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My Optometry story

Why I may not practice after six years of study

WHY I MAY NOT PRACTICE OPTOMETRY AFTER 6 YEARS OF STUDY

I am an undergraduate student in my final year, studying a course that never thrilled me at first and that still do not fill me with much pride.

During my university’s entrance examination 6 years ago, Doctor of optometry , admittedly, was my preferred course of study and this preference wasn’t just unfortunate but weird, because I had zero knowledge about my intended course of study. I had no informational background about optometry in Nigeria – I simply chose it because I wanted to become a doctor, since medicine and surgery was becoming difficult to get. I never knew I would be spending the next six years of my life training to become a “second-class doctor”.

There were no shouts of joy, neither was there any compelling feeling of achievement, when I checked up my admission status on the university’s website and realized I have been admitted to study Optometry in the first school of optometry in West Africa. I was with roommates that faithful day, I can still remember, and even while they congratulated me, my excitement was restrained and quite underwhelming.

A friend told me “you should have chosen dentistry, they pay dentists more than optometrists”, he was studying electrical engineering in my university. An older friend who was studying medicine and surgery at the time, dismissed optometry – “Optometrists, they do nothing in UBTH, University of Benin teaching hospital, the teaching hospital of my university. I don’t understand you, you shouldn’t have gone for it”. He wanted me to read medicine and surgery.

I had earnestly hoped that when classes and study routine commences, I would fall in love with my course. That never happened really.

I saw my coursemates leave. Some re-applied for admission and we’re fortunate to get medicine and surgery. Some were simply happy to just leave optometry, even it means dropping to study less fancied courses like microbiology and plant biology, while some just left to stay at home for one extra year doing nothing.

I didn’t push to leave. The whole process of preparing for another round of entry examinations to get admission elsewhere just seemed herculian to me. I held on to what I had – albeit grudgingly.

The years rolled by very fast, but the no-love romance with optometry remained largely the same.

I constantly had to put up with fellow students downgrading my course. Even agriculture students, would refer to my course as “nonsense” and a “waste of six years”, adding that “all you guys do is make glasses”.

The university did very little to help the department of optometry in this face of bias. The department was and is still bereft of lecture theatres, standard library and a standard teaching clinic.

I gained nothing substantial from my training as a clinical student. I never looked forward to clinical sessions, because they were always filled with disappointments. You’re always certain that the supervising lecturer will ridicule you. They’ll always tell you how “dull you are”, without ever really offering corrections and advice. I was always given low scores during clinical assessment and honestly, it was quite depressing.

Clinical instruments are kept away from students. I have barely touched them. Essential clinical instruments like the slit lamp biomicroscope and the visual field perimeter , were only mastered in theory. I never practiced with them on any patient during clinical sessions.

Fortunately for myself and my coursemates, the compulsory externship programme – a clinical training for students in a multidisciplinary healthcare setting outside the university under strict supervision of a practicing doctor, which we underwent for about 7 months, exposed us to real life optometry practice. I learnt an incredible lot during this time, perfecting my skills in refraction, disease diagnosis, drug prescription, clinical instrumentation and complete eye examination .

The most heart-rending part though – practicing the profession after school. The opportunities are scarce and the remuneration is laughable. The downside of the externship programme was the exposure I gained regarding the harsh realities optometrists face outside school in my country. It opened my eyes, but it broke me even more. Optometrists are under-valued, under-paid and over-worked. I don’t relish any of these.

We spend the same of number of years of study in school with medical doctors, pharmacists and dentists and while their protracted stay in school is deservedly eased upon employment with impressive take home pays, the optometrist is left behind.

The supervising doctor during my externship programme, who is barely two years in practice, shared with me how his colleagues, fellow young doctors, were always complaining of the unpleasant working conditions they had to deal with daily at their respective clinics – How their private employers subject them to long, unrelenting working hours with little rest, from Mondays to Saturdays, but with peanuts as salaries.

During one of such discussions, he told me “Simon, if it’s to leave optometry and go into cryptocurrency, I wouldn’t hesitate – as long as money is made and I am comfortable”.

Public practice is quite commendable in my country, but getting a placement there, largely depends on who you know.

I want to improve the vision of people in my country and I want to be comfortable financially while doing that. Economic realities are harsh in this part of the world. I may have dealt with scorn for the large part of six years, but if I should remain with optometry, then it should be rewarding.

I may have achieved my goal of becoming a doctor, but this is not the type of doctor I hoped to become. 

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