What made you decide you wanted to be an optometrist?
Ah, that’s a very good question. When I first started this degree, it was purely because my parents made me do optometry, but I think in my third year when I started seeing people, I realised all of the things I was doing was helping them and I’ve had a lot of satisfaction helping kids especially. So when I graduated I went to a place that specialised in kids.
What was your study pathway?
I just studied the Bachelor of Optometry. I did some postgraduate work afterwards too, I did a postgrad so I could prescribe medical drugs for people’s eyes, and then a second one basically on kids. I went to the University of New South Wales for my bachelor and one of my postgrads, and then I went to the University of Melbourne for my drugs postgrad.
What do like most about the job?
I enjoy waking up and knowing that I’m going to make a difference in someone’s life.
What’s the most challenging part of the role?
I think every kid that you get, learning difficulty is the reason why most kids come to see us, most parents and teachers, the first thing they think about if their kid’s not doing well is, ‘I’m not sure if my child is seeing the board’.
Learning difficulty is incredibly complex, I mean vision is part of it, but we’ve also had to look at the cognitive side of how that child understands what they see. Nutrition can be a big component, delayed development in motor skills, auditory skills, and psychological conditions can affect their performance as well.
So, not only do you need to know your trade, you need to know a little bit about other people’s trade as well, so when we feel like, ‘hmmm, this kid, I might not be able to help him, but I think I know someone who does. I think over time for me, I have my own team of people who I use, I co-manage children with.
Through your work you’ve started Eyes4Everest, can you us me about this?
Well basically Eyes4Everest, we provide primary eye care for [people] in the Everest region, in Nepal. So Mt Everest is a mountain in the Mt Everest National Park, and that’s where a majority of the Sherpa people live.
When I was a kid growing up, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, he used to visit our school.
He was a very big role model in my life. He has a very humble nature, and his regard for the Sherpa people made me go back there, and then the hospital doctor there told me ‘hey, kids cannot see the board, can you help us?’
And so we formed Eyes4Everest last year.
This year we had eight [optometrists], and we saw 472 [patients], we’re providing glasses for the people who need it, and ... the Sherpa people actually gave us land in the main settlement of the national park, and the idea is to build an eye clinic.
So we are now looking at funding for an eye clinic and the advantage of having a stationary mobile clinic in the centre is that we can have bigger machinery there, so essentially machinery to do surgery.
So next year we’ll have a team of opthamologists from South Kathmandu, they’re joining us in the hope that they can offer cataract surgery for the patients who require it.
I’m looking forward to it because I mean, if ... you restore someone’s sight, it restores their function.
And I think this will be one of the most proudest things I have done in my career because ultimately, helping people ... I’m just very glad that I can contribute my skills.
Do you have any advice for teenagers interested in becoming an optometrist?
This is advice for any job in general, you have to ask yourself why is it that you choose optometry, why is it that you want to do it in the first place?
I think in the golden days of optometry a lot of people joined it because they say ‘yes, it’s a nice quiet job, it pays pretty good’.
But now we probably have too many optometrists in the city and I find that people who come back to you for your service, and aren’t just after the cheapest glasses, cheapest lenses, they [come back] because of why you do it, and for me it’s always been about helping people, especially helping kids.
So if their heart is in the right place, then I think they can have a very satisfying career.
What would a typical starting salary in this field be?
It’s fallen back a little bit, but I think in Sydney you’re looking at $65,000 – $70,000 as a start.