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Tuesday / July 16.
HomeminewsRegional Australia Attracts QUT Optometry Graduates

Regional Australia Attracts QUT Optometry Graduates

Graduates in optometry from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are making their way into the workforce with the majority (41 of 52) choosing to practise outside the Brisbane metropolitan area. Five have moved to Far North Queensland.

Dr Katrina Schmid, Associate Professor, Optometry and Vision Science, at QUT said the widely dispersed 2023 cohort will help support the eye care needs of under-resourced communities while also providing the early career optometrists with rewarding opportunities to practise the full scope of optometry.

QUT… actively encourages students from regional Australia to move to the city to study while also encouraging them to consider practising beyond Brisbane once they graduate

While some students have chosen to move back to their hometowns in regional Australia, others have made the decision to move from the city to take advantage of the professional opportunities identified by Dr Schmid.

Opportunity Shifts Intention

Mark Lin is moving to Cairns, having originally planned to find work in a metropolitan location. He said he changed his mind once he realised that establishing his career in regional Australia would provide a greater degree of exposure to patients from different demographic backgrounds and “a great experience for me to grow as an optometrist personally”.

Similarly, Nichol Aji initially had no intention of moving out of Brisbane.

“I started working as an optical assistant at my local Specsavers before my first week of university and intended on working there once I graduated. I don’t remember even considering regional practice.”

Like many of the graduates mivision spoke to, a placement in regional Australia changed his perspective.

“Two other students and I were lucky enough to do vision screenings in Bamaga (Cape York) with Dr Shelley Hopkins at the beginning of our final year, which gave us an opportunity to do some work well outside of the comfort of the city,” explained Mr Aji.

“I don’t think I’m alone when I say that, as a new grad, the most exciting part about regional work is the amount of pathology you will see. Being on placement in Hervey Bay, I saw much more than I did on any of my metro placements which made me think that if I can work my skills and confidence up here, then there’s not much that I could struggle with later in my career.”

Having grown up in Tasmania, Mr Aji said the opportunity to experience work in a smaller community reminded him of his childhood and the enjoyment that comes with being outside a busy city.

“I became more open to regional options… I believe another key factor was this feeling of being stuck. I think a part of me was definitely craving a sense of change and independence after five years of studying and working in the same places.”

Active Encouragement

QUT’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences (OVS) actively encourages students from regional Australia to move to the city to study while also encouraging them to consider practising beyond Brisbane once they graduate.

To tempt them, Dr Schmid said all students in their final year undertake clinical placements right across Australia, including in regional areas. Additionally, students take part in Clinic Outreach Programs (e.g. to Cherbourg, and Thursday Island) and a Bursary is available to assist students with the costs of completing Work Integrated Learning (placement) requirements.

Information sessions, primarily organised through the Queensland Optometry Student Society, enable Master of Optometry students to find out about work opportunities across Australia.

A Regional, Rural and Remote Adjustment Scheme is in place to attract students from outside metropolitan areas to the optometry course and there are pathways and support programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Moving Home

Connie Li is one graduate who moved from regional Australia to study optometry at QUT and is now heading back, despite her initial excitement about moving to the city.

“When I started optometry, I hadn’t thought about where I wanted to end up, only that I wanted to move away from my hometown in central Queensland.”

However after five years living “hours away from home”, she said she felt ready to live and work closer to her family.

“This influenced me to look for jobs in central Queensland” she explained. “I have chosen to practise in Rockhampton, Queensland”.

Ms Li said she found it “very easy to find a job outside of Brisbane metro as many corporate companies were readily advertising those availabilities”.

And, having had a brief placement in the Rockhampton practice, she already feels “very well supported and welcomed by the team. I think I will be able to learn a lot from them and improve my skills as a clinician.”

She also acknowledges that there will be challenges associated with her return to regional Queensland.

“As most of my friends now live in Brisbane or in other regional areas, my biggest concern is with finding like-minded people who I can spend time with outside of work. I plan on joining social sports clubs to meet new people.”

And, in the future, she sees herself straddling both metropolitan and regional Australia by taking advantage of the opportunity to locum – one of the aspects of the profession that initially attracted her into optometry.

“The sound of working and travelling still appeals to me and I think in the future, I will end up living metro and doing occasional regional locums,” she told mivision.