A day in the life of a contact lens optician

We asked contact lens optician Maddy McDonald to describe a typical day in the busy contact lens clinic in Camberley, Surrey.

Maddy McDonald joined Specsavers Camberley in 2002 as an optical assistant. She then enrolled on the three-year, part-time ophthalmic dispensing FdSc (Foundation Degree in Science) at Anglia Ruskin University, which she completed via distance learning and block release.

After qualifying, she did the Contact Lens Certificate course at ABDO College in Kent, also via distance learning and block release, which took 18 months.

Maddy says: ‘We have two main contact lens rooms, two desks and a teaching area. There are three contact lens opticians (CLO): Nina, Tej and me. Tej works full time and Nina and I work part time – I work from 10am to 2pm, four days a week. There’s also Sarah, our contact lens supervisor, who does most of the ordering and administration, and Claire, our optical assistant, who does most of the sessions to teach customer how to fit their own lenses and care for them.

‘Each appointment lasts 20 minutes so I see about 10 customers during my four-hour shift. About 50% of appointments are new fits or refitting from a different type of lens, and 50% are routine aftercare appointments. I enjoy them all: new fits are interesting, and I like providing aftercare to people because we can build up a rapport together. Sometimes we also pick up problems like dry eye syndrome, blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction. They’re quite common eye conditions that we can manage in store.

‘Sometimes we may see an ulcer on the eye – which is a serious problem that needs immediate hospital referral.

‘When I’m not seeing customers, I might be having meetings with the contact lens team or doing training, such as completing online modules, reading articles, or learning to use the new OCT scanner that’s just been installed in store.

‘We see all different types of people of all ages, from eight to 80. Today my first patient was an elderly man whose hobby is rifle shooting. He’s recently started wearing glasses, but they make it hard for him to get close to the rifle eyepiece. When I fitted him with contact lenses, it was great to see to the delight on his face. He promised to bring me one of his paper targets after his next shoot, so I can see what a difference his new lenses make!

‘Later, I saw an eight-year-old boy who’s very keen on sport but has been told he can’t wear his glasses for rugby. I fitted him with soft contact lenses, as I am mindful of rugby being a contact sport or that he may get hit in the eye with the ball. The lenses aren’t to wear all the time – just for sports and occasional social use.

‘I often see people who want to get contact lenses for a big occasion, such as a wedding. Today, I saw a 16-year-old girl who wants to wear contact lenses, starting with her school prom. I fitted daily disposables as there’s less risk of eye infection, which is important if she’s going to be wearing lenses for years ahead.

‘I also saw a woman in her 70s who’d never realised she could have multifocal contact lenses – maybe she was told that years ago, when there weren’t so many options. When I put the lenses in, she was amazed.

‘My last scheduled appointment was with a man in his 60s who’s recently had cataract surgery on one eye and is awaiting surgery on the other. As a result, he doesn’t need a prescription in one eye but is still minus 10 in the other. He’s been going around with only one lens in his spectacles and is getting headaches, so I fitted him with a single daily disposable lens, which will make him much more comfortable. He’s worn lenses in the past, but not soft ones, so I did a re-teach. He was really happy with the result.

‘Towards the end of my shift I had a walk-in patient – a woman in her 30s who’s dislodged a contact lens while trying to take it out, so it’s got stuck underneath her upper eyelid. She’s slightly agitated as it feels uncomfortable. I put fluorescein dye in and it glowed quite brightly under a blue filter on the slit lamp. I then used a cotton bud to bring the lens down to get it out. She was very relieved.

‘So you can see I have a lot of variety in my day. I enjoy being a CLO because you never quite know what’s going to happen, and it never gets boring. There are lots of new clinical things to learn, with new products and equipment to keep it interesting. The great thing about contact lenses is that the effect is instant: you put a contact lens in the customer’s eye and instantly they can see, and understand how it will improve their life. That’s very satisfying. I’ve had people hug me before!’

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