Lili Chen graduated from UNSW in 2018 and has very recently moved into an eye health project officer role at a not-for-profit organisation. Just prior to that, she was practicing full-time domiciliary optometry in nursing homes.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what made you want to do optometry: I have always known that I wanted to work with and have an impact on people. I liked how the study of science was translatable into our understanding of how things work. The happy marriage of these two led to my choice of optometry upon graduating high school!
Describe a day in the life of optometry in your current work setting: These days, my work is built upon an intersection of various areas of knowledge. As optometrists, we have a deep understanding of eye care (services, diseases, and systems). In my work, our focus is on Indigenous eye health, supporting Indigenous ophthalmologists, and the long way to go in creating culturally safe eye care systems.
Not too long ago, I was working in domiciliary optometry; more specifically, in nursing homes. This involved performing eye examinations for the elderly – prescribing glasses, low vision aids, ocular health reviews, GP or RN referrals, or recommendations. As everything is mobile, this really takes you back to first principles and requires an adaptable approach to cater for our elderly, less mobile, and less cognitive. Think applanation tonometry, trial frame refractions when needed, direct ophthalmoscopy, working with small spaces or in residents’ rooms, hand-held slit lamps, and more…
What are a few of the most interesting things you’ve learnt and would like to share?
Working within a nursing home for the first time was confronting but seeing firsthand the effects of cognitive and physical impairment (often compounded by visual impairment) and hearing the stories of our elderly was eye-opening and humbling.
We can understand a lot about someone’s vision and visual status without relying on subjective testing, which patients sometimes find difficult to accurately communicate. It is looking at the big picture – anterior and posterior ocular health checks, pupil testing, medical history, using different optotypes, retinoscopy, autorefraction, cover test, etc. All these techniques give us very useful information especially in cases of language barriers, advanced dementia, non-verbal patients, young children, etc.
Optometrists are extremely well-placed to advance eye care and public health as primary eye care practitioners. If we engage with our patients and the wider community, and appropriately diagnose, treat, manage, and refer, we can contribute to a health system that is high-quality, patient-centred, and outcomes focused.
Change is inevitable. As the optometry profession evolves, we too must evolve and adapt by constantly improving our clinical skills and knowledge and advocating for positive change in eye care and optometry.
What has been the most rewarding experience so far? The gratitude expressed by a patient, their family, or their carers when we can help them, even if it is in a seemingly small way.
Developing relationships with patients and hearing their thoughts and journeys is also really rewarding. It helps you appreciate how big the world is and how little we know.
Also, moving out to a regional city for work was really rewarding for me.. By getting to know my team and the community, it became a home away from home. I learnt to balance responsibilities and the slower pace of life was grounding.
What do you like to do in your spare time? I love the feeling of keeping active – whether it’s swimming laps (then sitting in a sauna afterwards), going for walks around my neighbourhood, playing badminton, or gentle exercises at the gym. Spending time with my family and friends is important to me. I also devote time to work and activities within my church (if that counts as spare time).