Starting your graduate year during COVID

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Ishita (Ish) Srivastava graduated from a Flinders University with a Masters in Optometry before moving to Mount Gambier in South Australia to start her career as an optometrist. In this blog, she shares her experience of regional life and the breadth of clinical experience it offers. In her second blog, Ish shares her experiences of starting her career during a global pandemic. 

2020 has been quite a year with all the challenges it has thrown at us!

COVID-19 has brought lots of changes and we have all had to adapt accordingly. Prior to the pandemic, I had only been working for a month and settling into the store. When restrictions were introduced in March and April, Specsavers stores were only open for urgent and emergency cases. This meant that we could only have one optometrist and dispenser working, while the rest of the team had to return home. This came as a big surprise and I decided to return to Adelaide to be with my family. Fortunately, for us in South Australia, the lockdowns didn’t last too long and after six weeks, the team at Mt Gambier was called back to work.

However, returning to work came with a new set of challenges. A quarter of our patient base is from across the border in regional Victoria. The pandemic impacted our patient numbers and we had to be extra careful being so close to the Victorian border, and the higher case numbers in that state. A patient screening questionnaire was implemented and strict social distancing measures were introduced. And as many optometrists work in close distance to their patients while administering an eye exam, additional cleaning and slit lamp screens were an important addition to our regular procedures.

It was initially assumed that “post-COVID” reopening would be slow, however, the demand at Mt Gambier was so high that we were booked out three weeks in advance! I was back to being full-time, which meant I could start making up for time spent off work immediately. The higher workload also meant it was harder to organise reviews and follow-ups, as we still needed to prioritise urgent care. We are managing this by bringing in a locum to help us work through the backlog of patients that need routine care.

The biggest challenge I have faced “post-COVID” is decision-making regarding patient referrals and management. Prior to COVID, there were three ophthalmologists in the region. Immediately post-COVID there was only one full-time ophthalmologist in Mt Gambier, as the other ophthalmologists, who are based in Victoria, were not allowed to cross the border. This meant that patient referrals were delayed and we needed to explore other referral options in Adelaide and regional Victoria.

And even though we are in a pandemic, my professional development as an optometrist is still a priority. Despite the demand in our store post-COVID, I am still having weekly meetings with my mentor, which allow me to get constructive criticism and to talk about the hurdles I am facing. We also get to discuss interesting cases and management strategies. My problem-solving skills have improved and I truly believe that working through this year has made me ready for facing future challenges!

More in the Specsavers Graduate Program Blog series
Outreach from the good wi-fi spot
Why I went regional – a graduate perspective
Imposter syndrome as a graduate
Time management in a clinical environment
Experiencing regional life during placement
Never a dull moment in regional practice
What I’ve learned in my first year as a grad
Supported on a new journey
Moving forward with mentorship
Side by side in the second year
Through the eyes of a graduate optometrist
Three days of professional development
Practicing rural optometry with a friend
Venturing into leadership with the Year Two Project

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