Experiencing the clinical environment

Graduate optometrist Sharni Welran works between Specsavers Richmond and Specsavers Nelson stores in Nelson, New Zealand. She studied a Bachelor of Optometry at the University of Auckland in New Zealand after studying a BSc in Psychology in Christchurch. She’s originally from a small town in the South Island and found Nelson to be a great compromise between rural living and the big city life of Auckland.

I started at Specsavers Richmond with a fellow graduate optometrist, Nadiah, in February this year. As someone who’s repeated clinical weakness during my optometry degree was ‘time management’, I was apprehensive about going from 75-minute appointments in the safety net of the University Eye Clinic to 20-30 minute examinations out in the ‘real’ world.

When investigating different options for my graduate optometrist role, I’d heard Specsavers had a reputation for shorter appointment times and a larger patient load. At the time, I didn’t think this would appear to suit my skill set. However, from visiting stores on placement and since starting my first graduate job,  I have come to realise that while a customer’s face-to-face time with an optometrist is only 20-30 minutes, their entire appointment is actually much more in-depth and thorough.

From the beginning, my optometry partner Mick has been incredibly supportive in easing me into working life as an optometrist, and I have found it easy to bring up any concerns regarding the volume and length of my appointments. I initially started on 60-minute appointments, seeing six or seven patients a day, and have gradually increased the number of patients since then. Now six months on, with a generous “break” thanks to Covid-19, I am seeing 11-12 patients a day in 30-minute appointment slots. Some days I think back to uni when I was exhausted after seeing four patients in a day and I have a small chuckle to myself!

When I attended placements last year, I was surprised to learn about some of the tests that optometrists can omit in a routine appointment (they don’t do confrontation on everyone?!). However, the more patients you see, the more you get a feel for what tests are necessary and which do not have to be done every time. Refraction also starts to become muscle memory, as does 90D, which greatly cuts down on the actual time I need to complete a thorough appointment.

Being given IOPs, auto-refraction results and OCT scans ahead of the appointment makes ‘time management’ so much easier, as you can start considering how to organise your exam before you even take the patient in. I found this a relief after university where you are required to start from scratch for every patient. Specsavers approach, which sees tasks such as pre-testing and visual fields performed by other team members, means you, as the optometrist, can focus on the other elements of patient care.

Overall, I think it is important to have a good working relationship with your store partners, as well as the wider team. This makes it easier for you to discuss any concerns about appointment times and patient volumes – especially when you’re just starting out. I also don’t feel guilty asking other members of my team to perform a task for me. I have found the pre-testing process to be a blessing and I’ve been surprised at how automatic every task becomes once you have done it 50 times a week!

Time management will likely always be my own personal demon, however, Specsavers has definitely provided the support and resources to help me rein it in!

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