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HomemiprofessionFinding Purpose on the ‘Other Side’ of the Fence

Finding Purpose on the ‘Other Side’ of the Fence

Following her sister’s footsteps into a career in optometry has seen Nadia Michaels criss-cross Australia. There are so many paths within the profession of optometry, and I’m thrilled to work in an industry that is making a true difference to people’s lives.

There are so many paths within the profession of optometry, and I’m thrilled to work in an industry that is making a true difference to people’s lives.

When I was 17, my sister Renée was in her second year of her Optometry degree. I learnt about the course from her, and was immediately sold. So, in 2004, I set off to the Queensland University of Technology. Back then only three universities in Australia offered optometry as a degree option – Queensland, Melbourne and Sydney. There were only 40 positions available in the course I did, and by the end approximately 30 graduated.

I had an incredible lecturer, Professor Peter Swann, and not one graduate left his lectures without an amazing knowledge of ocular diseases. I remember learning about the anatomy and physiology of the eye and just how intricate it is – starting off as a cluster of cells and evolving so dramatically. While it was a challenging time, it was also a fantastic period of both personal and professional development.

After graduating, I got my first opportunity in optometry in a practice in Warwick, Perth, at The Optical Superstore, managed by leading Australian optometrist, Dr Jason Holland.

Five of my friends also got jobs in Western Western Australia (WA), so we all moved over there together. I lived in a house of optometrists, and there was another house of optometrists close by. We would often eat dinner together, talk passionately about the eye, and things we were seeing in practice.

Patient outcomes have always been the most exciting thing, and the biggest priority for me. I vividly remember the experiences I had with my patients in those early days when I would detect the signs of an eye disease, and once, the evidence of a brain tumour. Or on a happier note, the thrill of a patient professing that the contact lenses I prescribed had changed their life.

I left WA after 18 months and returned to Brisbane, working in a boutique independent practice where my love for delivering ‘wow’ experiences for patients flourished. Another relocation to Sydney and more private practices followed, before becoming a clinical coach for NSW/ACT at Bailey Nelson. I feel fortunate to have worked in different practice settings with different patient demographics, which provided unique experiences and personal growth.

After 10 years in practice, it was time to expand my horizons – and when the opportunity arose, I moved into a professional education and development role at Alcon. This role gave me the opportunity to apply my clinical skills and first-hand patient knowledge to improve the business of optometry through education, research and product development.

I never really thought about it when I fitted contact lenses, but countless hours of research and massive financial investment go into contact lens product development

I never really thought about it when I fitted contact lenses, but countless hours of research and massive financial investment go into contact lens product development. Not only that; an incredible amount of integrity and rigour goes into every product, every presentation, every claim made at a workshop or event – and all this is important because it leads to better patient outcomes. It’s the knowledge that all of this is done to help more people see brilliantly that makes me proud to work in the industry – no matter what side of the fence I’m sitting on.

I’m excited about the future of optometry. To think that when I started out, a contact lens product like Total1 wasn’t even developed yet, or that we didn’t use optical coherence tomography – when now this is part of a routine consultation – speaks volumes about how rapidly technology is changing.

I once heard a saying that “half of what you learnt five years ago is out of date”. I can relate. Things are constantly changing, it’s important to make professional development a priority.

I remember at my interview for Alcon, I was asked how I thought I was going to be able to help people in this role. I’m answering that question day in, day out: By helping people see more brilliantly every day.

Nadia Michaels is a Professional Education and Training Manager at Alcon, based in Brisbane.