Why did you start up a business and how did you go starting it up?
I was inspired by my mentor and boss at the time who was (and still is) so driven and passionate about what she does and what she believes in. I wanted to create an environment where I could do the same - inspire a team and inspire my patients. I went through a 6-9 month program (called ‘Pathway’ which is run by Specsavers) to develop myself and to learn about the people and business aspect of being a business partner and employer. I had a lot of support from my mentors who helped me assess what opportunities were suitable for me from both a lifestyle and finance perspective. I had my accountant assist me in valuing potential business’ to ensure I also had professional advice.
Should I take over a business or start brand new?
There are pros and cons to both. The main advantage of taking over a business is that it has an established database and customer awareness of the store and its services and values.
Starting a brand new store allows you to create your own “brand” and culture, and enables you to build your own team from the bottom up. It will depend on your personal preference, however you should assess the potential you see in the business, and how able and quickly you believe you can grow it. A lot of research and due diligence is required for both avenues.
What are some key points I should consider when going from employee to employer?
Do a lot of research (e.g. reading, courses, talking to other employers and colleagues) to understand thoroughly both the finance and business side of it, as well as the leadership side to being an employer.
Be clear on your “Why” before you dive into “what” needs to be done and “how” you will make it happen.
How did your business survive COVID?
We remained open the whole time (for urgent care) in order to service our community. Our customers were very grateful for this service and it also allowed us to gain new customers. Many of our customers had to hold off their “routine eye examination” for several months, hence when the lock down eased, we knew we would get an influx of customers returning. In order to both survive and thrive, we needed to be strategic with extending our trading hours to ensure we were able to capture all existing and new customers by looking after their eye care needs in a covid-safe manner.
How is your work life balance as a business owner?
It was a big adjustment when I initially started, as “work” can easily carry on at home and on days off. I’ve since learnt that planning ahead is key. I schedule quality time with my family and friends, and also block out time for myself to do things I enjoy. To keep myself accountable, I also schedule time slots in my calendar to fit in exercise, journaling and meditation. Having my own “me time” allows me to reflect my day/week and reassess when I'm “off balance”. I don’t always get it right and sometimes life can throw new challenges at you, however a balanced lifestyle is one of my goals and is something I’m consciously striving towards.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into optometry?
My name is Austin and I am currently in my 3rd year of practice. I chose optometry out of an interest in helping people and also healthcare. I currently work at an independent practice in Dubbo, in Central Western NSW, having previously practised in Broken Hill in Far West NSW. Relocating to rural Australia has naturally allowed me to develop professionally as well as personally. It has provided me many unique opportunities, including doing visiting clinics in smaller towns in Central Western NSW, being able to carry out clinical duties in the public ophthalmology clinic, doing a nursing home visit, and also is carrying out optometry duties at the Macquarie Correctional Centre in Wellington, NSW. I’ve also rekindled some old hobbies through meeting like minded individuals in the rural towns that I have worked in. The article will focus on my work at the correctional centre and also more generally my experience of working regionally.
Tell us about your typical day testing at a prison? What do you find are the most challenging aspects and most rewarding?
A typical day testing at the Macquarie Correctional Centre starts with a check-in and equipment screening. Before entering the premises, I am required to run through a checklist of equipment being brought into the correctional centre’s clinic. As a visiting optometrist, the clinic is conducted with portable equipment, including a trial lens set, portable slit lamp, ret and DO, BIO, diagnostic drops and the spectacle frames. I am then equipped with a personal duress alarm to be worn onsite. Afterwards, I am escorted through the grounds to the clinic where I am met by the clinic staff and set up the room for my eye examinations.
I perform a typical eye test, with a history, refraction, ocular health check, some gross binocular vision tests and also do the dispensing in cases where glasses are required. Not having access to additional testing such as OCT, perimetry, fundus photography and wide field imaging can leave you feeling ‘handcuffed’ at times, especially when you suspect certain presentations such as glaucoma, visual field defects, macula changes or unexplained headaches. Inmates cannot simply attend a private practice externally to perform the indicated tests. In cases like these, clinical decision making is important and referral necessary.
I work closely with Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Networkmedical and nursing staff, who facilitate ophthalmology care, including cataract surgery. The Network provides care to the 30,000 people who move through the NSW adult correctional system each year; with many experiencing higher rates of chronic and complex health conditions than the general community. Clinicians working in this setting are positioned with a unique opportunity to respond to the health needs of these individuals, who commonly have had minimal contact with mainstream health services in the community.
An inmate I saw for the first time towards the end of last year had a family history of glaucoma in his mother, large cupping in both eyes, and IOPs of 26mmHg in each eye. Based on the risk factors, I decided to commence him on Xalatan Eyedrops despite not having all the pieces of the clinical puzzle. I was fortunate to follow up this inmate on my subsequent visit and note a satisfactory pressure reduction. The most rewarding part is that inmates appreciate the eye examination service provided as many have been without glasses.
On leaving the clinic, I am escorted back to the check-in area and once again go through the equipment checklist before leaving the facility.
Do you have any goals for your optometry career?
Further experiences in optometry will allow me to formulate these goals, however the most fulfilment is gained in helping those who most need help. It is a matter of continuing to do so.
What keeps you sane outside of your work life? Do you have any hobbies or passions you pursue?
I do enjoy a few different hobbies; the two main ones are tennis and art, which allow me to channel my active and creative sides. I feel these hobbies have allowed me to form connections within the communities I’ve immersed myself into, and that this is a crucial component in the overall success and/or fulfilment in regional stints.I often get called upon to make the controversial line calls in tennis since “I’m the optometrist”.
Broken Hill Artwork and Tennis
Interactions with local artists in the Broken Hill and Dubbo regions.
What advice would you give to other optometrists who may be looking to venture beyond conventional optometry?
Have an open mind in trying new things as you can be pleasantly surprised by what new opportunities bring you.
Once upon a time, every year January that ticked around, I would scramble to Kmart for the $5 diaries and jot down my "3 goals for the year". Then I'd put my pen down, close the book and be satisfied. That's how it works right? Surely by the time December comes around, you would have achieved those goals... and keep in mind they were the same 3 goals every year:
1. Spend more quality time with friends and family
2. Be more health conscious
3. Some career/education aspiration goal
Truth be told, I never followed through or even self-reflected during the year to see if I was on the right path or direction. Although now I no longer write goals down every January, this is what I learnt about goal setting and accountability that I follow now.
Be more specific
I was failing because everything was too broad. I wanted to spend spending quality time with "friends and family", but did this mean hitting up the 500 Facebook acquaintances every Sunday? I started singling out people and groups I truly wanted to build relationships with and making more of a conscious effort.
Holding true to your word
It's tempting and easy sometimes to find excuses to not attend events, meetings or even meet-ups. However, most of the time we at least put in some effort to stay true to our word if we said we were going to attend. But, it's even easier to make excuses to not do or commit to something, if the only person keeping you accountable is yourself.
This was and still is one of the hardest things for me to grasp. I am weak-willed at best and self-accountability is difficult. So I bought apps, books, made friends and accountability partners to keep me on track.
I had to be honest with myself - I was never going to read a book a week, become an Instagram fitness star and learn Spanish all within a year. So instead I set mini-goals and celebrate mini-wins. Maybe just 20 pages a night before bed? Start off by going to the gym? Learn and practice a handful of phrases a week?
Review and reset
I stopped waiting until December to review and realise I had made no progress, then consequently remaking the same goals. I became more realistic and also honest with myself - if I saw I had set visions that were far beyond my potential at that time, I would readjust and reset them.
Now, in no way, shape or form am I perfect - but this is what simply is working for me!
Unprecedented. Unmotivated. Confused.
Those were the words swirling around in a cacophony when we came to realise that university this year would be changed indefinitely.
It was near the end of March when we found out that the situation of COVID had reached its boiling point – a sense of panic striking students to return back to their homes interstate and overseas for the uncertainty of what was to come.
When it came to optometry, the cloud of confusion covered our minds severely. For myself, learning the course and the way to become a fully functioning optometrist meant that I relied heavily on practicals and conducting the tests and concepts I learnt to grasp the notions. Learning through memorization with the rote learning that I grew so accustomed to during high school was something I quickly realized was ineffective – it passed the threshold of remembering but faltered when it came to understanding. Going to the labs, using the appropriate apparatus, and asking questions directly upon making mistakes in class was the way that I gradually was able to grasp the ideas being taught. This was how I was able to understand the concepts in a holistic point of view and how it is relevant in a clinical setting – deviating away from learning just how to distinguish between one module to another.
But with life transitioning virtually, this method was eradicated, and I was left to submerge myself back into comfortable method of memorizing and watching others carry out the tests on YouTube videos as my main point of reference. One thing I quickly learnt was that comfort can be woeful and the transition was difficult to say the least.
Add the stress of the world and my fellow peers and I swiftly realised that that it was going to be an arduous period.
How on earth were we meant to cope?
Fast forward a couple of months and it has reached the end of the year. Two semesters have passed, and the sun never looked brighter. The situation around the world is still a pressing issue but the initial turbulence of shock and panic has passed. And with every tumultuous period, there was an equally constructive period of learning and adapting to the changes. To reflect back on the time and some strategies that I was able to implement to make life just that little bit more tolerable and easier, I broke it down into three principles (an idea that I’ve started to implement into other aspects of my life).
The triple Cs.
The years to come will remain uncertain as we progress through optometry but one principal takeaway that I have garnered through this year was that resilience is key. Being able to bounce back and realise that this is a collective struggle that we will eventually overcome is an idea that needs to be ingrained into our minds as students.
We have faced hurdles before and we will continue to face them but with the right prioritization and organization, it can be less stressful than we conjure it up to be in our heads.
Onwards and upwards!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into Optometry.
I completed my Optometry degree from India in 2017. After the completion of my undergraduate degree I worked for a while in Nepal and I was also involved in the eye camps organised in Nepal by Eyes4Everest. I flew to Australia last year to study Master of Optometry at UNSW.
I come from a very small village in the mountain region of Nepal and the people there still do not have access to proper health services. This was the reason that I always wanted to contribute to the health sector there. Since there was not even a single optometrist in my hometown, I decided to study optometry so that I could provide eye care services for them.
Tell us about your typical day of studying and working.
Being an international student in Australia, it was a bit challenging for me to balance my work and study in the beginning. But time has taught me this and now I find it ok. I work 3 days a week and the rest of the time, I study.
What do you miss most about Nepal? What do you love most about Australia?
I miss my family. I have never been away from home for such a long time. When I was in India, I still used to visit them every 3-4 months. But after coming here it has nearly been two years since I last saw them. Though I often talk to them through video chat I still miss their presence.
I like everything about Australia. Everything is easily accessible and organised here which has made life easier. I also enjoy going to the beaches during my days off.
Do you have any goals for your optometry career?
Once I finish my degree here, I plan to go back to Nepal and start working there. My dream is to open a practice there. Starting from a small practice in my hometown, I want to expand it to other remote areas as well. I especially want to work in small villages where people are still unaware of the advancement of technology.
Working in a peaceful environment that is very far from the city of chaos is something that I am looking forward to.
What keeps you sane outside of your work life? Do you have any hobbies or passions you pursue?
When I am a bit stressed with work and study, I talk to my family and I like sharing everything with them. I consider this as my therapy.
When I was at school, I used to play basketball and I wanted to continue playing, but due to some circumstances, I stopped playing. At the moment, I have started being more conscious about my fitness and I have started learning boxing. I would not say it is my passion, but I enjoy boxing.
What advice would you give to other optometrists, who may be in a similar position to you or are striving to be in your position?
Well, I am not sure if I have still achieved that position where I can advise people. But from my experiences, I would say not to give up on your dreams. There might be some difficult times where you want to quit but in the end, they are just a part of the journey to your dream. Be positive and just keep doing what makes you happy.
It’s become a part of the uniform for many of us, and masks have become essential in combatting the spread of COVID-19, however, it has given rise to increased reports of associated dry eye.
This happens, especially if the mask is poor fitting, and exhaled air funnels upwards and across the surface of the eyes. In turn, this may accelerate tear film evaporation causing ocular surface irregularity and discomfort.
This problem can become exacerbated especially in mask wearers who have pre-existing dry eye, contact lens wearer and people who have to use a mask for an extended period of time, use in air-conditioned environments, use in front of screens (e.g. health care workers, food preparers etc.). In turn, they may find themselves touching their face and eyes all the time, possible with unwashed hands, which may increase their risks for an infection and spread of the virus.
Tips we can offer our patients include: ensuring the mask is well fitted, using lubricant drops and limit screen time and time in an air-conditioned environment. Although MADE can make us uncomfortable, don’t ditch the mask!
Moshirfar, M., West, W.B. & Marx, D.P. Face Mask-Associated Ocular Irritation and Dryness. Ophthalmol Ther 9, 397–400 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40123-020-00282-6
White, D.E. MADE: A new coronavirus-associated eye disease. Healio.com. June 22, 2020. Accessed Sept. 10,
Student's Corner is a new space which is designed to introduce some of the amazing Optometry Students - delving deep into their likes, dislikes, struggles and current mood. Introducing Jahin Tanvir! Our first student feature from the University of Canberra.
Name: Jahin Tanvir
Student Year/Workplace: 2nd year Optometry at the University of Canberra
Favourite Disease: Retinopathy of Prematurity
What about Optometry really grinds your gears? (if any!): That some people think that Optometrist just sell you glasses.
What drives your passion for Optometry? Being able to ensure an individual can relish the gift of sight. I don’t think anything beats you playing a role in someone being able to see better and experience the things they love with a clearer perspective.
Something you discovered about the uni not everyone may know? When they say, “uni is where you find yourself”. I had to be there first-hand to realise the gravitas of that phrase. Being in a school environment, you’re pretty much in a bubble and university really opens that up to so many opportunities.
Would you rather be indoors or outdoors? I used to think I was inclined more towards indoors but being at home so much this year has shown me how much I yearn to be outdoors. Outdoors guy for sure!
Something others may not know about you: Parallel to my academic inclinations in Optometry, I’m also a writer and it’s an area I want to pursue throughout my career. I want to promote the idea of ‘you are not limited by your degree’.
What song do you play that instantly lifts your mood? Down by Jay Sean. Absolute classic!
Blue Blocking Lenses
Blue Light and the Macula
Studies have shown that by reducing blue-light transmission through blue blocking lenses by 50%, approximately 80% of photochemical damage to the retina could be reduced.
Contrast and Asthenopia improvement
The rationale behind blue blocking lenses for screen use is the improvement in contrast, improve visual comfort and cut down internal reflections and back surface reflections from the lenses thereby reducing glare. Blue wavelengths are the shortest wavelengths within the visible light spectrum and therefore most likely to scatter.
We also don’t know how much blue light needs to be removed to reduce asthenopic symptoms. As of current, the majority of blue coatings reduce blue light by roughly 10-25%. Optometrists can consider recommending blue blocking lenses to patients who are under high exposure to blue light rays from artificial and natural light sources, for example office workers behind screens and under fluorescent lights.
The scattering effect can cause glare and reduce contrast. Also, blue light may interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm; therefore exposure in the evening may potentially interfere with sleep. However, more and more we are exposed to artificial lights at night e.g. smartphones and tablet use before bed; and this is especially when the circadian system is most sensitive to light-induced phase delays. Studies have shown this can interfere with sleep and physiological processes, causing subjects to sleep later, reducing evening sleepiness, reducing in alertness the next morning and reducing melatonin secretion.
There is more research required, understanding that patients will need individualised solutions
Advice beyond blue blocking lenses that you could also recommend to your patients:
Have you ever had a young patient with reduced visual acuities at distance and near that could not be explained by refractive error? You suspect that they’re malingering or wanting to have glasses?
Have you heard of Streff Syndrome?
Streff Syndrome, also known as non-malingering syndrome, has been described as a functional vision problem. It often involves reduced or blurred distance and near vision, poor eye co-ordination and eye movement, a reduction in visual field and a reduction in focusing.
These symptoms are a result of anxiety or stress. Stress is a physical, mental or emotional reaction caused by a change that disturbs or interferes with the body’s normal equilibrium. It is often detected by teachers and parents due to a decline in academic performance, changes to attention and focus, or behavioural changes. Stress can impact visual health and function. Focusing can become difficult, and a tunnel vision effect can occur.
Streff Syndrome has more commonly been detected in females between 10-14 years of age. The condition is often self-limiting, but it is important to identify the stress causing the problem and taking the necessary steps to resolve it.
Screen Time During Quarantine
It seems like over-night covid-19 hit and suddenly, we are stuck at home with nothing but our screens to entertain us. While for our inner introvert this may be the ultimate dream it also has its pitfalls. Our social lives, work lives and CPD events have all moved online. With increased time at home & our lives now virtual, our screens are the portals to the world. Even before corona virus, Australians on average spent over 10 hours a day on screens. Also, many of us use multiple devices at the same time e.g. looking at your phone while also watching TV. It is only natural that screen use will increase in the current situation.
While increased screen use will not damage your eyes, the increased demand on your eyes can have negative effects. Often the underlying cause is a borderline eye problem that has been exacerbated by the increased screen time. This is because the visual demands of computer work are unlike those associated with most other visual tasks. Most people will experience some form of Digital Eye Strain with sustained use of a digital device. It may present as eye strain, headaches/migraines, blurred vision, neck/back pain, dry eyes, and/or reduced concentration. You may also find it hard to switch off and have disrupted sleep.
The good news is that there are 10 easy things that you can do to limit the negative effects associated with screen use:
While we navigate our new lives in isolation, it is more important than ever to stay connected online with our families, friends, & work. However, we must balance this screen use & try to keep things in moderation by using the simple tips out-lined above.