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HomemiprofessionTaking Chances, Finding Purpose

Taking Chances, Finding Purpose

Frustrated by the lack of vision screening programs, Cassandra Haines decided to do something about it. It was a ‘sliding doors’ moment that’s ultimately led to her current position: the new South Australian State Lead of Optometry Australia.

After graduating, I was keen to get started in a practice; solve medical mysteries; build relationships with the community and become a staple healthcare professional in the lives of children and families.

Working in an independent practice, I was fortunate to get opportunities to do school screenings in local primary schools, connect with community clubs to talk about eye health, and build those crucial relationships with local general practitioners and pharmacists. Being a community optometrist is incredibly rewarding, and like every optometrist, I have those amazing stories of caught brain tumours, magical moments with accommodative esotropic children getting their first glasses, and the smiles of children that can finally see.

I was also fortunate to be involved with the local early career optometrist group; back then ECOSA. Moving to a new state after graduation, ECOSA provided me with an opportunity to meet other young optometrists and it was through that group that I was selected to attend an Optometry Australia Leadership Program in Canberra. Suddenly it felt like a whole world of optometry opened up and, upon my return, I applied to join the Optometry South Australia Board.

Despite feeling like a very green optometrist, I also took a chance applying for a one-daya-week position within Optometry Australia’s policy and advocacy team. I was delighted to find something that could fit around my practice schedule. I loved being able to work on guidelines or practice notes, and see it transform into a useable resource and my work become part of a much larger national change.


However, I had become frustrated in my practice; I had a particularly bad week where three teenagers presented for the first time with amblyopia and felt a growing exasperation with the sparse and inadequate vision screening provided in South Australia. These children were treatable, if only I had seen them earlier in their life.

With renewed purpose I approached Flinders University, to enquire about how we could set up vision screening in South Australia. Taking a big leap; I left clinical practice to begin a PhD in Developing an Ideal Vision Screening Program for Children in South Australia.

I now work part time at Flinders teaching the paediatric topic, which aligns with my PhD work. I delight in watching students have their pivotal moments in clinical skills, finally seeing the fundus through their lenses or nailing retinoscopy. We have completed our first research project, developing a battery of tests to use in a vision screening. Our second project, providing glasses to children through school and tracking their educational achievements, is underway.

I’m still with Optometry Australia and while the work is very different to clinical practice, I still have to have my optometry hat on. Developing resources for optometrists to use in everyday practice and helping ensure Optometry Australia maintains those important connections with other health and government groups is pivotal to optometry’s advancement as a crucial healthcare service. After a very rewarding four years I am now transitioning to the State Lead role for South Australia; a new position post amalgamation with Optometry Australia.

Throughout my career, I have found openings to branch out while still maintaining a clinical role; or take the big leap and step into research or advocacy. Despite being young and inexperienced (and still feeling this way sometimes) I have seized opportunities that allowed me to grow and develop; and I strongly encourage other early career optometrists to do the same.

I’m not in clinical practice as much anymore but I have such enormous respect and appreciation for our community optometrists taking such good care of their patients. As much as I miss those primary care relationships you make in clinical practice, I’m excited to work with optometrists to manage some of the systemic frustrations in healthcare. This is a really exciting time of development in both the public health space and the private optometry sectors. In my new role of State Lead, I’m looking forward to further connecting with optometrists in this small but impressive State and highlight some of the amazing things our community is doing. This does mean that after six years I will be stepping down from the Optometry VIC/ SA Board, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity to build on relationships with state and national government, optometry and ophthalmology, to further our profession in South Australia.

Cassandra Haines was announced as the new State Lead for South Australia in September. She is also a Lecturer in Optometry at Flinders University and supervises in the Flinders Health2GO clinic; which is open to staff, students, and the public for eye examinations.

She is conducting a PhD and developing an evidence-based screening protocol for detecting childhood visual disorders.