For the last few months, I’ve been taking steps to enable me to return to work in optometry. This blog post covers why I took a career break, what I did in the meantime, and the process of re-registering. I hope it will be interesting to the lay-reader and useful to other optometrists who might be returning to the profession.
Why I Took A Career Break From Optometry
I took a career break in 2010, after working in practice for 14 years. It suited my family circumstances at the time, but I didn’t close the door on my career. I continued to pay my professional fees because I always intended to return to work.
However, life threw me the most curved of balls in 2014. I went through a traumatic divorce after I learned that my former husband had been unfaithful. That’s a whole other story and I mention it only because it changed our lives and my direction. It’s the reason I didn’t return to work sooner. I realised that I needed, and wanted, to be there for my children, aged 13 and 11.
We moved house and started over. At the time, I’d been writing my blog for just over a year. It’d given me enough experience and confidence to take a role as a copywriter and editor on a local magazine. A job I could do mostly from home. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to return to work in optometry for some time, so I “retired” from the GOC (General Optical Council) register. It just didn’t make financial sense to pay annual professional fees which total almost £1000. I did it with a heavy heart, but it was the right decision given the circumstances.
When Style Blogging Met Optometry
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. By then, my children and I were a fully-established, tight-knit threesome in our new home. I got a call from one of my dearest university friends, Dr Ian Beasley. He’s known and loved within the profession and among many other things, is the clinical editor of the professional journal “Optometry Today.” He suggested that as a writer/style blogger with a professional optometric background, I was ideally placed to write a new column about trends and fashion in the world of optics. I accepted with utter joy and it’s a role I still hold today.
Since then, via that same column and through my blog, I have collaborated with several optical brands and enjoyed several brilliant experiences. Three things in particular stand out, my trip to Berlin with Zeiss last year, the 100% Optical event at the start of this year and my trip to Stuttgart with STEPPER in October. And after they saw my social media coverage from last time, I was appointed as an official media partner/blogger for next year’s 100% Optical, (12-14th January 2019),
Why I Decided To Return To Work In Optometry
I began to include more optometry-related content in my blog, so I added a tagline to reflect it. “What Lizzy Loves: Life And Style Through The Eyes of An Optometrist.” In many ways, I already had the perfect career. My two worlds had met and formed a very harmonious union. But, in common with most, my life was, and still is, constantly evolving.
My children are now 17 and 15 and becoming increasingly independent. And ever more expensive. Driving lessons, school trips abroad, eighteenth birthday parties and university fees are all on the horizon. These upcoming costs had been on my mind for some time. I’m in a loving, truly happy relationship and I’m in really good health. (I wrote recently about a successful operation to remedy some health issues which had affected my day-to-day life for years. This gave back the confidence I lost in my ability to work “normally” and was hugely important in making this decision)
The main reason though was that I simply felt ready. Ready for a new-old challenge, ready to exercise the clinical part of my brain and ready to re-enter the profession I never stopped loving.
How To Return To Work In Optometry
When I decided to return to work in optometry, my overwhelming emotion was excitement. But I felt daunted too. Eight years is a long time to be out of practice and I wasn’t sure where to start.
This is my step-by-step guide including my own experience of the process. But before I do, to those non-optical bods who are still reading, first of all, thank you! Second, here’s a brief overview of the professional bodies.
GOC: The General Optical Council regulates the optical profession in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education, performance and conduct amongst opticians. It is mandatory to be registered with the GOC.
AOP: The Association of Optometrists protects, supports and represents professionals in the optical sector. It provides professional indemnity insurance, (also mandatory). There are other providers but I was a member of the AOP from the start.
The College Of Optometrists: The College is the professional body. It qualifies the profession and delivers the guidance, development and training to ensure optometrists provide the best possible care. Membership entitles optometrists to use the affix MCOptom.
CET: Continuing Education and Training. Optometrists must gain 36 CET points across eight competencies over a three year cycle to remain on the register.
1. Go On The Restoration Register
If like me, you came off the GOC register, you will need to apply to go on the “Restoration Register” It’s simple and easy to do online. It is helpful if you remember your original GOC number, the one starting with 01-
You will be given a new number beginning with U.
2. Get Professional Indemnity Insurance
3. Get 12 CET Points
I’ve put these two steps together because it doesn’t really matter which you do first. Although, if like me you join the AOP, you will get discounted CET courses. Now it is possible to do all of the CET at no cost at all. Optometry Today and Spectrum both provide excellent free CET by distance learning. This is usually in the form of an article followed multiple-choice questions. However, eight of the 36 points must be interactive, i.e. they must be earned in person at a lecture, workshop etc.
I went to a one-day therapeutics course in Manchester, organised by the AOP in June. This provided eight interactive points plus one point peer discussion, so it was well worth it. It would have cost over £200 but because I had joined the AOP for my professional indemnity, I got it at the discounted cost of £185.
4. Rejoin the GOC
As soon as all twelve points have been awarded and accepted, you can fill in the online form to become restored to the register. At the same time, you will need to have your identity verified and fill in the GOC Restoration Identification Form. You’ll need someone to countersign this to confirm your identity- much like a passport application.
Once the fee is paid, (currently £340 for the year), the GOC will issue a new number and you are once again fully-registered.
5. Complete The National Performers List Application Form.
Please note that everything I discuss below relates to practice in England. It differs for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This is a requirement if an optometrist is to work within the NHS, whether that is in a hospital setting or whether it is performing NHS sight tests. The NPL 1 is a long form which needs careful attention when completing. When I was reading through it, I realised I would need to complete level 2 child and adult safeguarding courses. DOCET do an online one which took me an hour or so to complete. They were worth one CET point each.
It is also mandatory to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS). The applicant must provide this themselves and can use any one of these umbrella bodies recommended by the Home Office to facilitate the process. It costs around £65.
Face To Face Interviews
The final stage in the process is a face to face interview with a PCSE (Primary Care Services England) local training manager who will review and verify your supporting documents. All original documents need to be scanned and emailed prior to the appointment. These include, among others, the following:
A copy of the NPL1 application form
Professional Indemnity Certificate (in my case, AOP certificate)
Evidence of child and adult safe-guarding training
My face to face meeting took about 20 minutes. After this, they obtained two references from GOC registered optometrists with whom I’d worked. Several weeks later, my application arrived with my area team, Yorkshire and Humber. The called and asked me to attend a further meeting to discuss the changes in NHS ophthalmic services since I last practiced. The meeting was informal, informative and lasted about an hour.
They suggested a voluntary agreement to have an optometrist “buddy” at work with whom I will discuss five NHS cases over three months and provide evidence of the discussions. This is much like a peer review exercise and something I enjoy doing, so I was happy to agree, as was my colleague at my new practice. I always strive to be the best practitioner I can and to give due diligence, so this is no hardship.
My application for inclusion on the Performer List was finally approved about three months after I first submitted my application form. I have to say that this last stage felt very drawn out, but I understand and appreciate why NHS England are so exacting.
I shall do a follow-up to this post about the reality of being back in practice and how I found the first few months.
And… the fabulous tee is from Opsessions. This is a tiny business selling “banterful clothing, accessories and all things optometry.” I met one of the directors when we were both in Berlin with Zeiss. She’s called Erica, @spinachandspecs and she’s a newly qualified optometrist. She sent this to me and I absolutely love it. So, if you are in the profession, do go and support this dynamic, ambitious young woman. After all, she is the future of our profession.