Specsavers Graduate Program: Practising rural optometry with a friend

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Kasun Weerasinghe and Khang Pham met while studying optometry at QUT in Brisbane and fast became friends. So when Kasun signed on to join Specsavers Bundaberg following a positive clinical placement experience and another opportunity for a graduate arose in the store, it was not long before Khang was joining his friend in practice. Khang and Kasun discuss what they enjoy about working in regional Queensland and how they have supported each other throughout the first few months of graduate optometry.

Khang Pham (left) and Kasun Weerasinghe (right) with their mentor Chris Rodgers (middle)

Kasun Weerasinghe: After hearing about the benefits of going regional, and because I was lucky enough to have a friend already living in the area, I decided to undertake my clinical placement with Specsavers Bundaberg. Within the few days I was there, I learned so much, seeing pathology and eye conditions I had not previously encountered. I thought it would be great to work in a practice where I would constantly be learning and being challenged. I also found the Optometry Partner, Chris Rodgers, to be a smart, fun and supportive person and thought it would be great to have a mentor of his calibre. Compared to Brisbane, I found that the town of Bundaberg had a calmer, more relaxed pace that I quite enjoyed. Another benefit was that Bundaberg is about a 4.5-hour drive from Brisbane, so I was never truly going to be very far from home.

Once I had signed on with Specsavers Bundaberg as a graduate, with Khang joining soon after, I realised one of the tricky things about going regional was finding somewhere to live, but Specsavers made this easier by offering to pay for temporary accommodation in Bundaberg while Khang and I looked for a place to rent together.

To welcome us to the practice, the Specsavers Bundaberg partners organised a store dinner at a local restaurant, which was a great way for us to get to know the store team a bit better outside of work. Chris also organised meetings with the local ophthalmologists, which allowed us to build better relationships with our fellow eye care professionals.

Due to the ageing population in regional locations such Bundaberg, I am exposed to quite a bit of eye-related pathology, which I quite enjoy tackling and learning from. One of the largest challenges of working in Bundaberg is the lack of a local public ophthalmology department. This can sometimes make things difficult for patients who want to be seen publicly, as they have to resort to travelling to Brisbane. This also sometimes means increased responsibility for us as optometrists, with some patients electing to be managed under our care where appropriate. Luckily, the Bundaberg store was an early adopter of OCT and every patient has an OCT scan done as part of their eye examination, which means we are able to monitor a broader number of conditions.

Having Khang working with me here in Bundaberg has definitely enhanced my graduate experience. Having a friend to rely on and get through moving out of home for the first time certainly makes life just that bit easier and more enjoyable. We get to have our after-work “debriefs” on the car ride home and just generally share and discuss cases at lunch. Having similar interests means we both enjoy similar leisure activities, like gaming and playing sport. For me, practising optometry with a friend has made a world of difference.

Khang Pham: Kasun and I met at university and have been best friends since. After hearing how much Kasun enjoyed his clinical placement at Specsavers Bundaberg, I decided to undertake my placement at the same store and had a similarly positive experience. A few months later, the store partner contacted me to say he was looking for another graduate, which is how Kasun and I ended up working together.

I decided to practise rurally because I felt that the best time for me to experience rural life would be while I was young and more flexible. Rural practice provides a great opportunity to learn and be exposed to more of the weird and the wonderful pathology that exists in optometry. There is a desperate need for primary eye care services in non-metro areas, so I thought rural practice would allow me to make a larger impact in helping communities.

Bundaberg is a great place. From a clinical perspective, the demographic here is older with a more interesting and diverse range of pathology, which is just one of the things I enjoy about my job. There’s no traffic here, the beach is only a few minutes away, and you can clearly see the Milky Way in the night sky, away from the city lights. The friendly locals are always willing to share their insights on places to go and visit, and there’s no shortage of great personalities. I’ve since joined my first volleyball club and have been slowly improving my game. I even had the opportunity to play in the Queensland tournaments!

One of the greatest challenges of rural practice would definitely be missing my family, but the store partners have created a fantastic roster for me that makes it easier to travel back and forth between Bundaberg and home. Another challenge would be maintaining positive mental health. The learning curve of first-year optometry can be quite full-on, but the Bundaberg team has been wonderful in supporting me every step of the way. Whether they’re offering a second opinion, checking up to see if I’m doing okay, or making me laugh to brighten up my day, they’re there for me – and sometimes just knowing that is enough.

Moving out from home has also been a big step for me and I have been lucky enough to do that with my best friend. Together, Kasun and I have learned important cooking skills, such as how not to burn or undercook meat. We’ve exchanged views about interesting cases on our carpools home from the store. Recently, we also gained a new roommate who has introduced us to his favourite anime shows. Looking forward to anime dinner nights to unwind definitely helps to get through some days.

Overall, my experience in Bundaberg has been very positive and has given me an opportunity to grow not only as a practitioner but as a person as well.

More in the Specsavers Graduate Program Blog series
Supported on a new journey
Moving forward with mentorship
Side by side in the second year
Through the eyes of a graduate optometrist
The benefits of ‘going regional’
Graduate Induction – the first steps
Three days of professional development
Practising rural optometry with a friend

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