Making the move to Australia as an Optometrist with Specsavers

Posted on May 11, 2017
Author: Sam Reed

Starting my career as an Optometrist

- Greeshma Patel's story

When I graduated in 2003 and set upon my optometry career I had my sights set on nothing more than working in practice as an employed Optometrist, and could never see myself moving from my cosy and happy life in England. 

Just three years later I was forced to rewrite my career path when I became redundant from my position. I entered into the competitive and unpredictable world of being a locum Optometrist, in a saturated professional market. I had to learn new systems, and work in new teams everyday. I worked in more independent practices and then with multiples. I became interested in what made each practice work. I asked a lot of questions and started to understand the bigger world of optics, which exists outside the four walls of the consulting room. Most of my friends were Optometrists who were either locums, employed, setting up independent practices or buying into the multiple chains. Each had their own challenges and rewards. Where did I fit in, or was this it for me? 

One evening I met with a friend who was leaving for a life in Australia as a retail partner with Specsavers

What? How? Why? 

She told me how Specsavers was relatively new there and they were looking for dispensing opticians and optometrists from the UK to join them in the capacity of partners or as employees. Life was promised to be good and the opportunities for stores were abundant. 

She told me to get in touch with Jerry Dunn who was the international and specialist recruitment manager for Specsavers. We met and after a 3 hour interview he approved me for partnership. What just happened? I didn't even know that I wanted to do this until he said I could do this. All the way in Australia? I'd been there just the year before in 2009 and I never thought I could live there. It was such a long way away, and every bit of a holiday and none of what I saw my reality as. 

It was a dream, but was it my dream?

Reality kicked in when I flicked through the requirements for passing the OCANZ examinations. Although I'd known that there was a syllabus which mirrored the UK Optometry syllabus, there were some extra skills which I would need to first learn and then become proficient with. There was some support that Specsavers could provide but the biggest support were the other candidates who were embarking on their OCANZ journey with Specsavers. With Jerry's help we set up a private Facebook group and began asking each other questions and working through the preparation together. We organised practice sessions and Jerry managed to organise an OCANZ specific course at Glasgow university. This helped immensely. It was a chance to work in exam settings with others who had been through the process having passed or failed at their attempt. Their experiences were invaluable. 

For a few months I had put my head down and polished up on my skills, knowledge and exam techniques. The Melbourne exams came about very fast and Jerry handed over his reigns to Raj in Melbourne, who was in charge of partner recruitment and himself an Optometrist with Specsavers Australia. He organised some practice sessions in Melbourne and I got myself into the official mock exams set by the ACO at the examination centre. The mock exams were a shocking experience but one which I needed to bring me to reality. I failed my mock station exams. I don't think I slept for the next two nights. Failing these made me work hard through the nights (still being jet lagged helped) I was so stressed that I lost my voice. Luckily for my exam day I was able to talk at a low audible level to make myself heard. Even though I passed at first attempt, I knew many who had to resit. I didn't let myself celebrate until I got on my flight home. 

Gosh, another 24 hours flight time. It was a long way from home, did I really want to do this? I took the examination pass as a decision made and I began preparing for my registration process and visa application. 

A new life in Australia

At this point it became frustratingly slow. Whether it was registering with the health authority body, or polishing my CV and detailing every Specsavers I had worked with, the application for a 457 temporary resident work visa took 5 months. I used this time to pack up my life and with my toddler and husband we had began to say our goodbyes. 

Specsavers arranged for our belongings to be shipped over and planned initial accommodation and car hire for us. Although there was no permanent position available for me in Sydney, they offered me part time work on my arrival to give me and them some time to arrange my partnership opportunities

This is the part that not many will realise. It's virtually impossible to live a comfortable life in Sydney with a part time job (with varying days) while putting a toddler into long day care (5 days, just to be prepared for irregular working weeks) and the cost of setting up life and home. It was a real struggle. More than once did I question whether I had made the right choice. We lived a lovely life in London, our own homes and a great quality of life. Friends and family close by. To this, struggling to make ends meet on a single part time salary. I look back on that year as a character building and humbling time. The easy thing to do was to return home but by now I had experienced what Optometry in Sydney was like. More professional freedom and respect. I decided that I wanted this even more now, with the beautiful city, beaches and weather. Hard work and determination bought me to the opportunity to buy into the Sydney CBD store, exactly a year into my move. 

It hasn't been easy and each year since I have been here has bought its own challenges. A new baby, a family bereavement in England, a second practice in Sydney, relocation of the first practice immediately after a refit project, these to name a few. 

One thing that I am grateful for each day is the partnership that Jerry and Raj have created for me. My partners are the most supportive and ambitious people I could have wished for. For them I am truly grateful. 

Still today nearly 5 years on, as I commute over the Sydney Harbour bridge each day, I look at the flurry of activity on the harbour and this beautiful city of Sydney. I am thankful and happy. If this wasn't my dream in 2003, it sure is now. This is my Australian dream.

For more stories of people who have made the move Down Under click here