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Sunday / March 3.
HomemiprofessionChasing Horizons with Optometry

Chasing Horizons with Optometry

With a heart to serve, a determination to break down stereotypes, and a passion for providing eye care, Samiha Islam is finding the sky has no limit.

Optometrists are often known for spending just about their entire working day in a small four-walled dark room, similar to a vampire spending their daylight hours in a coffin. I have been determined to steer away from the conventional experience of an optometrist and venture into niches that are both unique and challenging.

“My dream is to marry my passions for optometry and aviation, so I can take eye care to every community of Australia”

I started my optometry career in Newcastle and the Hunter region of NSW, where I had the opportunity to go beyond the testing rooms and into nursing homes. I covered almost 30 different nursing homes and was able to deliver full scope optometry services. Together with an experienced optical dispenser, we set up our mobile optometry clinic wherever there was space.

Most of my patients had complex health conditions and/or severe mobility issues that made it difficult to leave the home to see an optometrist. This is one of the main reasons why there is an inequality of access to optometry services in the aged care sector.

This lack of access became even more prominent during the COVID-19 lockdown period when optometrists were not allowed to enter nursing homes. Later, when we could resume our clinics, we discovered many patients had developed sight-threatening conditions that required early and prompt treatment, such as branch retinal vein occlusion or severe proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Although I referred them to an ophthalmologist as soon as possible, it was too late to save their vision.

CULTURAL STRENGTHS…
AND CHALLENGES

Having been raised in a household that has strong ties to its Muslim heritage, I can soundly connect to the movement of acknowledgement and preservation of Indigenous Australian culture. My dedication and commitment to serving people is heavily influenced by the values of my cultural heritage and Islamic faith. In many ways, the Indigenous Australian culture has parallels to that of my own culture, such as the values of family and community.

For the past two years, I have dedicated time to providing eye care at Yerin Eleanour Duncan Aboriginal Health Service, which is part of the NSW Rural Doctors Network, providing free medical, dental, and allied health services to the Indigenous community of the Central Coast. The current statistics that indicate that the Indigenous community has below average levels of healthcare are something I strive to change.

While my personal experience as an optometrist has been quite rewarding, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve faced many challenges being a Muslim woman of colour, wearing a hijab, and practising optometry. There have been times where I have been taken aback at the racism I have encountered.

Some patients repeatedly ask me to confirm I am the optometrist, and not a receptionist. Another gentleman told me I had “learnt the Australian accent quite well”, remarking that he “never knew that Muslim women went to universities”.

Being on the receiving end of racism, misogyny, and prejudice can be confronting at times, but I feel content that I am on a platform where I can promote cultural competence and break down the walls of ignorance, stereotypes, and social stigmas.

TAKING FLIGHT

Outside of optometry, I am currently pursuing my passion for aviation. Every weekend you’ll find me high in the sky, chasing horizons. I am indeed privileged to experience the breathtaking landscape of Australia from a very different perspective and I would one day like to call this “work” as well. My dream is to marry my passions for optometry and aviation, so I can take eye care to every community of Australia.

I am enrolled in the Civil Aviation Safety Authority Aviation Medical course so I will soon be able to provide aviation medicals as a service through George and Matilda Eyecare Kincumber and Gosford.

From my experience as an optometrist, I believe it is possible to take optometry in many different directions, depending on your interests and passions.

I believe serving, benefiting, and impacting our community should be at the heart of what we do, while practising with honesty and integrity. I also hope one day I can become the ‘Maverick’ of the optometry world and represent both optometry and aviation as a Muslim woman of colour.

Samiha Islam graduated from University of New South Wales with a Masters of Clinical Optometry in 2019 and practises at George and Matilda Eyecare Kincumber and Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast.