Case study

Advanced orthoptist — Courtney Powdrill

Find out how Courtney's degree prepared her for the challenges and rewards of working as an advanced orthoptist and vision screening lead

What degree did you study?

I graduated with a BMedSci Orthoptics from The University of Sheffield in 2016.

How did you get your job?

I had known for a long time that I wanted to work at Moorfields Eye Hospital. A few of my university friends had worked there, or been on placement there, and had spoken very highly of the trust. I saw an application for a post working there on the NHS Jobs website, so got in touch with the consultant orthoptist and asked for a tour of the department. The team were very friendly and I was keen to apply.

I was offered an interview, which was done virtually as I was abroad, and a day later I was offered the job.

What's a typical working day like?

I work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. At times there are also opportunities to work extra hours at the weekend if staff wish to do so.

My role involves assessing, diagnosing and treating defects in eye movement and problems with how the eyes work together. These can be caused by issues with the muscles around the eyes or defects in the nerves enabling the brain to communicate with the eyes. My caseload is approximately 60% children and 40% adults.

I also manage the vision screening service within the area of Wandsworth. This involves training staff members to detect reduced vision in reception-aged children and then refer onwards for further investigations and treatment as required, e.g. glasses or an eye patch.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team and meeting patients of all ages. It's really rewarding when you are able to follow patients up and see that their treatment plan is working and their vision has improved.

The job is also very exciting and at times you can often feel like a detective, trying to investigate why a patient has double vision and what further tests are required to give them a full diagnosis.

What are the challenges?

During COVID-19, schools have been closed so all vision screening nationally has been postponed. The challenge now is to review those children and establish alternative pathways for their care to ensure they are treated in a timely fashion. At the moment, as a team we are working with the schools in the area to raise awareness on vision screening and what can be done to prevent eye problems developing.

In what way is your degree relevant?

The orthoptics degree at The University of Sheffield has a good mix of modules to incorporate all parts of the job. These include psychology, optics and anatomy, as well as practical placements.

The clinical placements over the three years prepare you to be an autonomous practitioner following graduation. Having a course that is diverse really prepares you for working life.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have been an orthoptist now for almost five years and am currently studying for a PGCert in Higher Education with the University of London, which will enable me to teach future aspiring orthoptists.

Previous roles have included overseeing the adult stroke service and assessing children or adults following orbital trauma, which has caused damage to the bones around the eye.

I am hoping to develop my knowledge and skills in neuro-ophthalmology, which is the study of diseases of the brain and how they affect the eyes, so that I can apply them to a new service which is being set up. This service involves assessing patients following a brain injury in one of the neuro-disability hospitals in the area.

What are your top tips for others interested in becoming an orthoptist?

  • As part of the application process you will undergo an interview. Contact the British and Irish Orthoptic Society for support organising work experience at a unit local to you.
  • Be prepared to travel a lot when you are a student. I remember having placements all over the country, in Durham, Hull, Wolverhampton and London, for example. This experience allowed me to see orthoptics in a wide range of settings from community centres to acute referral centres, as well as the range of extended roles and where my career could take me.
  • As the degree course includes both on-site learning and clinical placements during university holidays your course will be intense. However, this allows knowledge gained to be immediately put into practice with real patients.

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