A critical aspect of Transforming Eye Health is Specsavers’ approach to assisting optometrists in their transition from university to practice.

The Specsavers Graduate Program is a two-year development program for graduate or recently qualified optometrists that offers a combination of professional events, courses, and experiences designed specifically to enrich professional life. The program capitalises on the collective knowledge and experience of in-store optometrists, peers, and the team at support office through a model of mentorship and self-directed learning opportunities.

It is where the different aspects of Transforming Eye Health are conveyed, and clinical and commercial knowledge is taught through tools and training to assist optometrists to flourish in their field.

Year one

Each year, a contingent of graduate or recently qualified optometrists are hired and matched with owner-operated Specsavers practices across Australia and New Zealand. Upon being hired, the optometrists are automatically enrolled into the first year of the Specsavers Graduate Program.

Year one is structured to support the optometrist’s clinical growth and development and assist with confidence as they care for their patients. Tailored workshops and regular feedback sessions are held to support this and mentorship is a key part of learning and development.

It is normal for recently qualified optometrists to feel a lot of pressure in the first few months of practicing, so the Optometric Director or a senior optometrist for each practice becomes the optometrist’s mentor and is responsible for ensuring the optometrist’s progression on their professional learning journey. Mentors have vast knowledge and experience and are dedicated to encouraging their recently qualified optometrist’s development, both personally and professionally.

Mentors receive training and ongoing support to ensure the optometrists matched with them are given a wide range of clinical experience and support.

Peer group forums, peer mentors, the regional field team, and the graduate optometry and optometry teams located at Support Office are also equipped to provide additional training and support and can be contacted by the optometrist at any stage of the two-year program.

The Pyramid of Support:

Year two

The second year of the Specsavers Graduate Program is focused on further increasing the graduate’s skills and confidence and enhancing clinical effectiveness.

It also focuses on developing leadership abilities and gives a better understanding of the retail and commercial aspects of optometric practice so that they become well-rounded professionals.

This training is experienced through a schedule of in-store development activities, Specsavers-run activities, and external activities. See the calendar below for more information:

Case study: Emma Ingram

For Year Two graduate optometrist Emma Ingram, Specsavers Bendigo has been a workplace that has supported her to dig deeper to improve her skills and knowledge base.

“My journey with Specsavers began in my first year of university when I worked as a dispenser. I knew that already working at Specsavers would give me bias towards continuing there when I graduated so I made sure to explore and weigh up my options.”

Emma says that the support of the Specsavers Graduate Program was one of the reasons why she decided to work for Specsavers. But on top of that, she liked The Fred Hollows Foundation outreach opportunities that Specsavers offered and the fact that all Specsavers practices have OCT and a consistent standard of care.

“The Graduate Program induction days laid a really solid foundation from which I was able to focus on providing patients with the best eyecare. Little things like navigating the patient management system Socrates, selecting the most appropriate Medicare code, or which contact lenses would be available to my patients were covered so well and I always had the resources to find the information I needed.

“Optometry isn’t just refraction. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed exploring which aspects of optometry I enjoy the most. When I first graduated I found doing eye tests for kids quite intimidating. I spent a lot of time talking with my mentors and colleagues about the different ways they approach a pediatric exam and adopting some of their techniques in my own exam room. Now I really enjoy doing eye tests for kids and I feel like it’s become a strong suit of mine rather than something I dread,” says Emma.

Mentoring and support have been a large part of the journey for Emma, who met her two mentors Steve and John even before she started studying at Deakin University.

“When I started as a graduate I’d have weekly meetings with either of them for half an hour or so at a nearby cafe. We’d talk about my progress, any concerns either of us would have, challenging or interesting patients, and anything else that we wanted to chat about. These formal meetings ended when the cafe changed its hours during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and have evolved since then. Things are a lot more informal now because it suits us better. When I have a question or just want to say hi I know that their doors are always open. They know me well and whenever I’m facing something challenging at work they’ll always encourage me or give me a gentle push to help me overcome it.

“As well as my two mentors I work with six other optometrists. I am very lucky to know that if I see something interesting there’s always someone who’ll be interested in it and if someone wants to know what I learned about a particular condition at university we’ll have a chat about it. There’s always somebody to bounce ideas off and it’s great being able to collaborate with other optometrists with a diverse range of experiences.”

Despite the many challenges in 2020, Emma says a highlight was being able to finally be involved in a training outreach with The Fred Hollows Foundation.

“In the past, this would have looked like travelling over to Papua New Guinea to provide optometric care for communities and help train postgraduate students to provide ongoing eye care in these communities but of course 2020 threw its curveballs. I was able to be involved in a teleconference with a group of postgraduate eyecare students where I got to share a couple of interesting cases I’ve seen and together we discussed my management and how that might look different for them when they returned to their home towns and islands. It was so enriching to be involved in and I am excited for more opportunities like this in the future.”

Case study: Nikki Pham

Specsavers Leichhardt optometrist Nikki Pham says she had never considered working at Specsavers during her time studying at UNSW. With placements at other practices, she was content with her options – at least until the end of her final year when she started to research more options.

“I was seeking a job which gave me support and the Specsavers Graduate Program sounded great for that. The turning point was when I had the opportunity to attend SCC as an executive member of OptomSoc. I was impressed by the strategies that Specsavers was putting in place to transform eyecare. After reaching out to the team, an opening in the Leichhardt just so happened to present itself. I had a meeting with the directors on short notice and after visiting the store and meeting the team and directors, it seemed like a perfect match. I signed on shortly afterward and haven’t looked back,” says Nikki.

Since beginning work, Nikki says the most impactful aspect has been exposure to a wide variety of cases which have helped her to develop confidence in making better clinical decisions.

“I’ve always found it difficult to learn from a textbook, so being able to learn on the job has been very beneficial. A common misconception is that in regional practices, there is greater exposure to pathology, whilst the metro counterparts are primarily limited to refraction. In the short time that I have been an optometrist in a metro practice, this has definitely not been the case. Some of the cases I have seen I never even expected to see outside of a textbook. I have seen patients (some presenting with no symptoms) who have had sight-threatening or life-threatening conditions that were first picked up in my clinical examination.

“From the start, my mentor Vibeshan has always encouraged me to ask any questions that I may have. We have formal weekly meetings along with my retail director, Dylan, to talk about my progress and any concerns that I may have. Dylan and Vibeshan have always endeavoured to make sure I am okay and comfortable with anything, from the number of patients I am seeing through to store processes. Vibeshan is always willing to provide a second opinion on any cases I am unsure about, even when he’s busy seeing his own patients or on his days off. We always share interesting cases with each other during lunch breaks and at the end of the day. I know there’s always support available and am given guidance to challenge myself when necessary. This has given me room to grow and become a better optometrist altogether.”

Nikki says that she’s grown a lot since graduating and she’s worked especially hard on her communication skills, establishing a good and targeted history at the start of the consultation and being able to summarise findings in a way that is easy to understand at the end. This has helped her to build a stronger rapport with patients and her team.

“Upon graduating, I was scared and doubtful over whether I was good enough to practice. It’s important to know that as a fresh graduate starting out, you are not expected to know absolutely everything. The great thing about the Graduate Program is that you get as much support as you need to ease yourself into practising. I started with one-hour appointments and only shortened my consultation times when I felt comfortable to do so. I found the graduate days very helpful too as I was able to collaborate with my peers in the Graduate Program on common concerns. Over the past two years, I have learned and grown so much.”