Specsavers have supported me in so many ways since qualifying as an optometrist

Posted on May 02, 2018
Author: Lifeatspecsavers

Meet Anne-Ita McHugh - Optometrist Parter

in Bedminster (South West) 

What was your background before joining Specsavers? 
I qualified as an Optometrist at the Dublin Institute of Technology in 2012. The Optometry course in Dublin has a different structure than the UK courses - I did my
pre-reg placement at the University of Houston in Texas for a six month period between my 3rd and 4th year. When I finished my 4th year and my final exams, I undertook my professional exams and applied to both the Opticians Board in Ireland and the General Optical Council in the UK. Once successfully registered, I was able to work as a fully-qualified Optometrist in Ireland and the UK.

How has Specsavers supported your development?
Specsavers have supported me in so many ways since I first qualified. I started off working for Specsavers at the Trowbridge branch in Wiltshire - after some time, I got to a point where I wasn't fully satisfied testing five days a week. My store Directors, Stephen and Colin, talked me through my options and listed the potential routes I could take to offer me more diversity in my day-to-day work. We talked the options through in depth and I decided I wanted to explore the management side of optics. Stephen and Colin supported me through two externally accredited Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) qualifications, which I studied for part-time in London. Studying for my qualifications gave me the chance to meet like-minded people from different stores, who occupied a number of positions including Supervisors, Managers and Dispensing Opticians.

Stephen and Colin also mentored me through a Regional Business Performance competition. For this competition, I chose an area of the Trowbridge store in which I felt I could make an improvement. I learnt so much during this time and it helped me to develop on both a personal and a professional level. I gained a number of new skills and experiences under the guidance of my Directors. In the end, I actually got to the final of the competition and I was flown over to Guernsey in the company jet to see Specsavers headquarters! Even better, after we had a chance to discuss our projects, I found out I had actually won! It was an amazing experience and taught me so much about the company that had supported me in reaching this point. From that point, I went on and did the Pathway course, a development programme that trains prospective Joint Venture Partners (JVP’s) until they are accredited and eligible to become Partners in the group. I passed the course in early 2015 and on 31st December 2015, I ‘bought into’ the Bedminster store, a busy six-testing-room store in Bristol city.

How are you driving forward Optometry in your local community?
I really enjoy getting involved in the local optics community. I am a member of the Avon Local Optical Committee (LOC) and sit at meetings every other month in that role. This role gives me the opportunity to have my say on local developments and advances in optics, including shared care schemes. The Bedminster store team are extremely keen to be involved in all Enhanced Optical Services (EOS) and, at the moment, we’re involved in local Cataract Postoperative Assessments and Glaucoma and Ocular Hypertension monitoring schemes. We are also involved with Newmedica, the community-based ophthalmological provider under the Specsavers brand. My Optoms find this extremely rewarding as it gives them a chance to work alongside ophthalmology on a more intimate basis.

Where do you think you have made real difference to someone's life?
In addition to our Bedminster store, my retail partner Chris and I are directors of a Domiciliary business called ‘Bristol 1 Domiciliary’. When working in a Domiciliary setting, you have such a unique opportunity to impact the lives of extremely vulnerable patients with very few links to the outside world. Last year, Chris and I were out on a ‘Domi day’ when I was asked to test a gentleman in his thirties with Down Syndrome. His carers reported he had never worn glasses and didn't join in with a lot of group activities, such as watching TV with his peers. He also struggled to follow instructions and was non-verbal. I tested his eyes using techniques that didn't require any patient feedback and found that he had a large prescription, meaning he couldn't see anything clearly past 20cm in front of his face. As soon as I fitted him with a frame with the correct lenses in, he looked up at me and smiled. That's a smile I won't forget!

Domiciliary is such rewarding work. In Bedminster, we give our Optoms the opportunity to get involved with our Domiciliary business if they express an interest. A couple of our Optoms and Optical Assistants do approximately a day every other week on the road, with the Domiciliary work affording them both diversity in their role and a range of different experiences.

In regards to training and developing yourself and your clinical teams - how do you manage to stay at the leading edge of your profession?
I manage to stay at the forefront of development by getting involved! I am a member of the Avon LOC and also an assessor for Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre (WOPEC). I regularly travel around my region assessing local Optoms to accredit them for practical qualifications in Glaucoma and Minor Eye Conditions schemes (MECs). One of my employed Optoms is also particularly passionate about self-development in the area of EOS and she is now an assessor for WOPEC, through the support of Specsavers.

Another great opportunity for clinical development at Specsavers is the Professional Advancement Conference (PAC) that runs every year in October. For the last PAC in October 2017, a group of thirteen clinicians from Bedminster and Bristol 1 Healthcall, including Optoms, Pre-reg Optoms, Contact Lens Opticians and Dispensing Opticians went to Birmingham for the PAC conference. We travelled up the evening before the conference to have some team building fun and celebrate all their hard work. Then the next day, we joined the conference to learn about a huge range of subjects – everything from dry eyes to OCTs.

What makes you most proud of your time at Specsavers so far?
The thing I am most proud of is my involvement in people development. At the Bedminster store, we have a large team of over thirty-five people and we take time to make sure each of our team members has an individual development plan that concentrates on what they want to gain from their career. I am especially involved with the clinical team. Each of our clinical team members has very different motivations and desires and I really enjoy tailoring their plans to make them as content as possible in their positions with us.

We have a number of success stories in our team that I am very proud of. For example, we have a Dispensing Optician who wanted a more test-room-focused role, that we supported through a contact lens course. She is now awaiting her final results and accreditation as part of her Contact

Lens Optician qualification. We’ve also had an Optical Assistant who progressed through a Supervisor role, then onto audiology training and is now an Audiology Partner at our Bedminster store. What’s more we’ve also had an Optical Assistant who we supported through the Dispensing Optician course and is now fully-qualified Dispensing Optician and Supervisor in the store.

Describe the culture at Specsavers Bedminster in three words:
Caring, hardworking and determined.

What advice would you give someone looking to join Specsavers?
Go for it! The experiences I have had with Specsavers have been amazing. I have been qualified for just over five years now, becoming a partner at 26 years-old. Alongside my fellow business partners, I now run three businesses. I don't know of very many companies where you can go through the journey I have been on, so quickly. If you are hardworking and dedicated there is no end to where you can go with Specsavers. It is a unique model and people are at the heart of everything we do - I can honestly say there is nowhere else I would rather be.

You can read more stories from our Partners here