Optometry over the last 10 years, has changed significantly and most definitely for the better. When I qualified in 2008 I did not even have diagnostic privileges, but thanks to amazing mentorship I knew exactly what type of optometrist I wanted to be.
In 2012 I completed my diagnostics postgrad through the New England College of Optometry (NECO) (organised by GIO) and then therapeutics post grad through the State University of New York (SUNY) in 2017 in conjunction with University of Durban Westville.
We have to take a moment to give credit to those who made all this possible. People like Dirk Booysen, Stef Kriel (GIO) and Vanessa Moodley only to mention a few who were the front runners in initiating and ensuring the changes to our scope by developing the educational material and putting in the effort to have it passed by the HPCSA and other relevant bodies. I am excited to see this program incorporated into the undergraduate degree as it will eliminate most of the time constraints we as qualified and practicing optometrists faced by doing this post grad.
One of the biggest challenges during therapeutic training was completing the 600 clinical hours. I could not afford to just take 3 or 4 months out of my practice to do this, but where there’s a will there’s a way and I ended up spending 1 day per week for almost 2 years at our local government hospital. So you can just imagine my sense of relief and achievement when I finally had my degree in hand at the end of 2017 after starting the first theory module at the beginning of 2015.
Currently the biggest con I am experiencing is the inadequate drug list that we have been given. Not only is the list very incomplete and limited, but the drugs given are out dated and not the best options available on the market today. Some of our overseas colleagues have become very outspoken about this in the last few months, calling the list absurd and unjust. At the moment the SAOA is busy in discussions with SAPHRA and OSSA regarding this matter.
As an independent optometrist therapeutics has totally changed the way I am able to care for my patients. And at the end of the day, it should always be about the patients. There still remains a huge gap between primary eye care and speciality care and people are falling through the cracks. Being in a semi-rural environment I experience this every day. The current primary eye care protocols are insufficient and patients do not have the financial ability to consult with private ophthalmologists. One of the preventable problems I see is corneal scarring due to inadequate management of VKC. This can be prevented with more therapeutic optometrists involved in primary eye care.
We as an optometry industry still have a lot of work to do to get to where I believe we could and should be, but we are definitely headed in the right direction. We need to continually redefine ourselves within an ever changing market and we can never stop learning. We can either remain refractionists and retailers, or we can be a profession that has the ability to change the face of primary eye care in Africa.