Make contact – Moving forward to become a contact lens optician

Zara Ghafoor, 22, relocated to further her career as a contact lens optician. Here she tells us why she chose to move from dispensing to contact lenses, and from North East England to the Midlands.

‘I did work experience at Specsavers while I was at college in Middlesbrough and knew I wanted to pursue a career in optics. So in 2013 I moved to Bradford to start the BSc (Hons) course in Ophthalmic Dispensing at Bradford College. I completed my degree in 2016 with first class honours and qualified the same year, having done my pre-registration placement at Specsavers Darlington while studying.

‘While working as a dispensing optician at Darlington, I tried to figure out what I wanted to do next. I had a few talks with my directors about doing optometry but decided the Contact Lens Certificate course would be better for me and allow me to work and study. I could do it at Bradford College, where I did my BSc, studying one day a week for 34 weeks. That was very appealing as the programme leader, Dean Dunning, had lectured me during my BSc and was a great teacher, so I knew I’d enjoy the course. I applied to start the course in September 2017 and also began applying for jobs as a trainee contact lens optician [CLO].

‘I joined Specsavers Loughborough in July 2017. I’d gone for other interviews but was drawn to Loughborough because it has a large contact lens department. I felt the move would be good for my career progression.

‘The move was easy because I knew the Specsavers systems already. I was familiar with the area as I have family in Leicester, so I chose to live there rather than in Loughborough. I’ve been here a year now and have settled in and made friends. Everyone’s been lovely.

‘I work four days a week – three in the contact lens clinic and one as a dispensing optician – and study at Bradford College every Monday. On my days off, I spend up to 4 hours recapping everything I’ve learned, and look at the following week’s lectures to get ahead.

‘I found the course a lot harder than my ophthalmic dispensing degree. Most people at Bradford College are local, whereas I spend two hours travelling from Loughborough, although I often stay with friends on the Sunday night.

‘In April, Specsavers Loughborough won Contact Lens Practice of the Year at the Optician Awards, and we’re really proud of that. The store has been really supportive and has helped me gain a lot of knowledge in a short space of time. When I first started, I would sit in clinics with the CLOs observing, learning what they do and getting hands-on experience. I started my own clinic in October, just after my course started. For the first couple of weeks I spent 45 minutes or an hour on each test, but I’m gradually becoming more confident. Now I spend 25 minutes on each test and see around 18 patients a day.

‘I see quite a wide range of people – I’ve fitted children as young as eight, we see lots of teenagers and students, and we get quite a lot of older customers, too. I fit lots of younger people with daily disposables and quite a few customers with high prescriptions who require extended range contact lenses. I really enjoy fitting multifocals. You get people coming in with three different pairs of glasses who don’t realise they can wear contact lenses. When I fit them with multifocals, they say they’ll make their life so much easier. That’s very satisfying.

‘Most stores have a maximum of two CLOs, so you tend to see the same customers. You establish a rapport with them and they know you by name. That’s really nice. I also feel I get more respect from customers than when I’m dispensing. They appreciate that I’m knowledgeable, I have skills and I’ve worked really hard to get where I am.

‘I took my theory exams in June and hope to sit my practical exams and become a qualified CLO in early 2019. I don’t think that will be the end of studying, though. I could do optometry or an ILM course [leadership and management qualifications], or I might be interested in partnership. I always want to progress, and I know that with Specsavers there’s always a next step.’

From DO to CLO

If you are a dispensing optician (DO) interested in becoming a contact lens optician (CLO), talk to your employer. They will need to support you, and you will need a dedicated supervisor to work with you and help you with your training in practice.

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