Optometry Career Pathways
Optometry is an incredibly flexible career, providing the benefits of a recognised profession with a surprisingly wide range of career pathways.
It is relatively easy to move between sectors within optometry, or to combine a number of different roles.
The majority of optometrists are directly involved in some form of clinical practice. Within this sector, there is a range of working environments with the role of the optometrist varying between categories of practice.
At the Bradford School of Optometry we ensure that our students hear the views of clinicians from across the range of optometric practice in the UK, to help them to choose a career pathway to suit them.
Large companies employ a significant proportion of optometrists in the UK. Well known national chains include Boots Opticians, Optical Express, Specsavers and Vision Express.
There are also numerous smaller regional chains. Practices can be sizeable, staffed by a large team.
There are often opportunities for a transfer between practices, promotion within the clinical and/or management structure, and in some cases, the opportunity to buy in to the business (franchise) and have a direct influence on the running of the practice.
Companies offering laser refractive surgery also employ an increasing number of optometrists. Their work principally involves pre-operative consultation and post-surgical follow-up of patients.
"As one of the largest and most well known multiples in the optical market, Boots Opticians is one of the largest employers of graduate optometrists. Bradford is one of the only UK universities which offers an undergraduate course in Optometry and so is a key part in our recruitment strategy."
Independent practices form an important part of the primary eye care provision in the UK. Such practices may be stand-alone or part of a small group.
Often they are well established and serve a loyal patient base, who like to see the same clinician on each visit.
Those who prefer to be their own boss and have a flair for business are well suited to independent practice.
Independent practice may offer more scope for developing a specialist optometric service in an area that interests you.
Those with a strong interest in the medical side of optometry are well suited to working in a hospital.
Hospital optometrists encounter a wide range of complex eye conditions and work closely with ophthalmology and orthoptist colleagues.
The role of a hospital optometrist can vary significantly and rarely involves undertaking a standard eye examination.
As with private clinical practice, there are options to take on a general role or specialise in areas such as prescribing optical aids for the partially sighted, examining small children and pre and post-operative care.
Some hospital optometrists are involved in the education of ophthalmic nurses and medical students.
There is a defined career structure within hospital optometry, starting as a basic optometrist and working up through specialist and principal optometry positions to consultant optometrist.
There is also the opportunity to work as a sessional optometrist, which can be combined with work in other sectors of optometry. The Association of Optometrists (external link) run an Hospital Optometrists Committee to represent the interests of hospital optometrists.
Continuing professional development
An increasing emphasis is placed on continuing professional development for the optometric profession, with practising clinicians playing as important a role as academics. Clinicians with a particular expertise are a regular feature on the lecture and workshop circuit.
Many optometrists are directly involved in education through the supervision of a pre-registration student. This is a very rewarding experience that adds an extra dimension to clinical practice. The College of Optometrists provides full training.
Optometrists can undertake further study to gain a diploma from the College of Optometrists (external link) in a specialist clinical area such as contact lenses, orthoptics, diabetes, glaucoma or low vision.
The College also awards a higher qualification in therapeutics that allows successful optometrists to join the elite group of optometric prescribers who are permitted to prescribe certain medicines.
Some optometrists choose to undertake postgraduate research studies either at Bradford or elsewhere. Many of these individuals go on to pursue academic careers in the UK and abroad, often within optometry schools but also within psychology departments and medical schools. We have graduates holding academic posts in New Zealand, Australia and Canada for example.
Academia is a very rewarding area of optometry, combining research with teaching and clinical practice. Many optometry schools employ optometrists from private practice with a particular area of expertise, to enhance their clinical teaching capabilities.
Optometrists are involved in research and development in a number of industries, working for spectacle lens, contact lens and ophthalmic instrument manufacturers. Optometrists often play a crucial role in the design and implementation of clinical trials to bring a new product to market.
Many industries employ optometrists in a professional services role, interacting with the profession and providing technical support. Contact lens companies are now becoming closely involved in providing continuing education for the profession.
There are opportunities to work in other countries, in particular New Zealand, Australia and Canada, where optometric practice has a similar structure. Our graduates have also accepted roles in countries such as Trinidad and Norway.
There are many schemes allowing optometrists to undertake voluntary work both in the developing world and in the UK (E.g. eye examinations for the homeless). Optometric charities such as Vision Aid Overseas regularly organise groups to developing countries to perform eye examinations, or train locals to do so.
Opportunities for optometrists also exist in local government, public health, NHS advisory roles and the military.
Something completely different
It is rare for optometry graduates not to pursue a career related to optometry but the broad, scientific nature of the course means that graduates can opt for careers in unrelated areas.