A career as an optometrist - thinking outside the test room

Posted on March 30, 2018
Author: Lifeatspecsavers

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney blog – Can doing more

actually make you happier at work?

Having a job for life in a profession you love doesn’t need to mean performing sight tests, nine to five, every day for the next 50 years. Daniel Hardiman-McCartney – himself a wearer of many professional hats – looks beyond the lure of locum-ing at the rise of the portfolio optometrist.

While the number of optometry graduates has increased considerably over the past decade, the number who change jobs or who are able to move around the country has fallen. Millennials (that’s those under 40) – despite their reputation for being ‘footloose and fancy free’ – are thought to be the least mobile workforce in the post-war era as a result of macro-economic factors such as the cost of housing, commuting and childcare.

Historically, for those craving a bit of variety and flexibility to the job, this has meant becoming a locum. But with portfolio careers now on the rise in optometry, more and more practitioners are finding that work/life balance need not be at the expense of a long and meaningful relationship with their employer.

What is portfolio working?

Truly freelance work is certainly flexible, but this often comes at a cost, including professional restrictions, a constant need to pitch for new work and a lack of job security. By contrast, portfolio working involves taking on a number of part-time roles to build a career. These roles can be multifaceted across different industries or sectors, or complementary. They might be with different departments of one organisation (Specsavers being one very good example of this), or with multiple organisations. Not only is this good for the individual, it’s also good for employers, as employees become more skilled and more flexible – and, ultimately, happier and more engaged.

Many reading this will be familiar with store partnership and business roles alongside practising as an optometrist. Just as it is possible to slice up the working week into management time and time in the consulting room, so too can employed optometrists slice up their working week into a portfolio of roles.

For a clinically minded optometrist, this might involve two days a week working in traditional primary practice and one-day MECS in store, with a day in an ophthalmology-led glaucoma clinic with Newmedica and a day per week in a regional development and training position or working in the hospital or charity sector. All part-time employed roles, with a mix of work, which accommodate individual work/life-balance needs. And the changing landscape of the profession means that the demand for such positions is only likely to increase.

Examples of different portfolio rolls within optometry:

Clinical roles:

  • MECS
  • Independent prescribing
  • Newmedica Optometrist
  • Low vision clinics
  • Domicillary
  • Glaucoma community EOS
  • AMD and OCT community EOS
  • Paediatric clinics
  • Contact lenses
  • Dry eye


  • Senior CET facilitator
  • Head of EOS
  • College of Optometrists Pre-reg supervisor or examiner
  • WOPEC assessor

Professional Representative: 

  • GP and school ambassador
  • Professional body representative, AOP, College, LOCSU
  • Local Optical Committee
  • Professional services consultant
  • Media spokesperson

Business and Management: 

  • Store management
  • Social media engagement
  • Ophthalmic director

Charity sector: 

  • Vision care charities, local, national, international
  • Local charity and community work

There are no limits...

  • Swimming instructor
  • Teaching assistant
  • Journalism and writing
  • Cake decorating
  • Life coaching
  • Garden designer
  • Semi-professional sports
  • Photographer
  • Vlogging

Thinking outside the (test room) box

I know of portfolio optometrists who mix their weeks with charity work, journalism, teaching and sometimes something completely different, from swimming instruction to cake decorating. Many choose to mix in an element of third sector work, allowing them to give back to the local or global community through voluntary work.

The common message I hear from these colleagues is that the variety and flexibility keeps them fresh and engaged as a practitioner, maintaining their enjoyment and interest in core optometric tasks such as refraction and routine sight tests, and resulting in a more rounded lifestyle both in work and out.

Juggling and balancing acts

However, juggling several jobs isn’t always easy. You have to be organised and flexible; you may be working on several things at once, all with tough deadlines, or in different clinics each with their own protocols. Good people skills are required due to the number of different teams that you may be working with, plus each may have different systems, software and their own quirks. Even simple things such as arranging leave can require some planning when you must arrange it with four different organisations.

Keeping up to date can also be a challenge. With a breadth of jobs comes the responsibility to complete relevant CPD and develop your skills for each role; you need to be both master and jack of all trades within your chosen portfolio.

For me, I am pleased to report that portfolio working has been, and continues to be, a positive experience. It is hard work and, at times, challenging but with the efforts invested have come rewards. I have been able to develop a specialist interest in glaucoma, help deliver an ophthalmologist-led glaucoma service in a rural and poorly served community with Newmedica, taken on roles with the College of Optometrists as clinical adviser and spokesperson and, as part of Specsavers’ professional advancement team, I am supporting fellow optometrists in practice.

The portfolio mix has been successful in maintaining my passion for the routine aspects of optometric practice and enabled a work/life balance which works for me and my family. I find myself constantly learning new things and working with people – many of them not optometrists – who use their talents in creative ways to support our profession.

Creating the perfect portfolio career is like setting up a business: it requires constant work, entrepreneurial thinking, and you have to be prepared for some setbacks along the way. However, if you can nurture a mindset that you are building a career around a set of skills, not around one job, it can be a great way to future-proof one’s career, whilst maintaing that interest and enthusiasm that led you to optometry in the first place.

About the author

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney has over 20 years’ experience working in optics. He is a consultant to Specsavers’ professional advancement team, a glaucoma specialist optometrist with Newmedica and is employed by the College of Optometrists as a clinical adviser. He has previously been managing director of an optical practice in Cambridge, a visiting clinician at Anglia Ruskin University and a senior glaucoma optometrist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Daniel is well known throughout the industry for his blogs and public engagement work raising the profile of optometry and the importance of good eye health.

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