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‘Casting an eye to the future' Blog by Eilidh Thomson



‘Casting an eye to the future: why early career engagement is fundamental to optometry recruitment’  By Eilidh Thomson, vice chair of Optometry Scotland and professional services and IP optometrist at Black & Lizars

I remember as a young child, adults around me would consistently ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I would claim to be an astronaut or zookeeper, but little did I know the path my future choices would lead me to. The career I love, optometry.

The digital age has had many unintended consequences on our population, one of which being the increased development of myopia, or short-sightedness, in young children. While there is a genetic element to the condition, researchers have also found strong correlations with increased screentime and a lack of outdoor activity. With more people working from home in our post-pandemic world, the amount of daily screen time in an average working day has seen an unprecedented increase.

More than 2.26 million eye examinations took place last year, up 2.4% on the previous year according to Public Health Scotland. Coupling the current growth in demand for optometric services, and an ageing population, we want to ensure access to these important services remains available to all who need it. 

To ensure that optometry can continue to support relieving pressure on an already overburdened NHS, we must continue the provision of General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) in the community – that's on the high street rather than in hospitals, where possible. The answer to this emerging problem is simple: we need more qualified optometrists, and we need them now.

As the membership body for the optical industry, Optometry Scotland recognises that students are the workforce of the future. We are relying on driven, motivated young people to be innovators in our field, to embrace technology and further our profession.

Undertaking a career in optometry allows you to have a positive impact on the lives of patients you meet day-to-day. With an ageing population, more people than ever before rely on optometrists to improve their vision, detect health problems, and treat or potentially cure serious medical conditions. The optometry profession has opportunities to work with and support other healthcare services to provide the best possible levels of care to patients of all ages.

To address the emerging shortage of ophthalmic professionals and ensure that Scotland’s eyecare provision remains excellent, we aim to draw attention at the earliest possible stage to the vast number of career options within the optometric profession. This starts with engagement in schools at careers events, and by raising awareness of optometry, ophthalmic dispensing and orthoptics as options for undergraduate study and demonstrating the various rewarding opportunities available within the field.

We also actively offer membership to students and graduate optometrists free of charge, to ensure they have full access to our member benefits including clinical advice from our clinical advisors. For example, if graduate students are struggling to find a pre-registration placement, Optometry Scotland will help by sending out a notification to our membership who may be able to help facilitate a placement.

Changing qualification requirements within Scotland to optometry degrees mean students will graduate as fully fledged optometrists as the current requirement for a pre-registration placement will instead consist of practice placements undertaken during the degree itself. Unlike the rest of the UK, it also means that students in Scotland will graduate with additional independent prescribing (IP) qualifications, allowing them to manage and treat many more eye conditions.

This provides an unprecedented opportunity for the next generation of optometrists to start their career without the need to achieve additional qualifications, which can be hard to balance during the initial transition to full-time work. The removal of these barriers makes it inherently easier for individuals to kick start their career in the industry, which will further help with recruitment.

From a personal perspective, I feel it’s important to note that while a degree in optometry is required to practice as an optometrist, within the practice team there are many roles which allow you to learn on the job with training provided by your employer. Understanding how different roles within the practice work together to make a successful team is important as early in your career as possible.

For example, training for dispensing opticians can be delivered through distance or blended learning programmes where learning whilst working is possible. There is no one path that will work for any newly qualified optometrist or individual, and at Optometry Scotland we want to support you as you grow and carve a fulfilling career in a primary care setting, regardless of what that trajectory looks like.


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