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HomemiprofessionChoosing a Career in Public Health Optometry

Choosing a Career in Public Health Optometry

With a passion for public health, and a drive to improve access to eye care for patients experiencing disadvantage, Vivian Kong knew the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) could provide her with vast career opportunities.

Growing up, I had a very positive exposure to optometry. I was myopic at an early age, and I still remember the feeling of wonder when I wore my first pair of glasses. I remember looking at the floor at home and thinking, “wow, is that what the carpet really looks like?”.

The ACO’s mission to provide high-quality, affordable eye care is one I feel very strongly about, and I knew I made the right decision in pursuing a career in public health

I figured a job where I get to give sight to people would be very rewarding – and I was right!

In my final year of study at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), I was required to complete a two-week placement at the ACO. My peers who completed their placements before me spoke so highly of the ACO, and praised the quality of teaching and exposure to interesting cases. The positive impression this left on me, coupled with my own research into what it was like working in public health optometry, inspired me to apply for a graduate position at the ACO before I even attended my placement.

When my placement came around, I was impressed by the quality of service to patients, the breadth of practice, and the wealth of knowledge with so many leaders in specialty clinics. Most importantly, the staff deeply cared about their patients. The ACO’s mission to provide highquality, affordable eye care is one I feel very strongly about, and I knew I had made the right decision in pursuing a career in public health.

I relocated to Victoria to join the ACO as a graduate in February 2020, just before the pandemic really took off. Little did I know Melbourne would later become the world’s most locked down city.

With all the uncertainty, and constantly changing public health advice, it was a uniquely challenging time to be starting a new job. I had to quickly learn to be flexible and adapt. During lockdowns, there was an enormous task of phone-triaging hundreds of patients who were often elderly, hard of hearing, and/or non-English speaking. The patients that were deemed essential were usually more complex and it was not uncommon to see several urgent/ emergency patients a day.

While I never wish to experience the challenges of the pandemic again, I am grateful for the unique skills and personal development I gained during this period, as well as the invaluable support I received, and continue to receive, from my colleagues.

As a clinician, site manager and clinical educator, there is never a dull day working at the ACO. As a clinical educator, I am responsible for shaping the next generation of optometrists, which is something I find very rewarding. As well as this, as a clinician, I am exposed to a variety of complex cases, and interesting pathology, which builds my clinical acumen and allows me to practice to my full scope. Our outreach work – where we provide accessible care to the most vulnerable populations, including aged care residents, people experiencing homelessness, refugees, non-English speaking patients, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – further enhances my experience.

In my managerial role I have learnt to be a good leader, problem solver, and innovator. While it was never an avenue I envisioned taking, the career development support the ACO provides, and their active encouragement to take on new positions and explore opportunities, inspired me to take the leap. I am thoroughly enjoying the new responsibility and I hope that, as I continue to develop my managerial skills through further training, my work to improve the ACO’s Braybrook Clinic will serve as a model for our many other metropolitan sites.

Working in public health optometry is rewarding both personally and professionally. Within an organisation of like-minded people, there have been many opportunities for formal and informal mentorship, as well as forming much cherished friendships. Every day we play a role in helping members of the community, and I am grateful for the ACO facilitating my passion of giving sight to people.