Optometrists carry out detailed examinations of the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases (diseases of the eye) or abnormality, and problems with general health.
By making a detailed examination of the eye, optometrists may be able to identify whether a patient has conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
As an optometrist working in a high street practice, you’d:
- make detailed examination of the health of the eyes
- offer clinical advice regarding eye health and vision correction
- prescribe spectacles or contact lenses. You might also dispense, fit and supply spectacles or contact lenses
- make a referral for a specialist’s advice if required – for example is a patient needs surgery or specialist treatment
- you may supervise trainee optometrists, dispensing opticians, and/or medical students during their training.
If you work in a hospital or an eye clinic you’d be involved in more specialised areas of optometry such as treating and managing patients with:
- glaucoma (an eye disease more common in black people and among the elderly) or
- macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness in western society
Where would I work?
Optometrists work in a variety of settings, including high street optometrists, research, teaching, and other health settings. If you work in a hospital or clinic, you’ll be seeing and treating those most in need of urgent attention. You might also work in local health centres and community clinics. You might also undertake some related work in a laboratory or industry setting.
Who will I work with?
Most optometrists work in high street practices which may be independent or part of a regional or national chain, and may be a small or large team depending on practice size.
In a hospital or clinic setting, you'll be part of a large team of eye-specialists, typically including ophthalmologists (medical doctors specialising in the eye), orthoptists, and healthcare science staff specialising in ophthalmic and vision science. You will usually work as part of a wider team that also includes specialist nurses and administrative staff.
The future of optometry
Optometry may well change over time with some functions becoming more automated, so the role may move further towards interpreting test results and making clinical decisions. Increasingly, there are opportunities to manage certain eye conditions and prescribe for them and there may be more multi-disciplinary working.
Working as a professional in a field such as optometry means that you will never stop learning and continuing professional development is an important part of the role.
Want to learn more?
- Find out more about the entry requirements, skills and interests to enter a career as an optometrist
- Find out more about the training you'll receive to become an optometrist
Pay and conditions
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Most jobs in the NHS are covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales. This pay system covers all staff except doctors, dentists and the most senior managers. Staff in the NHS will usually work a standard 37.5 hours per week. They may work a shift pattern.
As a trainee optometrist in a hospital, you would typically start on band 4. As a qualified and registered optometrist, you would start on band 6. With further training, education and experience, you could apply for more senior posts such as specialist optometrist at band 7 or principal optometrist at bands 8a-8b. As a consultant optometrist or head of service, you could be on band 8d.
Terms and conditions of service can vary for employers outside the NHS. The starting salary for newly qualified optometrists in high street practice is typically around £25,000 (2016), but this depends upon supply and demand, so you can expect to earn more in areas where there are fewer optometrists.
Where the role can lead
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With further training and/or experience, you may be able to develop your career further and apply for vacancies in areas such as further specialisation, management, teaching (e.g. students studying for optometry at university) or research (for example, you could be involved in developing cutting-edge contact lenses or spectacle lenses).
If you have the right skills, you could be running your own business or your department one day.
Job market and vacancies
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According to the General Optical Council, as at December 2015, there were 14,642 registered optometrists in the UK.
When you’re looking for job vacancies, there are a number of sources you can use, depending on the type of work you’re seeking.
Check vacancies carefully to be sure you can meet the requirements of the person specification before applying and to find out what the application process is. You may need to apply online or send a C.V. for example.
Most optometrists work in the community in a high street practice or equivalent. Jobs are generally advertised in the optical journals such as Optician or Optometry Today. Some may be advertised online.
- Pre-registration vacancies can be found on the College of Optometrists’ website
- Vacancies in NHS organisations can be found on the NHS Jobs website
You may also find suitable vacancies in the health sector by contacting local employers directly, searching in local newspapers and by using the Universal Jobmatch tool.
Volunteering is an excellent way of gaining experience (especially if you don’t have enough for a specific paid job you’re interested in) and also seeing whether you’re suited to a particular type of work. It’s also a great way to boost your confidence and you can give something back to the community!
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