The Year Two Project, the final assignment in the Specsavers Graduate Program, challenges graduate optometrists to develop themselves beyond the consulting room and explore their professional interests. Spectrum looks at some of the most exciting projects to come out of this year’s second-year cohort as the graduates prepare to move into the next stage in their careers.

Working individually or as part of a pair over a period of three to four months, the graduate optometrists apply the skills they have gained throughout the Graduate Program to deliver a business initiative in their store that relates to their own interests and working experiences. During this time, the graduates are supported by their mentors (typically, their store’s partners) and the Specsavers Professional Development team.

The assignment culminates in a series of region-based presentations, where the graduates come together to showcase their project and its findings to their fellow graduates and the local Specsavers store partners. Each of the presentations is assessed by a judging panel made up of members from the Specsavers Retail Support, Professional Development and Partner Recruitment teams, who gauge the projects’ impact and the presenters’ delivery on the day before naming a winner for each region.

Changing protocol
For their joint project, Merna Sarkes and Suneeta Nath from Specsavers Mt Druitt, New South Wales worked to change their store’s lens recommendation protocol, leading to improvements in customer feedback relating to this aspect of the store’s service.

Suneeta Nath and Merna Sarkes

“Having the opportunity to create and cultivate an idea in store and being responsible for bringing it into fruition was actually a lot of fun,” Merna commented. “Our project resulted in a simple and accessible way to recommend lens options to our customers – a benefit not only to the dispensing team but also to our optometrists.

“There is often a barrier between the clinical and retail side of optometric practice, but this project allowed for those two worlds to become integrated in a positive way. Our project has become a permanent fixture in our store and I can confidently say the whole team loves it!”

Suneeta added that the project had encouraged her to take on a greater leadership role within the store and take on challenges that she otherwise wouldn’t have. “It made me realise that to implement a change with a positive impact and longevity, we had to maintain a holistic understanding of the store, staff and customer journey,” she said.

Improving efficiency
Kelly Free, from Specsavers Taigum in Queensland, also felt her Year Two Project contributed to her growth as a leader. After collecting data over two months, she discovered that a payment policy change introduced by the Taigum store in 2016 had led to a reduction in the efficiency of order deliveries. By trialling a modified store payment policy, she was able to significantly improve these efficiencies while also better meeting customer needs.

“Becoming more involved with the business aspects of our store has provided me with the opportunity to develop my leadership skills within the Taigum team,” Kelly stated. “By implementing the Specsavers ‘CREATE’ training model in the testing room as part of my project, I have also been able to further develop myself as an optometrist to help improve on patient care.”

Building inter-professional relationships
Amin Ali of Specsavers Broadmeadows in Victoria took his project beyond the store. Through a combination of in-person meetings, calls and written correspondence, he reached out to connect with GPs and pharmacists in the local area, informing them of how Specsavers could help care for their patients.

Specsavers Broadmeadows Retail Partner Johnny Tang and Amin Ali

“My project was about building professional networks to achieve better patient outcomes through communication and collaboration,” Amin explained. “The project ran for just over three months and we saw a significant increase in patients with diabetes, as well as a 12% increase in patient volume compared to the same period last year.”

Amin said the project reiterated the importance of inter-professional communication to achieve optimal patient outcomes. “I learned that communicating with GPs is not only necessary but some of our patients expect it from us as primary care providers,” he added.

The next step
On the day of the Year Two Project presentations, the graduates have a private, individual discussion with a Specsavers support team member about their career aspirations beyond the Graduate Program. They are advised on the various options available, and how Specsavers and their store can support them in taking the next step in their respective optometry careers.

“I’m now feeling well adjusted to the real world of optometry practice and look forward to the years ahead,” Amin commented after the event.

With her final year as a graduate coming to a close, Kelly’s sentiment was bittersweet. “I’m sad that the Graduate Program is ending, but excited and ready to embrace many new opportunities ahead with Specsavers,” she said.

“The Graduate Program provided me with upfront and ongoing support, which enabled a smooth and enjoyable transition from seeing one or two patients per week at university to a busy store with back-to-back appointments.”

Kelly Free and Specsavers Graduate Optometry Development Manager ANZ Sophie Stephan

Reflecting on her own graduate journey, Suneeta explained that she had made a late entry into the Specsavers Graduate Program after spending her first year of practice at a non-Specsavers store in a city region.

“In my first year, I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough variety to learn and grow as an optometrist,” she stated. “I took a leap of faith in my second year and joined the Specsavers Graduate Program in a greater-metro store. This has honestly given me an awesome opportunity to grow so much more than I ever thought would be possible in eight months.”

Merna noted that the reality of practising optometry was very different from the university experience. “At the end of my university degree, I felt I could do anything and everything. It’s not until you’re thrown into the real world that you realise how demanding optometry can be,” she said.

“It sounds clichéd, but the last two years have been a journey of self discovery, and looking back, the difference between my first month as an optometrist compared to now – just wow! If I had to go back in time, I would choose the Specsavers Graduate Program again without a doubt.”

To find out more about the Specsavers Graduate Program, email or check out the range of graduate opportunities currently available.