Specsavers Graduate Program: The benefits of ‘going regional’

I was exposed to the optometry industry from a very young age. As a six-year-old who went through Year 1 with a pirate patch, I spent my fair share of time in the optometrist chair, and thankfully so. Today, not only am I able to see 6/6 with a -4.50D cyl in my amblyopic eye, but I have also now begun my career in a profession that is interesting, rewarding and challenging.

I always knew I wanted to ‘go regional’ in my first years out as a graduate optometrist. I didn’t want to just become a ‘refractionist’ after surviving five years of university study. I thought working regionally would give me an opportunity to see more pathology as well as manage cases using the therapeutic qualifications that I had worked so hard to attain.

I chose Salamander Bay specifically because I wanted the experience that came with going regional but wanted to be near the beach and still within driving distance of Sydney as well. Furthermore, during the store visit that the Specsavers Professional Development team organised as part of my Graduate Program application process, I really liked and wanted to be part of the team environment and community in the Bay.

During Graduate Induction, there were some universal fears discussed amongst the graduates such as missing pathology, making the wrong clinical call, and remakes. Management strategies for these concerns were addressed at the event and really helped equip me in the consultation room. Another common fear I shared with my peers was the transition from uni student (where you are constantly seeking advice and guidance) to health professional (where the advice and guidance is expected to come from you). I was petrified of this responsibility. Thankfully, my mentor was always (and still is) there to provide support, guidance and reassurance. My mentor has an open-door policy, so no matter what the time or situation, I am able to seek his help.

Loneliness is probably the greatest fear I have overcome so far. Moving to a new town where I didn’t know anybody had me really scared. How was I supposed to meet new people and make new friends? I was lucky enough to move into a sharehouse, meaning that my housemates were forced to be my friends. After all – I knew where they lived. I also joined a social hockey team, which helped expand my social network. Somehow we actually won the competition with half of the team (including myself) having never played the sport. In addition, the Salamander Bay store partners went out of their way to introduce me to fellow community members, including the local ophthalmologist and other health professionals.

One of the benefits of going regional is that you don’t just get to know the community, but you become a part of it. It may seem cheesy, but a personal highlight for me was when a patient referred to me as “Laura, my optometrist” and not just “the optometrist”. The possessive pronoun ‘my’ really evoked a sense of belonging within me, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Living 10 minutes from more than 10 different beaches has its benefits. Going beach-hopping on my days off with a towel and a book is my ideal way to unwind after a hectic work week. If I’m after more of a challenge I try to tackle the waves at some of the surf beaches. It’s a work in progress.

Since winter has come, and laying on the beach in the cold and wet isn’t as appealing, I’ve spent my downtime hanging out with my friends, making empty plans to go to the gym, and binge-watching TV series on Netflix. Fortunately, the sun does show its face occasionally in winter here, and I like to make the most of it by exploring the various national parks and hiking trails, and enjoying all of the beauty that Port Stephens has to offer.

Clinically, I don’t think I can pinpoint a single highlight of my experience so far. From prescribing my first pair of glasses to seeing my first retinal detachment – even to recommending warm compresses and lid massages to my dry eye patient just the other day – everything has been a highlight. This is because it’s all been a part of the journey thus far to developing my skills as a practitioner.

I cannot recommend going regional enough to other graduates. Especially with the demographics of my area, I’ve seen a lot more pathology than I would have seen if I had stayed in metropolitan Sydney. Not only has going regional really developed my clinical skills, but it has pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me develop as an individual.

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