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HomemiprofessionThe Rewards of a Country Practice

The Rewards of a Country Practice

The opportunity to expand his optometric skill set is just one of the reasons that Hafi Khan has set his heart upon Tamworth… (but we still don’t know whether that passion extends to country music).

After graduating from Deakin University in 2020, I took my first optometrist role with Specsavers in Tamworth and I am now in my fourth year of living and working here. Tamworth is an inland, north-eastern town in New South Wales. It’s a one-hour flight from Brisbane and Sydney, or five hours’ drive from Sydney.

Many ask how I ended up in Tamworth; was it for its massive annual country music festival? The honest answer is that I was always keen and willing to work rurally after graduation and I’m happy to share that since living here, my clinical experiences have only grown my passion for rural optometry.

Working as a regional or rural optometrist is a rewarding journey filled with unique challenges and fulfilling experiences. Beyond the clinical aspects, it’s about becoming a part of a close-knit community, promoting eye health, enabling important services in locations that have historically been subject to access problems, and making a lasting impact on the lives of individuals of all age groups.

THE PASSION

My passion for rural optometry is strong because of the benefits it offers – first and foremost there is greater scope of practice for optometrists. This has been a significant motivation for me as it allows me to fulfil my purpose as a clinician. Due to limited ophthalmology access in rural settings, optometrists are at the forefront of co-managing eye conditions with ophthalmologists and GPs.

It is routine to co-manage patients with glaucoma, eye trauma, ocular infections, orbital diseases, diabetic eye disease, and post-operatively. We also co-manage paediatric conditions such as refractive strabismus and amblyopia, binocular vision assessments, and interventions for learning difficulties. Personally, I also have a special interest in paediatric optometry, myopia control, and contact lenses.

In my practice, no day is ever the same and I count it a privilege to be able to care for such a varied cohort of patients and be rewarded with greater patient satisfaction.

THE BENEFITS

Initially, I found the demand to detect and manage ocular disease or complex ocular presentations without having easy access to ophthalmology colleagues quite daunting. However, this repeated exposure to a variety of ocular pathologies has assisted me in honing my clinical skills and has improved my ability to make clinical decisions more competently.

I am privileged, in my Specsavers practice, to work with optical coherence tomography, retinal imaging, dry eye treatments, contact lens kits, and a visual field analyser, among other technology. This has been instrumental in my professional development and has enabled me to provide comprehensive care to all my patients for their ocular needs. With access to this technology, in conjunction with the required clinical skills and experience, we can serve our community with a wide range of products and services.

A common issue faced by people in regional or rural communities is the lack of consistent access to skilled practitioners and the latest evidence-based treatments. I see this every day in my work with patients expressing their surprise or gratitude when they learn they can have different contact lenses fitted or their children’s myopia management taken care of at our practice, for example. Such moments provide significant motivation and realisation of one’s impact when you can directly provide management options to your patients rather than referring them onwards.

Another lesser-known benefit of practising optometry in regional settings is the worklife balance. Usually, peak trading happens on weekdays compared with weekends, as experienced in city practices. I prefer this as I can dedicate my weekends to community sports, networking, and social activities. This has enabled me to be become part of the local community, where I have a sense of belonging and support.

Optometrists in Australia have a wide scope of practice and I strongly believe that regional and rural settings are the best places to fully apply our entire skill set and training. There is a strong demand for optometrists in regional locations and I would recommend everyone to consider a regional or remote experience with an open mind. Maybe you will end up falling in love with the lifestyle offered by a country town, just like I have.

Hafi Khan graduated from Deakin University in 2020 and practises at Specsavers Tamworth in New South Wales.