Case study

Specialist orthoptist — Gemma Kane

As a recently qualified orthoptist, Gemma has already gained experience with a range of patients and is now looking to specialise. Find out how her career is progressing

How did you get your job as an orthoptist?

I applied for my first job through the NHS Jobs website while still studying at the University of Sheffield.

I filled out a profile, writing around a page of text about why I wanted the job and what qualifications and attributes I had that best fitted what they were looking for. I was invited for an interview and the day after I got the job.

Since then, I've applied for and secured the post of specialist orthoptist at a different hospital, which I'm due to start in the coming months.

What's a typical day like?

I arrive at work and set up my clinic room and the department prior to the first appointments of the day. I read through the notes of the patients I'm due to see so I know what to expect.

Each clinic is different, for some I have specific patients and that will be their only appointment for the day. For others, I see the next patient as they arrive and then send them to see another colleague, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

If I have free time during the day I deal with phone messages left on the clinic phone, tidy and clean equipment, dictate letters, and restock leaflets and consent forms in the department.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety of patients I see. I work with a range of patients from premature babies to teenagers, to the elderly.

What are the challenges?

Time constraints. You never quite know exactly what tests you need to do until you have the patient in your clinic room. Some appointments can be very short; however, for others you need to really watch your time and ensure you don't run over, while still ensuring you do everything necessary to formulate an appropriate diagnosis and management plan.

How relevant is your degree?

My BMedSci Orthoptics from The University of Sheffield is very relevant. I couldn't get a job as an orthoptist without the degree. Everything I've been taught has been relevant to my job so far, even modules which aren't specifically orthoptics, such as electrodiagnosis and medical microbiology.

How has your role developed?

I started out as a band 5 orthoptist, which I began soon after graduation, and have quickly progressed to a band 6 specialist orthoptist role. In my first job I worked in a large team of orthoptists and dealt with a variety of patients and got some fantastic experience.

I've always wanted to work with children with special needs and learning difficulties, and as part of my new job I will run the hospital's child development clinic and attend a local special needs school to conduct clinics.

The great thing about orthoptics is that you can specialise in many areas. Working with children with special needs, such as those with Down's Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, is just one speciality, which I'm thankful to have the opportunity to specialise in.

Any tips for getting into orthoptics?

  • Make sure you shadow an orthoptist at your local hospital. The course is demanding so you really must have a passion for orthoptics.
  • Be willing to put in the hard work. Not only do you have to attend lectures and seminars, but you also have to complete placements in different hospitals across three years. Placements last about one to four weeks and you go up and down the country. I went to Leeds, London, Newcastle and Gibraltar.
  • Make sure you understand the difference between an orthoptist, optometrist and ophthalmologist. While we all deal with eyes, we carry out very different roles. It's a classic interview question.

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