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Are you a confident optometrist?



When I read Douglas Kruger’s piece: Experts don’t disqualify themselves through humility, it made me think how it could relate to optometry. This is what I think:

High performance optometric practices do well because patients keep on returning. They return because of a long term relationship, based on trust. Patient trust in an optometrist must be based on the belief that the optometrist possesses sound clinical skills and knows everything there is to know about how to handle any clinical eventuality. On top of that, the patient must like, or at least be satisfied with the optometrist’s demeanour. This is where confidence kicks in. So, what are the things that an optometrist should be aware of to mould this display of confidence?


The key here is to look professional, which does not mean he has to wear a tie or she has to wear a business suit. Just look smart. Some folk like to work in casual clothes which is fine, as long as it is smart. You can wear jeans if you like, but it must be smart, not the ones with holes all over. Don’t wear anything that will make the patient uncomfortable such as too much cleavage! Clothing that has seen better days and are worn out won’t project the image you are after. It is easy to wear a favourite garment past it’s sell by date. New clothes will always look nice, so revamp the wardrobe regularly.

The greeting

Give them the firm hand shake! A soft “wet-fish-like” hand shake is a confidence killer! Greet the patient by name and introduce yourself, whilst looking them straight in the eyes.

The walk through

Don’t just take off, leaving the patient in your dust! Tell them where you are going (second door on the right) and walk next to them or behind them. Eighty year old Auntie Agnus will appreciate it if you guide her by taking her elbow.

Body odour

Optometrists are vulnerable to having poor body odour noticed because of the close proximity to patients. Halitosis is the bad one because it can sneak in without you knowing it. Smokers will always smell to non-smokers, another confidence killer.

Establishing the real need

Nothing instills confidence better than when a patient gets the feeling the optometrist fully understand her needs. Ask the right questions and repeat verbally what the problem is.

Communicating the tests

Explain the purpose of each test as you progress through the examination. It conveys to the patient how thorough you are. Make positive comments about findings that you are pleased with.

The last five minutes

This is the business end of your patient encounter. Take care to explain the outcome and what the plan is going forward. Make it known, that if there is any doubt about the visual status or difficulty coping with the new Rx, they can call you. They must know you are available to them and not locked in an ivory tower. Always end off with “Do you have any questions?” Your recommendations should be expressed with conviction – confidence.

To say I don’t know

Always be brutally honest about the validity of your clinical assessment. If you are not sure, say so. Book the patient for a follow-up to give yourself the opportunity to ask advice or do research. However, if you are sure, say it like you mean it. .

The dispensing instruction

Should there be specific instructions to your dispenser, give these in the presence of the patient. Where history dictates or if you anticipate adaptation issues, ask to be called out when the patient collects the spectacles.

Being available

It is excellent practice to give an undertaking to the patient that you are available to them at all times. However, this can fall flat if you have the policy of not taking phone calls during a consultation. No social calls ,yes! But if a patient needs your help, given your promise to be available, and is then told you are consulting, will destroy trust in a moment. The argument by the “no call takers” is usually that the patient in the chair is paying for the consultation and deserves undivided attention. But what about your promise when handing over the new contact lenses to Sally with the words: ”Any problems, give me a call”.  This is what I recommend. Firstly, the front liner must assess the call and know that it is important – such as a painful red eye. When the phone rings in your room, the first thing you say to Auntie Agnus in the chair is: ”Do you mind if I take this? They will only ring me if it is an urgent matter”. When you connect with Sally on the line, you repeat what her complaint is: ” So you have a painful red eye?” Auntie Agnus will understand that this is the demeanour of a caring practitioner and she can rely on the same level of care. Obviously, only one such call should be permitted during the same consultation.