A day in the life – the contact lens optician

Wilma Paton is a contact lens optician at Specsavers in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire

What’s your role?

I’m a dispensing optician (DO) and contact lens optician (CLO). I quickly knew that optics was my career when I first joined Specsavers Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, in a meet and greet role nearly 20 years ago. That developed into the practice manager role. I’ve been learning ever since to progress and support our patients. 

I moved to Specsavers Newlands, in Glasgow, ten years ago to develop into the DO position. Contact lenses have always been my main interest. I’ve managed this area in each of the practices I’ve worked in, building it up and promoting it to all patients. Five years ago, I joined Specsavers Saltcoats for the opportunity to train as a CLO. I now split my responsibilities between my DO and CLO work. I’m qualified as FBDO CL (Fellow of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians with certificate in contact lens practice).

What’s your typical day?

First thing in the morning, I’ll confirm whether anyone has booked online overnight and deal with anything I need to for patients coming in. Appointments get underway and continue through the day, including over lunchtimes to ensure we are available when patients need us.

I also help people who are in for an eye test and are interested in contact lenses. We discuss their options, covering how long they want to wear their lenses and pricing. I’ll go into a teach appointment, allowing the patient to touch and feel lenses, have a go at putting them in and taking them out. I’ll use lenses from our stock, including anything close to their prescription to give the patient a feel for them while we are waiting for their exact order.

This approach helps patients from the outset, helps minimise non-tolerances and gets it right first time, reducing the need for patients to come back for further support – although of course we are always here for them. 

At the end of the day, I’ll screen the following day’s appointments and confirm them with a courtesy call to patients. I also have weekly clinics.

What do you love about your job?

How different every day is. I love it when a patient comes from somewhere else and explains they’ve never been able to manage the teach process, but they do with me.

What are the challenges?

There are different challenges every day, with each patient having personalised needs. I love caring for them, providing solutions. It keeps it fresh and interesting. You can never get complacent and think you know it all because there are always things to be learnt. 

I’m a believer that everyone can wear contact lenses, it’s just ensuring you discuss all the options with the patient and support their choice in picking the correct one for them – getting it right first time is important. My recommendations are always based on health and backed up by explanation as to why it would be the best option.

What’s the most striking case you’ve had?

I had a teenage boy with a large minus prescription – he could not see clearly when he took his glasses off. He was an avid cyclist but found his helmet was not comfortable with glasses.

While dispensing his spectacles after the sight test, I talked about contact lenses with him and his mum. He’d been advised by previous opticians that they weren’t an option due to his prescription, around -18.00D with astigmatism. He wore glasses with special high-powered lenses (lenticular). I explained contacts were possible with a Toric XR lens, which was a little more expensive. He was excited and keen to try it out. 

I ordered trial lenses, following up with an insertion and removal appointment for him. He managed very well and quickly but got upset.

Turning to his mum, he declared: ‘I can see’.

I’ve helped many patients over the years, but this one sticks with me, and I get emotional when I think of that interaction.

It also highlights the value of my approach of giving the patient the options and allowing them the choice.

What do you do to wrap up the day and prepare for the next?

I always screen upcoming appointments booked with me to ensure I have everything required. I also order all purchase or trial lenses from that day. I work through lens deliveries and ensure all patients are called to collect and/or booked in for appointments. Another job is checking patients who need their fitting updated, calling them, and getting them booked in. 

I’ll also work through other patients due to have their lenses changed, chatting to them on the phone and inviting them in a follow-up where required. I’ll then order trial CLs and make appointments for checks, which stops patients needing to see me twice for a refit.