Case study

Specialist orthoptist — Dominic Burdon

Dominic's career has progressed quickly in the first two years. He enjoys seeing the positive effect his work has on his patients - find out more about what being an orthoptist involves

How did you get your job as an orthoptist?

I studied for a BMedSci Orthoptics at the University of Sheffield. While on the course, I did a placement at Plymouth Hospitals Trust, which I loved. I made it clear that I'd like to work there after I qualified, as I enjoyed the working environment and got on well with the staff.

After graduation, a post came up on NHS Jobs for an orthoptist role in Plymouth. I applied and managed to get the job.

What's a typical working day like?

I assess a multitude of visual functions, using a huge variety of tests on patients of all ages.

I’m currently working as part of a team focusing on the eye condition nystagmus - I see patients with this condition and I'm conducting research into the area.

As well as working in the main hospital, I travel to community hospitals and set up temporary clinics to do orthoptic assessments. I attend primary schools to ensure all children in foundation year are screened for vision problems.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love seeing the positive effect my orthoptic management plans have had on an infant/child's visual development, or on an adult's troublesome symptoms. This makes the busy workload worthwhile.

I also like the fact that there is a wide range of areas you can specialise in, which keeps the job interesting and means I've carried on learning after university.

What are the challenges?

When providing a service to such a large variety of patients, there will always be difficult conversations regarding diagnosis, prognosis and management. One challenge is communicating these conversations as clearly and empathetically as possible.

Maintaining the highest quality of care, while being put under pressure through time constraints, can also be hard at times. However, the rewarding nature of the clinical work far outweighs the challenges.

How is your degree relevant?

My degree prepared me well for working life. It covered all the aspects of orthoptics I needed for my role, plus some extra, more specialist modules.

The degree incorporated clinical placements into the course very well, which allowed me to apply my theoretical knowledge to practical work.

How has your role developed? What are your career ambitions?

My role has developed significantly over the first two years of my career. I initially spent time adapting to working life and settling into the core Band 5 orthoptic clinical work, as well as the administrative tasks which you're not responsible for as a student.

As Plymouth is a centre of excellence for nystagmus, I've now taken on the role of specialist orthoptist working as part of the nystagmus team.

I plan to become involved with the ophthalmic care of special educational needs patients in the region. Screening these patients for eye conditions will be part of the role.

What are your tips for aspiring orthoptists?

  • Get some work experience before applying for a degree course. This will help you find out about the job and whether you think you'd enjoy it.
  • Many of your patients will be infants and children, so you'll have to be good with children to succeed in orthoptics.
  • The degree course is very full on, as providers usually fit the entire syllabus and clinical placements into three years. This means you'll need to be determined and embrace all the advised study, coursework and placements thrown at you. This is a good thing in my opinion, because it means you're able to start your career sooner.

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