Demonstrating the many options available to optometrists, Sophia Zhang started out in corporate practice before switching to work with the Centre for Eye Health.
Discovering your place after university is a unique experience. After years of living within a familiar school environment, the transition into the workforce can be exciting for some but may be intimidating and daunting for many. Do you want to work in an independent practice? Or a corporate practice? Do you want to join a practice that focuses on vision therapy, myopia control or specialty contact lenses? With the endless list of opportunities, choosing a career path in optometry can quickly become overwhelming.
although the process of something new may be daunting, the rewards make it worthwhile
After graduating from University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2015, my choice of workplace was simple. As I had been working as a retail assistant in a corporate practice during my university years, accepting the opportunity to become the new graduate optometrist was an easy choice. The transition was smooth, with close mentorship from senior optometrists and constant support from retail staff. Working in this busy metropolitan practice played a crucial role in my early years as it helped refine my clinical abilities and decision-making skills, particularly under pressure. The experience made me a more confident and competent optometrist.
Now, almost six years later, you can find me at the Centre for Eye Health (CFEH), an ocular imaging clinic that provides diagnostic and management services for patients. CFEH is a joint initiative between Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and UNSW, and provides comprehensive targeted testing for suspected ocular pathology. It was this unique model of optometry, with a strong emphasis on ocular disease, that made this career opportunity exciting for me. For a CFEH optometrist, a typical day of work consists of diagnosing and monitoring glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and more. Another aspect of CFEH that I particularly enjoy is its shared care model, whereby optometrists work collaboratively with ophthalmologists. One example of this is our Glaucoma Management Clinic (GMC) which enables us to provide timely diagnosis and treatment for early glaucoma patients.
As well as providing clinical services to patients, I am involved in delivering CFEH’s optometry education. This aspect of my work, which has made my career mix somewhat eclectic, has me coordinating and supervising clinical placements for final year UNSW undergraduate optometry students. Being able to mentor, guide, and support students to become confident clinicians is incredibly fulfilling. In addition to practical teaching, my other roles include creation of theoretical resources for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, and speaking to fellow optometrists at continued professional development (CPD) events. Although creating informative and engaging material can be challenging at times, I find it rewarding to disseminate this content to members of my profession.
Other opportunities at CFEH include pursuing research interests. Although research is not a primary role of mine, working alongside the CFEH researchers keeps me at the forefront of optometry and ensures my clinical skills and knowledge are constantly refreshed and refined. Last year, for example, I was able to explore the impact of our undergraduate placement program on the academic performance and confidence of optometry students.
Although some of my non-optometrist peers may think my occupation is based solely on repeating ‘one or two’ on a daily basis, I have come to find that the career pathways in optometry can be fluid. As you get to know yourself better, your passion and specialty in optometry can evolve. Over time, you may find yourself passionate about behavioural optometry, business opportunities, or educational development. As such, there should be no pressure in choosing the ‘right’ career path straight after university. Where you are in your first year as an optometrist can be very different to where you find yourself in five to 10 years. Pushing your own boundaries, and sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone, can provide new opportunities and career fulfilment. Although the process of something new may be daunting, the rewards make it worthwhile.
Sophia Zhang graduated from University of New South Wales School of Optometry and Vision Science in 2015. She practises as an optometrist and educator with Centre for Eye Health in Sydney.