2020 marked a momentous year for optometry within HEIW. It celebrated the first year of inclusion into the clinical fellowship program, alongside other primary care professions, medical, dental and pharmacy. To say we were excited for the addition is an understatement. Two optometrists were granted fellowships to work with HEIW and Welsh Government, on workforce and contract reform projects.
Sarah Schumm was fortunate enough to be one of them. We asked her about her experience and here’s what she had to say…
“I am a community optometrist, qualified for 16 years, my background is purely clinical. Being an optometrist can be quite a lonely profession. Yes, clinics are full of patients, but with little time for collaboration with peers. I was keen to explore what other opportunities were available to me outside of my six-by-four meter testing room. The fellowship has certainly delivered. I have discovered a world I had no previous knowledge of, and whilst this has been incredibly exciting and empowering, it has highlighted my ignorance.
The learning curve was steep. I have been used to task-and-finishing within a time frame each day. There was a strict routine, with no loose ends. Having that structure was comforting, clear and neat. The total opposite to what I embarked on with the fellowship! Yes, I set myself targets and time-frames, but I was not used to relying on others to meet them. It took some time to acclimatise to this, but the support and engagement I have received from everyone has been overwhelming. I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Nik Sheen, who has been very patient with me, allowing me to find my feet, whilst guiding and encouraging me. Myself and Tim, my fellow ‘fellow’, have taken the opportunity to explore every avenue, no matter how obscure, and have thoroughly enjoyed the luxury this fellowship has afforded us.
My project is to deliver a workforce strategy for optometry for now and the future. It has been challenging to say the least as nothing like this has been attempted before. We are a workforce that is growing in recognition for the healthcare services we provide. Much of our workforce is constantly up-skilling, taking post graduate courses and gaining extra qualifications to help ease the burden on secondary care. We are being utilised far more by GP’s for further investigations, and by pharmacists for anterior eye complaints. My job this year is to ensure that we have the appropriate workforce to deliver these services throughout the whole of Wales, to ensure equity for all, not just now, but going forward into the future. We are an ageing population, with many eye conditions worsening with age. We need to continue to deliver the advanced care required to maintain the population’s sight.
One other area I am keen to explore further is to raise the awareness and importance of optometry, not just to other healthcare providers and the public, but within optometry itself. During the first five months of this fellowship, I have learned so much about the profession I have spent the last 16 years in. Without this opportunity, I may never have discovered it. I would like continual professional development (CPD) to be delivered and available to us like it is other primary care professions, to include reflections and opportunities for alternative learning and advancement. There are so many ways that people within the profession can up-skill themselves, they just aren’t aware of it. Traditionally, we have just delivered eye examinations. However, we are in a position to offer so much more. HEIW will be key to delivering this message and I look forward to the input and resources that will be made available. We are a profession that wants to be utilised. Our response during Covid-19 has highlighted this by our need to continuing to stay open to deliver eye examinations throughout the whole of the pandemic, and immediately volunteering to help with the vaccination program.
I am looking forward to the remainder of my fellowship year, my only gripe being that I wish it were for longer!”
For further information, or if you’re interested in contacting a fellow, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the fellows on Twitter @WelshFellows