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HomemiprofessionFinding Your Path Under Pressure

Finding Your Path Under Pressure

Optometry’s diverse career pathways can feel overwhelming for graduates. However, they’re not always mutually exclusive – at times they converge or overlap.

Being a fresh-faced final year optometry student looking for a graduate job is like being in an all-you-can-eat buffet. But instead of having to choose between a selection of carved meats and sushi, you’re faced with deciding on options like corporate versus independent, rural versus metro, or picking between the various specialities. Much like choosing what to eat, there are no right or wrong choices: only things that you like or don’t like. Although university tries to help you understand your preferences by exposing you to several of the pathways optometry has to offer, very few know exactly what they want right after graduation.

My role… has allowed me to be part of a research team at the forefront of glaucoma research in Australia, and to see the impact of this work in clinical practice

After graduating in 2016, I began my journey at the Centre for Eye Health (CFEH). For those unfamiliar with CFEH, it started as an initiative of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and the University of New South Wales, offering ocular imaging and diagnostic services with a primary focus on posterior eye diseases. As a new graduate, the unique nature of the Centre meant I didn’t face some of the issues or challenges that faced some of my colleagues. For example, I’m not the first point of contact for patients and I rarely directly provide them with primary eye care. Instead, I work in collaboration with the primary optometrist to provide a targeted eye disease assessment to those identified as ‘at-risk’ of developing eye conditions. Another unique point of difference is I don’t have to ‘sell’ anything to patients. As the Centre is funded by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, patients incur no additional out of pocket expenses when undergoing even the most advanced of imaging tests. Given this unique set up, to many of my classmates, the Centre was an unconventional choice.

My current role at CFEH involves a unique mix of clinical, teaching and research duties. Two to three days a week, I spend my time seeing patients referred to CFEH. On the other days, I’m writing ethics applications, recruiting subjects, collecting and analysing data or writing up papers. My current research interest is in improving our understanding of eye diseases and how they are assessed clinically. I have been fortunate to present some of my research at international conferences, including Association for Research in Vision & Ophthalmology (ARVO), International Visual Field & Imaging Symposium, and the American Academy of Optometry meeting.

My role with CFEH has allowed me to be part of a research team at the forefront of glaucoma research in Australia, and to see the impact of this work in clinical practice. One example of the translational research undertaken at the Centre is that of colleague Dr Jack Phu, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, evaluating the new visual field algorithm, SITA-Faster, which has helped improve clinical workflow and patient experiences by cutting down visual field testing time in our glaucoma clinic.

As the Centre is also a teaching clinic, I am involved in supervising final year optometry students from UNSW undertaking their six week placement with us. I have also supervised final year optometry research projects. From a teaching perspective, it is very rewarding to see students grow, evolve into members of the profession, then to receive their referrals.

One thing I like most about CFEH is working in its collaborative care glaucoma management clinic (GMC). In the GMC, we work with an ophthalmologist from the local health district to provide ongoing care to patients with early or moderate glaucoma. Many patients are referred by their optometrist or general practitioner as they were unable to obtain care through private ophthalmological pathways, due to cost or a lack of available appointments through the public healthcare system.

I believe learning is for life, and so I recently obtained Fellowship with the American Academy of Optometry. This required me to write up case reports and pass a viva examination. It was a very rewarding experience and I encourage anyone who wants to pursue career and educational development to consider the Fellow program.

Henrietta Wang graduated from the UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science in 2016 and works as a research and clinical optometrist at Centre for Eye Health in Sydney. She was recently made Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.