After graduating, my confidence in optometry as a profession proved to be well founded and I was extremely happy during those early years. Being the younger, fresher face in a practice can serve you well as you have some innate advantages compared to your older colleagues: you are generally quicker to pick up newer technology and concepts, you’ve grown up ensconced in social media and are better positioned to use it to benefit your practice, you speak the language of the younger patients, and your theoretical knowledge base in many areas of optometry is often more current and better than your older colleagues.
Eventually though, I became a little burnt out from optometry and at times, my job seemed stale – I began to feel like a “which is clearer one or two?” automaton – you may feel similar at times. It was then that I started to seek out new challenges and to dig into the rich trove of specialty niches that our profession has to offer. On reflection, I think this was critical to regaining my enthusiasm.
Ten years on, I feel like I am very much at the ‘tasting platter’ stage of my working life as I dip my toes into a little bit of everything: orthokeratology, children’s vision, therapeutics, aviation eye testing and more. I’m once again excited about practising optometry and about future advancements as technology continues to revolutionise eye care. I’ve heard stories about how stoked my grandfather once was to get his first direct ophthalmoscope and here we are today getting instant cross-sectional and 3-D retinal scans with a machine slightly larger than a toaster.
Lastly, I believe that while we spend so much of our day looking after the needs of others, we must not overlook our own mental wellbeing. The value of finding a hobby or interest that gives you an escape from your working life can’t be understated. For me, that involves keeping an extensive collection of venomous snakes and other reptiles at home. I’m also a licensed venomous snake re-locator, which sees me helping out around the town by removing unwanted snakes from people’s homes. It’s not unheard of for people to come into work specifically because they want to have an eye test from the world’s only snake catching optometrist. In fact I have several patients that I now see on a regular basis because I might have wrangled a brown snake out of their garage… so I’d like to think that my pastime is also helping the business in a small way.
Jake Hansen graduated in optometry from The University of New South Wales School of Optometry and Vision Science in 2008. He practises at Hansen Optometrists Eyecare Plus in Orange, New South Wales.